Friday, July 5, 2013

The Curious Tale of Egyptian Arab Spring

When my friend posted on his Facebook’s wall, “Seerah of Uthman and Ali being replayed,” I responded saying that I did not know what he was referring to.  A few moments later, my wife told me that President Morsi of Egypt had just been ousted.  By then, I knew what my friend was talking about.  He was talking about the event leading to Morsi’s ouster.

Then my friend asked me to write about it in my blog.

To liken the tale of Egyptian Arab Spring with the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is a little difficult to make.  The differences between these two appear to be more than the similarities.

As for Caliph Uthman, he was ousted through assassination.  President Morsi too was ousted, but his eventual fate is still being written.  Beyond this, there is not much similarity. 

Uthman was elected from the six candidates chosen by Caliph Umar when the latter was stabbed.  Morsi was elected in the first legitimate general election after 60 years, subsequent to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.  Uthman was a member of Consultative Council during Umar; Morsi was an outsider who used to be imprisoned during Mubarak.  Uthman ruled for 12 year; Morsi managed only one year.

As for Caliph Ali, he took over the caliphate after the assassination of Uthman.  Morsi took over the presidency after the fall of Mubarak.  Ali ruled for about four and a half years and found relatively no peace.  So was Morsi, except that his presidency lasted only a year.  But beyond this, there is little similarity.

Ali was not among the rebels who protested against the reign of Uthman.  In fact, he was among Uthman’s supporters.  Although Ali had some disagreements with Uthman, the two maintained cordial relationship and Ali had direct accessed to the troubling caliph.  When the rebels surrounded the house of Uthman, he sent two of his sons to protect the caliph.  He offered his council to the caliph and tried his best to quench the rebellion. 

Morsi and the organization he represented, however, were among the protesters against Mubarak, although they played a background role.  Morsi was the beneficiary of the Egyptian Arab Spring because he supported it; the same cannot be said about Ali because he was against it. 

In spite of the differences, one may wonder, therefore, as to why my friend said that the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is being replayed?  The answer lies in his person.  He is a devoted Muslim who yearns for Islam to be established in Egypt.  Like many devoted Muslims, it breaks his heart to see Morsi fell in that way.  It breaks my heart too.

Uthman, Ali and Morsi are three good Muslim leaders who fall prey to the circumstances.  Their similarity lies here, except that the first two must be given priority since they are the leading companions directly trained by the Prophet himself.

Of the three, only Ali is the true victim of the circumstances, because to some extent, the fall of Uthman and Morsi was partly attributed to their own doing. 

Uthman was a great man but was not a great leader.  He was too gentle and too congenial, both to his kinsmen and to his enemies.   He forgave when punishment may have been a better action.  He refused to shed blood among Muslims.  If any blood were to be spilt, he wanted it to be his blood.  This is the characteristic of a great man, but a leader sometimes needs to spill some blood to avoid greater danger.  Uthman did nothing wrong as a man and as a Muslim, but his leadership in this aspect is somewhat wanting (may Allah forgive me for saying such a thing to a man loved by Allah and the Prophet).

As for Morsi, he miscalculated a little.  The Arab Spring that toppled the iron ruled of Hosni Mubarak was led mostly by the liberals and the secularists.  It was not led by any particular organization or political party.  It was led predominantly by the urban youths who wanted Egypt to be freed from the authoritarian rule. 

Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  Although MB took part in the Arab Spring only in the background, it has an added advantage when the election time came.  MB is well organized with supporters all over the country, the majority of whom did not participate in the Arab Spring.  As general election is not participated only by the participants in the Arab Spring, but by every voter throughout the country, many of whom are MB supporters, it was not surprising therefore that the party backed by MB won the election.

But MB in general and Morsi in particular had misread the Arab Spring.  By winning the election, they must have thought that they were given the mandate to rule the country as they saw fit.  They moved quickly to establish Islamic Law because this is what they had been fighting for since MB was established in 1928.  They saw the opportunity and they seized it quickly, forgetting that the uprising known as the Arab Spring was actually initiated by different types of peoples and for different purpose.  In the process, they alienated the very people who gave them the opportunity. 

As Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.” (1)

MB also forgot that it is viewed as a threat worldwide.  While founded in Egypt, it has networks worldwide.  For that reason, it also has enemies worldwide.  Israel is especially threatened by its rise.  The Western countries definitely do not feel comfortable with MB regardless of what their leader say in the public.  The Arab monarchies are also not amused with the development.  Alienated internally and feeling threatened externally, in retrospection, it is not surprising that the revolt which gave it the opportunity also revolted to oust it.

The hardliners among the Islamists are already saying that Islam and democracy are not compatible, and that Islam cannot be established through democracy.   They cite the case of Algeria in 1991, and the Palestinian territories in 2006.  Perhaps they are right.  It could well be that whatever Morsi did, he would be ousted nevertheless.

But history also shows that the force of military power may not be the answer as well, as we have seen in the case of Taliban Afghanistan. 

In any case, we have to admit that while Islam remains the same, the world in the seventh century is not the same as the twenty first century.  The quick rise and the quick fall of MB and Morsi in Egypt should serve as the lesson to all Islamic movements worldwide, especially to the new governments in Tunisia and Libya, which also benefited from their Arab Springs. 

In spite of what is currently happening, and regardless of what people say, I believe that all is not lost.  MB should view what has happened in the cool headed manner.  It has to remember that when Islam first came to the scene, it eventually won and dominated the world because it had won the hearts and minds of the people.  Even though it has missed the opportunity, the organization is stronger now than during the Mubarak and his predecessors’ times.  Perhaps MB will be given a second chance, albeit in a lesser mode.

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