The End of History and the Arab Awakening
What shall we call the era that we are now entering? The Arab Spring? The Age of Democracy? The Era of Islamist Renaissance? The Decline of the Arab State and Revival of Tribal Identity? A New Sikes-Picot Agreement?
Although the motivation for the unrest in the different countries may be related to different factors, but I may generalize this phenomena we are witnessing today across the Arab world to three major relational factors:
- The Greater Middle East and the clash of civilizations project
- Deep economic and social malaise
- Identity crisis within the globalized context of modernity and a Third Culture’ in the making
The Greater Middle East and the clash of civilizations project
At the end of the Cold War, following the collapse of the Soviet Union along with its Marxist-Leninist view that antagonistic history would end with communism displacing capitalism, Francis Fukuyama, inspired on the remnants of the demolished Berlin Wall, argued, in his book The End of History and the Last Man, that the triumphant Western liberal democracy, capitalism, may signal the end point of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution, becoming the final form of human government. While this view identifies with the concept of progressive dialects of both Hegel and Marx, it identifies most strongly with the utimate Hegelian absolute final stage of history, in Fukuyama’s view, it is a new world order led by the United States, the most dominant global center of economic and cultural attraction, with its ideological globalization, info-financialism, and Western military superiority. In other words, The Global Empire.
Since progress is a dialectical reality arising from oppositional critical consciousness to present stages, a linear continuous series of thesis vs. antithesis = synthesis, Samuel P. Huntington, in agreement with this analysis, and in response to Fukuyama, suggested The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, where people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Apparently, the only contemporary powerless candidate for this clash of civilizations scenario is Islam culture and peoples of a “Greater Middle East”, in addition to the Black Continent.
Traditionally, Islam and the Middle East have always been the cultural antithesis to Western culture, and a geographical theatre for colonial conflict on the ground. In the past, western literature played the role of modern day media, mobilizing local public opinion to become directed against the East. Reading Edward Saed’s book Orientalism, and Covering Islam, would support you with in-depth analysis of how Western cultures’ literary narrative has been participating in the composing of this antithesis named “Islam Culture” in the past and today.
The Arab Spring is the early stage in the deconstruction of the Middle East cultures, states, and systems. The objective is to create chaos, loss of balance and further instability. Peoples of deconstructed cultures would pursue regaining the lost balance; so to speak, the immediate reaction which is most likely to emerge is that people will resolve to seek stability through the most dominant rooted cultural reservoir which best projects collective consciousness, Islam. Although each Arab state has different cultural and national structure, such as tribal in Yemen and Libya, or western democratic oriented in Tunis, or society with strong centralist nationalist tradition as in Egypt, or sectarian combination of Sunni, Shia’a and other doctrines as in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, but the fact that all these countries are Muslim rooted makes already established Islamic movements the first resort which peoples will become attracted to revolve around in or to regain balance (Muslim Brotherhood in Sunni areas and Shia’a in others). As religion movements grab rule, sectarian conflict and tribal competition which have been brewing under the surface for centuries, will certainly awake as well.. The resultant would be clashes within the borders of fragmented Greater Middle East, backed up, supported and supplied by Western countries – this is how I understand the concept of Constructive Chaos promoted by the American neo-conservatives – constructive for the West.
For over two decades, Washington, the predominant superpower in the region, played major role in supporting dictatorial regimes, whose aging leaders along with their relatives and rich elite became integrated with the globalized capitalist 2 percent wealth ownership trend, possessing their countries wealth, development projects, privatized public sector, and consequently deepening economic and social malaise.
When the moment for future ‘Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order” matured enough by intersecting with regional sea of unrest and call for change, and the escalating threats to the state of Israel, the actual execution of the Western Project has begun.
The invasion of Afghanistan, which has weakened al-Qaeda and secured the controlled Jihadist chain-reaction with monitored mobility, was accompanied with huge media coverage of Islam, creating propaganda image of a virtual Islamic Army – presenting isolated individuals in the image of Caliph, or Sultan, and portraying flimsy anonymous persons, as if they were actually real threat to the West, as if armed with weapons of mass destruction loaded on ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean to land on USA shores. They are on TV screens popping up in front of the face of an American drinking cool glass of beer in a remote bar located in Arizona. Then followed the invasion of Iraq, and the execution of Saddam Hussein on the morning of al-Adh’ha Eid, sending an insulting message to each and every Muslim who was with or against Saddam – thanks to al-Jazeera news TV who made possible these messages arrive in every home, along with musical, visual and sound effects capable of destroying indivuals self esteem, confidence and moral – in addition to domesticating offensive scenes and making the news of bloodshed becomes simply familiar, evoking no feelings at all.
The humiliating videos released to show Saddam Hussein capture, trial and execution shattered the solid sacred aura which long surrounded dictators of Arab leaders – the overthrow of others should become easy, on the hands of peoples, Jihadists, proxies, and western back up without sending forces unless inevitably necessary.
Poverty and deep economic and social malaise
The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria were the result of developments within the countries themselves, but this does not negate the fact that Western powers are engaged in the creation of infrastructure and Islamist rule necessary as an antithesis for Western progress.
Deep economic and social malaise, and the perception of the loss of domestic deterrence by ossified regimes led by aging leaders, are major drives behind the Arab Awakening. Poverty, INFLATION, SHORTAGES, UNEMPLOYMENT/UNDEREMPLOYMENT, POLITICAL/RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION and ABSENCE OF POLITICAL LACK OF PARTICIPATION, POLICE STATE’s, AUTOCRACY, SOCIAL IMBALANCES also took peoples out to streets. But what after ousting regimes? How to employ revolutionary gains when established political parties, unions, organizations and modernity compatible Islam are all absent? Clearly, the Muslim Brotherhood parties, in the different countries in the Middle East are the only available first line substitute.
Different countries in the Middle East have deep differences between them that will affect the course of their revolutions, and consequently affect the post awakening relations between them, and the relation of each country with the West within the context of the “Clash of Civilizations” projection.
Some key differences are:
Egypt is a society with a strong centralist tradition, and desire for democracy. The only political force in Egypt which succeeded in mobilizing itself on short notice and took advantage of free elections was the Muslim Brotherhood. President Mursi is struggling today. The Egyptian military, financed and equipped by the USA, will more likely continue to control the change, balancing the democratic challenge facing both the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. It will not allow the full Muslim Brotherhood influence, and will secure freedom of the large Christian minority. The army will restrain the Muslim Brotherhood’s more provocative policies (such as an annulment of the peace agreement with Israel).
The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will defiantly inspire and magnify the force of its sister movements in other Arab countries.
Tunisia has long been exposed to France and democracy, the role of women is without compare to the region, and its high GDP per capita and per capita income, the level of literacy, the weakness of the Islamic movement.
Libya and Yemen, are cases of tribal societies in which the fabric of the state was held together by a military regime. Once these regimes are weakened, tribal forces and conflicts of interests, baked up by Jihadi elements, soon emerged.
Bahrain, with its Shi’ites majority, will facilitate Iranian influence in the country and will have an enormous psychological effect on the other Gulf countries.
Jordan’s Hashemite regime is the source of stability in the country. It is the major suppressor of rivalry between East Jordanians and Palestinians, and between the competing Jordanian tribes. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is more radical than in other Arab countries, and has demonstrated support for the Jihadi-Salafi movement in Iraq. With Israel sharing its longest borders with Jordan, a regime change in Amman would certainly raise sound and fury across the quiet border.
Syria’s sectarian mosaic is kept intact by the strong Alawite regime represented by Bashar Assad. Should the civil war in Syria results in downfall of Assad, the emerging scene would not be much different from that in Iraq, and the country might end up divided into three territories representing Alawite on the coast, Sunni in the south and Halab city, and Kurdish corridor in the north connecting the oil rich Kurdish Iraq with the Mediterranean Sea. The Sunni stream in Syria is divided into Jihadi-Salafi and a moderate Muslim Brotherhood stream in Damascus.
In Lebanon, the target is Hizbullah. Should Jihadi-Salafi and Muslim extremist have free hand, they will become proxy fighting Hizbullah in favor of Israel and against Iranian hegemony. This would initiate a uprising in which Lebanon’s different religious communities would find themselves inevitably engaged.
The situation in Iraq is as disparate as any other of the countries in the region. A Shi’ite predominance, Kurds demanding autonomy or even independence, and apparent Iranian influence.
In Saudi Arabia, the traditional Saudi regime is facing challenges of leapfrogging over the few remaining elder sons of Abdul Aziz to crown a younger generation just in order to guarantee stability for a long period, and making reforms.However, since the ‘Ulama are the “King Makers”, it will be them whom the princes will compete for support. Some of the princes are close to the Salafi and radical Wahhabi establishment.
This is most likely what the “Greater Middle East” will look like in the coming years. Perhaps, if Iran succeeds in developing its nuclear weapon, we will enter new era of a Poly Nuclear Greater Middle East.
Identity crisis within the globalized context of modernity, and a Third Culture in the making
To begin with, it is worth mentioning two crucial developments: one which have started forming during the past two decades and reached climax in 2008 with the global economic crisis; the second is the most recent relapse taking place in Turkey today. Both developments are highly significant in responding to the conclusions of Fukuyama, Huntington and the neo-conservatives and American strategists, which all have proved to be wrong.
As Alexandre Kojève has argued before:
“The progress of history must lead toward the establishment of a “universal and homogenous” state, most likely incorporating elements of liberal or social democracy; but the necessarily “post-political” character of such a state (and its citizens) makes it irreducible to any mere “triumph” of capitalism.” — Alexandre Kojève
The global economic crisis opens the gates wide open to new political and economic synthesis on the making right now. The Arab Awakening is not isolated from this global awakening; actually, it is integral part of it as well as early manifestation of events which would take place in various parts of the world – “Occupy Wall Street” is one example.
Islam doctrine, with its religion text vast openness on different interpretations, proved, along history, to be major source of differentiation and controversy. Well defined political, economic, social and liberal legislation cannot be derived from interpretational metaphoric religion text. Clear modern example on this is Sheikh Qaradawi, issuing situational contradictory Fatwas, like water taking the shape of the container. Muslims have no trust left for most clergymen, and all are aware of the necessity for re-opening the door of modern Ijtihad, doors which have been closed for the past ten centuries. This desire is reflected in the wide opposition to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rule.
The Turkish model, established by Kemal Ataturk, which have succeeded in constructing modern day Turkey, and which for decades preceded prospective Islamic model in any modern day Arab awakening Islamic country, once became under the influence of AKP Islamic government, immediately resolved to suppress liberal media and turned cold shoulder to those who supported the party win elections. It has proved to be not different from any capitalist regime with aggressive globalized model. Muslim Arabs can clearly foresee what their Islamic rule would look like by looking at the Turkish crisis today.
It is an identity crisis for the 21st Century. Arab peoples want to know who they are in this new age, and how to become part of the fabric of this emerging new global synthesis, to melt into the pot of global cooperation culture — and not be dragged into a ‘clash of civilizations’ which is nothing but a neo-colonial agenda wearing the mask of ‘Western Democracy’ taking advantage of the Arab Awakening.