With the wind of change
moving to Libya after people brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt,
questions arise as to how it is going to be possible to establish democracies
out of decades-old autocratic regimes and whether or not Turkey and Indonesia
can be models? I can only say that the rest of the Muslim world can be inspired
by Turkey and Indonesia but it's always the case with these sorts of changes
that each country has to find its own way.
Somehow when I listen to debates and discussions in Pakistani media on changes
in North Africa and the Middle East, they have different interpretations of the
situation .Most Pakistani journalists think it is just change of faces in
Tunisia and Egypt and status quo will remain. I beg to differ with them because
these changes are different than a charismatic leader or a popular political
party trying to bringing about a change from grassroots.
An important factor that distinguishes Tunisia and Egypt along with , Bahrain
and Algeria, etc., is this fourth democratic wave of today following the third
wave of democracy that had begun in southern Europe in the mid-1970s and
continued with the transformation of many authoritarian regimes in Africa, Latin
America and Eastern Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. Arab and the Muslim world
missed out on the third democratic wave somehow.
Lack of economic decline has been the main culprit behind mass movements of
today. In fact these countries have enjoyed a degree of economic growth and
relative macroeconomic stability. However, what is common in all of these
countries experiencing turmoil today is the rising political consciousness of a
growing middle class , the vacuum created by a nonexistent organized opposition
and filling of the vacuum and communication gap with the globalization of IT
technology, especially among a frustrated youth. Virtually, such an alternative
opposition is able to organize in a short period of time and reach millions in
order to overwhelm autocratic governments and their armed forces. If it weren’t
millions, the armed forces that had remained loyal to and sustained dictatorial
regimes thus far with Western backing could have suppressed the uprisings.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Islamic movements became the new devil for
the West. Under those circumstances, people of the Islamic faith could not find
much space to breathe. Turkey’s and Indonesia’s role as models have come to the
fore at this point to show what a country of mostly Muslims can do when it is
politically and economically free. Turkey and Indonesia show this very well.
Islam is not at all about the Taliban or Al-Qaida. Now, people are struggling
for freedom/ democracy and away from autocracy in the Middle East, and this will
eventually lead to developments that will certainly change negative perceptions
about Islam and the Muslim world.
The Middle East and the Islamic World is at the doorstep of a new era of this
fourth wave of democracy. The writers of history have taken note of what has
happened in Egypt/Tunisia, where a revolution began closing one era and opening
up a new one. This revolution gives us hopes about what is going to happen to
the people of the Middle East, and to their future.
Those people have been belittled by the orientalists, the West and Israel while
Muslim World as a whole has been totally impotent. What’s happened in
Egypt/Tunisia has not yet been fully understood in the world. But it is
significant that these events are taking place now and not in 20 or 30 years
I foresee the United States in 20 to 30 years losing totally its hegemonic power
in the Middle East and the Muslim World. And Israel would have to make peace
with the Palestinians, forcing change for the better in the region. But things
have developed much faster than that. Now we observe uprisings in other places.
Hopefully, Muammar Gaddafi will have to flee Libya soon. There certainly is the
domino effect. It will reach Saudi Arabia most certainly and eventually.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest bastion but there is some panic now. Opposition
youths are very angry; and there are also other factors of Shiites’ rights, Saud
family hierarchy, and unequal distribution of wealth and origins of radicalism
since the eighteenth century. When Saudi Arabia falls too, then we will see a
lot more developments.
Democracy will not and does not come easy. Some civil wars are probably likely,
like one brewing in Libya. Either Gaddafi will flee the country before more
bloodshed, or there will be bloodshed unfortunately but he will have to step
down anyway. In either case, his dictatorship is not going to survive. The other
dictatorships and their abuses of power will not survive anywhere in the Arab
and the Muslim world. We have started to see a domino effect here, and the last
bastion in the Middle East will be Saudi Arabia and even beyond because abuses
of power are also rampant in rest of the Muslim World (except Turkey and
Indonesia ) and everywhere in the world.
Now Israel is in the most difficult position; it lost Egypt after it lost
Turkey. Pressures on Israel will begin to mount, and it will have to seek peace
with the Palestinians -- which will be certainly a positive development.
What lies ahead is transformation of opposition into a process of
democratization with much participation and consensus. This requires an
organized society and representative organs with clear future plans and
non-contentious ideological positions.
Needless to say this is easier said than done. Some vital decisions will have to
be made and a practical action plan has to be designed. The components of this
plan are five-fold:
1. Transfer of authority: From the old autocratic power elite to an interim
decision-making body. After the downfall of an autocratic regime a power vacuum
emerges that may be likened to a “black hole.” People often dread such
uncertainties. Hence, an interim government has to be established composed of
trusted opinion and community leaders in the shortest possible time. Its major
task should be preparing for national elections and devising a new constitution
or reshaping the existing one. The interim government has to garner enough
legitimacy to satisfy both the people at large and the socioeconomic elements of
2. Making of a new constitution or fixing the existing one: It is certain that
any constitution serves its makers; hence, either making a new one or fixing the
old one must be based on a consensual process whereby representative actors from
all walks of society must participate. An acceptable constitution by the
majority is a precondition for a successful transition to popular democracy.
3. Timing of accomplishing the tasks: Determining how long an interim government
must serve and in what time frame a new constitution ought to be made is
critical to meeting the demands of the people and not exhausting their patience.
For this is a matter of legitimacy, and legitimacy works on borrowed time.
Experience tells us that people’s expectations remain fresh for a period of 6 to
12 months. Longer period than that leads to a resurgence of frustrations and
4. Cleansing the subconscious of society: People often have bitter memories of
the past, when they were jailed, tortured and or exiled and their admired ones
executed. One way of reconciling with the past is prosecuting the old and
corrupt elite and holding them accountable for their and their country’s wasted
years and resources. This is a critical decision and the breadth of such a
process differs from country to country and the seriousness of the crimes
committed by the old rulers and their cronies.
5. Decision making concerning the above: Who will make these decisions? This is
not only a procedural but a consensual matter that requires negotiations and
heated debates by concerned parties with the understanding that society is a
pluralistic entity. Given the seriousness of these questions and the difficult
task of transformation, we can only say that the door to democratization is
opened, but there is a long road ahead and the roadmap is not yet at hand. It is
currently being drawn up.