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Authors: Nonie Darwish

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BOOK: The Devil We Don't Know
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During the Arab Spring, not one person among the more than 10 million citizens of Tunisia, the 80 million Egyptians, or the more than 350 million citizens of all Arab countries combined had the guts to carry a sign that dared to look beyond the dictator. No one dared to openly demand the removal of sharia as the basis of law for Islamic governments. Whether it was the Egyptian revolution of 1919, 1952, or 2011, the change demanded has only been cosmetic and has always been about removal of the leader or the British. Somehow, the Muslim mind freezes whenever it considers the underlying religious ideology that is the foundation on which its systems are erected. As I watched the TV coverage of the massive protests, I was desperately searching for a brave poster proclaiming something new and daring—a poster that demanded reformation of the system and not merely removal of the dictator, along with slogans of freedom and democracy—but I could not find any. This is what I wanted to see: “Separation of mosque and state,” “Removal of sharia from the Egyptian constitution,” “Equal rights for all,” or “Equal rights for women”—better yet, “The beating of women is not a husband's right.” To my disappointment, I did not see any signs like this. As a result, I was not optimistic about how the revolution would turn out.

The anger manifested in the Arab Spring, as the uprisings were dubbed, has been bubbling for a long time. The game of blaming the West and Israel could no longer put a lid on the steam rising from the Arab street. Sadly, however, that still did not stop some in the media and the government, who live in constant denial, from accusing Israel of conspiracy and espionage and of causing the uprisings. Yet promoting jihad against the West and terrorism all over the world, especially in Israel during the last decades, was not enough for people to release their building tensions. What Arab leaders have dreaded the most was not the presumed threat of Israel, but what has erupted within their countries. Their efforts to redirect the people's anger toward Western “Satans” could no longer work. Like wildfire, the flames of the Tunisian uprising spread eastward and westward to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. It produced a civil war in Libya and major protests in Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, and some of the Gulf States.

So far, the main hot spots of the revolt that succeeded in removing their dictators are Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. In the case of the first two instances, the dictators were not Islamists and refused to make the West their enemy, as a good Muslim leader should in the eyes of the Islamists. Less tyrannical Muslim dictators who do not support the jihadists were the easier targets to take out. That explains why Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were ousted much more easily than Gaddafi was in Libya, plus Al Assad of Syria and Ahmedinejad of Iran are still in power. Shock waves progressively rocked Muslim governments, which rushed to suggest new reforms or promised to step down at the end of their current terms. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir announced that he would not seek reelection in 2015; Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, after violent demonstrations demanding his immediate resignation, also announced that he will leave office at the end of his term in 2014. Even King Abdullah of Jordan, in the face of protests, promised reforms, dissolved his cabinet, and appointed a new prime minister to form a new government. Another leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, announced that he would step down within thirty days in exchange for immunity, but that has not yet happened.

As I mentioned earlier, such quick changes in government are not a new phenomenon in the Middle East. Revolutions, counterrevolutions, assassinations, and coups d'etat are commonplace in the Islamic political system. Many Muslim leaders have come to power after forceful takeovers, and, surprisingly, that is not illegal under Islamic law. Actually, it is perfectly legitimate, and when it succeeds, the masses are often jubilant and satisfied with the change. No one ever publicly accuses such new governments of illegitimacy, not even the media. An important factor in the acceptance of tyrants who take power by force is that under Islamic law, seizure of power is a legitimate way to become the ruler of a country. Sharia states, “A Calipha [Muslim head of state] is allowed to hold office through seizure of power, meaning through force” (o25.4, p. 644). I have no doubt that not one of the protesters across the Middle East ever connected this law with the political chaos of the Middle East. I have never read a single article by an Arab intellectual linking sharia to the lack of stable democracies across the Muslim world.

Amazingly, the general reaction to the Arab Spring among most Arab intellectuals was one of euphoria and high hopes. Most did not recognize the similarities to prior Islamic revolutions. Many of these began with unrealistic expectations and a denial or a fear of mentioning the true reasons for the failure of the Islamic political system. Every revolution has started with a belief that this will be the true one and that the people have finally found the formula for success. Very often in a revolution, the name of the country and its flag, its constitution, and its national anthem are changed and even history books rewritten. The narrative is always about the evil regime the revolution has overthrown and not about the religious, political, and cultural foundations of the country.

That is exactly what happened in the 1952 Egyptian revolution, but no live coverage existed to record every aspect of it, as there is today. Nasser, who headed that revolution, actually renamed the largest center of downtown Cairo “Tahrir Square,” which means “Freedom Square,” to signify what he claimed were the most important principles of his new revolution—freedom, democracy, and prosperity for all Egyptians. Previously, it had been called “Ismaelia Square,” named after the nineteenth-century ruler Khedive Ismael, who presided over the opening of the Suez Canal. Nasser also quickly moved to change the name of Egypt to the United Arab Republic, to show that he viewed it more important to be linked to the Arab world than to Egypt's ancient history. In fact, the word
was originally the name of the Coptic Christians of Egypt, but sometime after the Arab invasion and the Islamization of Egypt, its name was changed to “Misr,” which was what the Koran called it. The West retained the traditional biblical name of Egypt until today, but Egyptians have rejected it for Islamic reasons.

In addition, Nasser changed the constitution, the national anthems, and the history books, which were rewritten to focus on the bright future of the revolution and the dark evil past of King Farouk, whom Nasser called a traitor and a puppet of the West. Nasser also changed the flag of Egypt from green with a crescent and stars to three big stripes, black signifying the dark past, white the revolution, and red the bright future. The whole Arab world adored and was inspired by the new charismatic leader; the media, artists, and singers glamorized him, and songs expressing the devotion and adoration of Nasser were heard everywhere.

Yet Nasser's revolution did not bring what Egyptians had hoped for. President Anwar Sadat, who succeeded him, made some reforms and changed the name of Egypt to include the word
in Arabic. It is now the Arab Republic of Egypt. In actuality, Nasser's revolution brought one of the darkest periods of Egyptian history, with wars of aggression, poverty, tyranny, a police state, and military rule from 1952 until 2011. Since 1952, Egypt has been ruled by only three men: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak.

Despite Nasser's failures, however, the Egyptian revolution inspired other uprisings in the region, including the 1969 Libyan coup under Moammar Gaddafi, which ousted what he and his supporters termed the reactionary regime of King Idris. Gaddafi renamed the country, changing it from the United Kingdom of Libya to the Libyan Arab Republic. The Libyan flag was redesigned to be similar to that of Egypt's. The revolution promised to its “free brothers” a new age of prosperity, equality, and honor. In 1977, Gaddafi, extremely fearful of coups against him, promised reforms and yet again renamed his country, this time the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

We can even go further back in time for other examples of the cycle of revolts against tyranny. We all remember the movie
Lawrence of Arabia
, which portrays T. E. Lawrence's support for an Arab revolt against Turkish rule in the Hijaz and a demand for autonomy from the weakened Ottoman Empire. That paved the way for a movement away from Pan-Islamism, symbolized in the Ottoman Empire, and toward Pan-Arabism, which took off later in the mid-twentieth century and eventually produced the 1952 Egyptian revolution. That revolt inspired Arabs' pride in their culture and ousted King Farouk, whose family went back in history to the Ottoman Turks and the Albanian Muslims. Yet before the overthrow of Farouk, shortly after the Arab Revolt led by Lawrence, Egypt in 1919 rebelled against the British and to establish an identity separate from the Ottoman Turks.

With the weakening of the Ottomans, Turkey officially ended the Islamic caliphate in 1922, which had held sway since 1517. The last sultan, Mehmet, was exiled, and Kemal Ataturk became the first president of the Turkish Republic. Ataturk moved quickly to turn Turkey into a secular state with a European cultural identity, rather than an Islamic or Arab identity, and even changed the Turkish alphabet to Latin, rejecting the Arabic alphabet of the Koran. The loss of the Islamic caliphate and the Turks' abandonment of their strong Islamic ties to the Arab world created a power vacuum in the Middle East. That was probably a strong factor behind Arab eagerness to find a new identity in Pan-Arabism. The loss of an Islamic unifying identity, however symbolic, was also a factor in the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt.

Until recently, Turkey had isolated itself from Arab issues, especially the conflict with Israel. Yet even Turkey has not been able to escape the sweeping Islamism movement in the region and elected its first devout Muslim president in modern-day Turkey, Abdullah Gul. Under his administration, in 2010, Gul allowed the “flotilla” ships to sail out of Turkey heading to Gaza, in an act of intimidation against Israel that was very unusual for a country such as Turkey to engage in. Clearly, Turkey is now moving back to its Islamic roots.

None of the revolutions and the movements I have described accomplished their intended mission, except for Turkey, which is now moving in the direction of Islamism. Most often, Arab revolutions brought more tyranny and stagnation. A prominent example is the 1979 Islamic Iranian revolution that took out the pro-Western shah and replaced him with the most tyrannical and dangerous regime in the Middle East today. This shows that citizens of great civilizations such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Persia don't learn the lessons of their long history. With the Arab conquest that dramatically changed not only their religion, but also their language and culture, the great ancient civilizations of the region have been crippled by the impact of Islam, stumbling and falling between dictatorships and revolutions for many centuries, and there is little hope in sight. The lesson here is that the passage of time does not necessarily mean positive progress, improvement, or better results. Old civilizations are not like fine wine; they do not get better with time.

The pattern continues today. It did not take long after Mubarak stepped down for us to see the new tyranny evolving. I have many contacts in Egypt who report to me on a regular basis. I was told that the atmosphere began to get scary after religious hardliners threatened a bloodbath if anyone attempted to remove Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution, the article that states that sharia supercedes any other law, including international human rights laws. Even Mohamed El Baradei, known internationally as the director of the International Atomic Energy and who is liked by the Muslim Brotherhood, was threatened and rocks were thrown at him on the streets of Cairo when he hinted at removing Article 2. In another indication, the new military leadership issued a new law against any kissing scenes shown in movies or on TV. Feminists were being threatened and attacked.

As to the slogans proclaiming that Muslims and Christians were united in the revolution, all of that quickly evaporated. On April 14, a Christian, Major General Emad Mikhail, was appointed governor of Qena, a district that has a large Christian population. Yet the prime minister suspended the appointment after huge and violent demonstrations erupted against the appointment of a Christian to a leadership office over Muslims. Incidentally, sharia supports these Muslim rioters, which states that a Christian will not rule in an Islamic state, even over a majority Christian population. The protesters demanded a “Muslim governor in a Muslim country,” chanting, “Mikhail is an infidel pig,” “There is no god but Allah and Christians are the enemies of Allah,” “Muslim, Muslim, will govern us” and “We will never be ruled by a Christian governor.”

On April 18, after the death of two Muslims in the violence against Christians, more fighting broke out in the small southern Egyptian town of Minya, about two hundred miles south of Cairo. One Christian Copt was killed, an old woman was thrown off of her second-floor balcony, and ten Copts were hospitalized. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields, and livestock were plundered and torched.

In a separate horrific incident, also in April, in the southern town of Qena, about 350 miles south of Cairo, Salafis (Islamic fundamentalists) implemented an Islamic penalty, or
, on a Christian Copt by cutting off his ear for allegedly renting his flat to a Muslim prostitute. A Muslim man who was accused of stealing motorized bicycles had his hands cut off by the hardliner Salafis, who want to follow sharia. They are no longer relying on the police to implement the justice system and are taking matters into their own hands. In this instance, they arrested the victim, judged him, and applied what they considered to be the appropriate punishment. After that, they called the police to take away the victim, saying, “We have applied the law of Allah; now come and apply your law.” That sent shock waves throughout Egypt.

BOOK: The Devil We Don't Know
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