I’m not sure if we are all aware of the extensive efforts taking place around us in order to use the “failure” of the Muslim Brotherhood’s year in office to attack the Arab Spring and apologise for it.
While it is true that the death of the Arab Spring has not been announced officially yet, all the indications are that it is being prepared for. The media is talking of it being in it the terminal illness phase and highlights its faults while denouncing the outcomes. It has become feasible to launch a campaign which claims that the Arab Spring deceived the people of the region.
This sums up the impression formed at a meeting in Amman last week attended by writers and intellectuals, myself included. We discussed a research report about Arab cultural integration, which is supposed to be issued by one of the UN institutions concerned about the region.
The first meeting for the report’s “advisory board” convened in Cairo early last year, when optimism and pride in the Arab Spring and future were at their peak. Today’s depressing situation is not only affected by the buffeting the Arab world has received over the past year but also by the anticipation of a storm of hurricane-dimensions which will hit us if a military strike against Syria goes ahead. Yet another new turn for the Arab world would result, with new maps also being needed.
Some of us filed into the Amman meeting room as if we were going to a funeral, with confusion reigning about the Arab Spring’s status. My own feeling is that although the revolutionary fervour is not dead, there are those around us watching and waiting and working hard behind the scenes to attack and then apply a coup de grâce to the process.
The Amman meeting discussed a dream represented in the hopes for Arab cultural integration and did not discuss reality, but the conditions of the Arab Spring imposed themselves, not only as a dream of desired integration, but also as a basis for that dream. In this regard, I saw that those who considered the Arab Spring as a mass movement to overthrow some dictatorships and replace them with some other regimes that failed are mistaken.
The Arab Spring in its reality is a historic transformation that included the whole Arab world wherein citizens became more aware of their rights to improve their social and economic conditions, and became braver in expressing their rejection of political and social injustice.
In addition, the most important thing about the Arab Spring is that it changed people more than structure; it may have led to changing some regimes and weakening others, which is quite apparent, but it also produced an overwhelming desire for change across the Arab world. This is expressed by the writings and messages that fill the social media as well as the gatherings of activists and human rights advocates which have crystallised recently, in the Gulf States especially.
Furthermore, it is not fair to rush into evaluating the Arab Spring after just two or three years because historical change on such a scale takes much longer. It is expected to face obstacles and challenges; moving from dictatorships which ruled for decades is not an overnight task, not least due to the dysfunctional societies created by the dictators and their oppressive regimes.
The media, of course, has played a role in discrediting the Arab Spring and spreading rumours of its demise. This has gone as far as professing sympathy for ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, for example: “We’re sorry, Mr President!” claimed one Egyptian TV show, before pushing the suggestion that he should be allowed to stand in the upcoming presidential election.
It is unwise for some journalists to claim that their media outlets are only telling the truth with all the mistakes that come with it, and that they are operating normally. However, there is a big difference between monitoring mistakes and fabricating lies, and between announcing the truth to fix what’s gone wrong and being at odds with the truth to demolish what already exists.
American philosopher and academic Noam Chomsky, writing about “power regimes”, has exposed what he regards as collusion between the media and cultural institutions in US society to keep the general public largely ignorant of what’s really happening. Chomsky calls this “manufacturing approval”, which is a kind of fraud that falsifies cognition and reformulates it in a form envisioned by those media mouthpieces and not out of real conviction based on a genuine awareness of the target audience. If this is happening in America’s mature democracy with an advanced social and political structure, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens in the Arab world, and for the Arab Spring to be one of its victims.
I don’t disagree with those who say that a number of mistakes were made after the overthrow of tyrannical regimes, including Egyp. I was one of those who criticised those mistakes at the time; I said that they were echoes of the dysfunctional operation of those discredited regimes and aftershocks of the political earthquake which took place. However, you cannot treat a patient by killing the patient or, as they say in English, “throw the baby out with the bath water”.
If you don’t believe me, please consider the clues over the past two months at least, which is the period during which I believe the attacks of the Arab Spring have been made more public. My main observation is that the attacks focused on what happened in Egypt and used the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood government as evidence of the failure of the Arab Spring. This was compounded by the claim that the fight against the Brotherhood was in some way a part of the so-called “war on terror” in order to harass political opponents of regimes across the region. Some Arab states did the same thing after the 9/11 attacks to target human rights activists.
Arabic-language newspapers in London and the Gulf have been flooded with articles denouncing the Arab Spring and challenging the January 25 Revolution in Egypt. TV channels expressing similar opinions and based in the UAE, although some are Saudi-funded, attacked Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network which sought to offer a platform to opposition groups. Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau was closed down by the coup authorities as were other non-coup media organs.
Look at how quick so-called “moderate” countries were to welcome the Egyptian coup. Their governments feared the Arab Spring from the very beginning and rushed to offer much-needed financial support for the coup leaders. They also worked hard in diplomatic circles to encourage Europe to adopt a soft approach to the decidedly anti-democratic military overthrow of Egypt’s democratically-elected president. Such pressure was replicated by Israel against the US and EU, especially with regards to the export of arms to Egypt post-coup; under no circumstances, the Israeli government believes, can sanctions be imposed on military-led Egypt even though US law insists otherwise.
Media reports have demonstrated that “moderate” (usually oppressive) governments such as the UAE’s supplied weapons to the Egyptian interior ministry which were then used to suppress pro-democracy demonstrators or, as the coup government puts it, “to fight terror”. At the same time, human rights reports say that an ongoing police campaign is targeting activists and bloggers in some Gulf States, claiming that they belong to or sympathise with the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Following the announcement by Dubai’s police chief that he has prepared a list of Muslim Brotherhood members to prevent them from entering the Gulf States, which has been sent to other Arab countries for them to do likewise, Saudi Arabia has said that it will arrest any known Brotherhood member as a “terrorist”, even if they are entering the country to perform pilgrimage. Human rights activists have been jailed for a total of over 800 years for “not obeying those in charge”.
In such an oppressive atmosphere, Hamas said that it has evidence of a joint Israel-Palestinian Authority scheme to organise a mass rally under the “Tamarod” (rebellion) banner to try to unseat the Islamic Resistance Movement in the Gaza Strip. It is not clear if this is linked to the “rebellion” movement that is trying to destabilise the government in Tunisia, although President Moncef Marzouki is not reading too much into it, not least because of the professed neutrality of the army.
Arab intellectuals I met in Amman agreed unanimously that what happened in Egypt is only the beginning, and that those who fear the Arab Spring have an interest in defeating it. The atmosphere for their efforts in this respect is just right; international approval for such moves as well as international funding is available. We can expect them to move quickly.
This is a translation of the Arabic text which was published by Al Jazeera Net on 10 September, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.