Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Islamic Autocracies

By Saeed Qureshi

Incidentally the autocracies and family oligarchies in the Middle East and the North Africa are Islamic. Even if elections are held there, it is invariably the ruling junta that returns to power. We can see that in Tunisia,where President Zainul Abideen remained at the helm for 23 years till he was forced to flee as a result of a fierce popular uprising. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ruled for 32 years with an iron hand while his counterpart in Libya Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi is an absolute ruthless sovereign for 42 years now.

The other kings or dynastic rulers and hereditary tribal chieftains in UAE (trucial states) Qatar, Bahrain, Muscat and Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria are lording over the family fiefdom and rule like medieval potentates treating their people as docile subjects. It is a kind of indigenous colonization.

In the aftermath of the Renaissance (14th to 17th century) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) when the western countries started switching over to the democratic political culture, the Islamic world was still under the colonial domination. The first democratic regime that was established in an Islamic country was Turkey (1923). The democratic political order was established by forsaking the orthodox caliphate and by dissociating from the symbols and rituals that were primarily of Arab origin and were prevalent in the Turkish society. During the Ottomans’ reign even the Turkish language was set aide and replaced with the Arabic script.

The” young Turks revolution” under Kamal Ataturk was the first historic change that aligned Turkey with the western democratic system of government by overriding the claim of the king or caliph as being the representative or lieutenant of God upon earth. In fact in Islam the sovereignty lies with God and man is simply his subordinate to carry out the religious commandments passed on to the human beings by his messengers. But a ruler has got to be absolutely pious and just.

The purpose of the foregoing is to highlight the thesis that Islam does not have provisions for the kind of western democracies that are still non-existent in most of the Islamic countries. The power lies with the sovereign of the universe and not with the person chosen by the votes of the people. As such The Middle East where the Islam spread at the outset has remained under the family dynasties, oligarchies, royal families and a ruthless strongman.

With the fall of the Soviet Communist Empire in 1989, the East European countries that were aligned with Soviet Union as satellite states also withered away and were converted into democratic republics. That was a monumental revolution that changed the entire complexion of the cold war between the capitalist United States and the erstwhile communist Soviet Union.

The East European communist that were previously attached to the apron string of the Soviet Union underwent a tumultuous change and disentangled themselves from the communist bloc. These countries of East Europe are now well entrenched democratic regimes and are open and accountable to their people.

While the west engineered the collapse of the Soviet Communist network, on the contrary it promoted, fostered and protected the oil rich or strategically important t totalitarian Islamic regimes in the Middle East run by one family or individuals. In the Far East one Islamic state that also switched from a socialist state to a pro west quasi-democratic regime was Indonesia against a heavy cost of massive upheaval and loss of human lives.

However, in the Middle East it suited the interests of both the despotic rulers and their western patrons not to establish the representative governments. The reason was the cheaper oil that was desperately needed by the west to run its economy. It was lot more easily to deal with one family or individual for a quid pro quo than a government answerable to their people.

Unfortunately the policy of the west and particularly that of the United States has been to install and protect such family fiefdoms that served the western interests with folded hands. Same was the case in relationship between the Soviet Union and her Middle Eastern protégés namely, Syria, and Egypt under Nasser and later Iraq under Saddam Hussain.

While the pro-west authoritarian states were surrogates of the western bloc, those on the other side of the fence were always prone or vulnerable to the western machinations for their dissolution. This happened in case of Iran under a socialist and nationalist Musssdaq and Egypt under Nasser. Musssdaq was replaced with a coup while Nasser resigned because of defeat in the war with Israel. Libya, however, survived and later budged under the irresistible pressure of the west. Qaddafi was therefore allowed to rule as long as he behaved.

As such the Middle East was also a battlefield for the cold war not only on the ideological basis but also for the sake of economic interests, which meant uninterrupted flow of cheap oil to the west? When Saudi ruler Shah Faisal threatened during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War to use oil as a weapon against the west he was physically removed from the scene.

Thereafter, the orthodox regime in Saudi Arabia has been friendly and compliant to both Israel and the west. Similar surrogate states were allowed to function in the entire Middle East enjoying very cordial relations with the United States and other counterparts in Europe.

But such a stagnant situation that was a throwback of the medieval ages with people suppressed and silenced under the brutal network of the autocrats could not prolong. The change that was simmering has finally burst out with one single and insignificant incident in Tunisia where a young vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in utter helplessness and brutal manhandling by the police.

The stark difference between the change in the Eastern Europe and the one currently underway in the Middle East is that in the East Europe the arch power of communism had herself disintegrated and led to a domino impact on the protégés or client states. In the Middle East, the change is coming under the dynamics of the changing events. Here the patrons of these autocratic regimes are supporting the protesting public which is a good omen for the oppressed people.

Because of its own debacle in Afghanistan and its mauled military prowess, the Soviet Union was not in a position to check the revolution in the East Europe. Here in the Middle East, while the United States and the west has no such perils, they are trying to be on the right side of history which means supporting the people and not the regimes.

This mammoth and once in a millennium grassroots revolution sweeping across the Middle East, unequivocally transmit the message that the era of autocracies and authoritarianism established by the Muslims tyrants in the name of Islam or otherwise is coming to an end. Those who resist this raging avalanche would be swept away along with its irresistible flow. The world is moving towards democracy, humanism, openness, liberty, equality and respect for the people.

In the near future the governments would have the right to govern by the mandate of the people of the respective countries. The dictators and their abettors and cronies have no place in a fast changing socio-political scenario. Only such dispensation would endure that are elected via the popular suffrage and provide the equality of opportunities, sharing of national wealth with the people by way of jobs, education, health and other services and establish just socio-economic systems.

One may call it the Islamic concept of egalitarian and welfare system or capitalism or socialism or the mix of all these doctrines but undoubtedly it is bound to prevail. These systems are already fruitfully and robustly in vogue in several countries where the governments are accountable to the people and where no one sleeps with an empty stomach nor suffers from the haunting fear of brutalization by the state for speaking the truth.

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)
To unsubscribe or for comments please write us at

No comments:

Post a Comment