Part 4 The Fragile Basis of Democracy and Development, 4.1 The Anatomy of the Arab Spring (2011–2015)
M. Cherif Bassiouni
Rainer Grote, Tilmann J. Röder
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, it is recounted that “to everything there is a season”, noting that in every season there is “a time to break down, and a time to build up”.1 The same may be said of the “Arab Spring”, which was a season for breaking down repressive governments and attempting to build up new systems to realize the long-repressed needs and desires of the peoples of the Arab-Muslim states, namely: freedom, justice, and dignity.2 These were (p. 402) the themes heard throughout the Arab world. Implicit in them was democracy, but understood as a means to achieve certain ends and not an end in itself. The “Arab Spring” revolutionary movement started in Tunisia in 2010, spreading to Egypt in January 2011, Syria in March, Libya in October, and Yemen in November 2011. In all these Arab states it started as a reformist movement. Later, with the exception of Tunisia, it was overtaken either by Islamists, ethnic religious groups or the military.
Arab states consider themselves Muslim because that is the dominant religion that is embraced by over 90% of the some 320 million people in the twenty-two countries that constitute the League of Arab States. Some of these states however, like Sudan, Mauritania, Djibouti, and the Comoros Islands are African Sub-Saharan states that are neither ethnically Semitic nor culturally Arab, except for cultural assimilation.3 North African states like Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco have different ethnic compositions amongst their population. Thus, the “Arab Spring” was not only about ethnicity and culture. It was about a shared heritage, common historical experiences, shared values, similar hopes and aspirations. But just as there was a season for the advent of the “Arab Spring,” there came a season of its winter. Regrettably, its participants never felt the warmth of summer.
The Arab-Muslim world is like a seismic plate on which there is a different volcano in each country. Even though underground movements may affect some or all of the volcanoes, each one has its own characteristics, and each erupts in its own time. On occasion several erupt simultaneously or in sequence, but they remain distinct from one another. Their sizes also differ. Some volcanoes are bigger than others, e.g., Egypt with its large population is a big volcano, whereas Tunisia is a relatively small one. But big or small, it is the force of their eruption that determines their respective consequences. The fact that some volcanoes are currently inactive, such as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan, does not mean that they will not erupt at some time in the future. To understand why the “Arab Spring” erupted, it is necessary to contextualize the different but related uprisings and root them in the history of the post–World War I Arab world and the broader history of the Muslim world since the seventh century.4 The history of the Arab world is intrinsically linked to that of the Muslim (p. 403) world, with the former having been an integral part of the latter since its birth. In fact, the Muslim world was briefly (during its formative years) an outgrowth of the Arab world.5 But it was not until the end of World War I that what we now know as the Arab world would emerge out of the Turkish Ottoman Empire6 and gain its own particular socio-political characteristics.7
The conventional political assessment of the “Arab Spring” has been that its causes were: corrupt autocratic national regimes mostly established and/or supported by Western imperial powers, the Israel-Palestine conflict, anti-Westernism, Muslim fundamentalism, and domestic socio-economic and political factors and problems similar to the earlier colonial periods of each respective country’s history.8 Many of these assessments do not sufficiently emphasize the persistent, pervasive, and pernicious effects of political, economic, and social repression of the masses over the years and the collective emotional consequences. My views, which I still hold today, were published in 1972 in Storm Over the Arab World: A People in Revolution,9 for which Professor Arnold Toynbee kindly wrote the foreword. Some forty years later, what I had then labeled the “Arab Revolution” re-emerged, as the “Arab Spring”, a term to signify the wave of new hope that was to be ushered in by the peoples of certain Arab states. In his 1979 book Orientalism, Edward W. Said categorized such developments as the Arab world’s reaction to Western imperialistic and racist policies and practices.10 Notwithstanding the links of Arabism and Islam that have connected the Arab peoples11 for almost fourteen centuries, each Arab country retained its own distinct characteristics because of its distinguishable historic, cultural, ethnic, and socio-political factors. The idea that there is something called the “Arab Revolution” which is common (p. 404) to all Arab peoples and which co-exists with each people’s separate revolutionary pathway is, however, still misunderstood in the West, even though it has been a sporadic ongoing process since the end of World War I.12 But it is also misunderstood in the Arab world, where the level of human development has consistently gone down since the intellectual and political nationalistic movements of the 1920s and ‘30s, essentially because of demographic increases and the failure of the educational systems.
Another misunderstanding fostered by Western elites and Western public opinion is that Israel constitutes the central part of what they see as the Arab unrest. For them, all matters involving the Arabs are interpreted as driven by the Arab people’s animosity toward Israel, even though the “Arab Revolution”, which started in 1917, predates the establishment of Israel in 1948. Undoubtedly, Israel’s establishment in 1948 over half of what used to be Palestine and its gradual expansion through the illegal seizure of Palestinian territory since then, as well as its repressive treatment of Palestinians has had a traumatic effect on the Arab psyche. That is part and parcel of the Arab revolutionary cause.13 But it is not its raison d’être. This misunderstanding is due in part to Israel’s political propaganda and in part to Islamophobia, which may or may not be related to a pro-Israel, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim stance. This propagandistic approach is in part intended to generate a negative counter reaction by Arab Muslims and other Muslims in order to enhance the escalation of animosity between the Arab world and the Muslim world and the West in general. In other words, the more the Arab world and the Muslim world are at odds with the West, the more the pro-Israel exponents believe their interests are best served. Arab resentment also stems from the United States’ actions in the region as the protector of Israel, because this links American neo-imperialism to Israel’s territorial expansion and oppression of the Palestinians; and from the United States’ support of oppressive and corrupt dictatorial Arab regimes.14 This in turn brings up another significant factor in the dynamics of this phase of the Arab Revolution, namely, the geopolitical dimension. The United States and Israel are not alone in this equation, as Iran’s imperial goals have become obvious. These external geopolitical factors are no different to the situation during the Cold War with its rivalry between the United States and the USSR, later Russia, from 1948 to date.15 Geopolitical factors have always had an important influence in the affairs of the Arab world. One need only look at oil in the Gulf States, the Suez Canal in Egypt, the USSR’s and now a resurgent (p. 405) Russia’s access to the Mediterranean, or Iran’s imperial ambitions and its use of the historical Shīcah-Sunni conflict to expand its regional influence.16
Another influencing factor is the rise of violent radical Islamic groups affiliated with al-Qācidah network, and since 2011 with the Islamic State organization referred to as ISIS or IS. Alliances between these groups and other Muslim fundamentalist ones, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have been reported to exist. More recently, the Islamic State (IS) has expanded its violent activities from Iraq and Syria to Egypt’s Sinai and Libya and is actively recruiting among Muslim communities worldwide.17 This development has brought about a new geopolitical dimension to this offshoot of the “Arab Spring”, as has the sectarian civil war in Yemen between the Houthi Shī’āh supported by Iran and the Sunni Yemeni Tribes supported by Saudi Arabia, some Gulf States, and Egypt—all of whom are Sunni.18
The “Arab Revolution” cannot be understood without an appreciation of the Arab peoples’ common history and separately, the history of each Arab country. These historical narratives take place across the last five centuries of Ottoman domination,19 its post–World War I successor, the Western colonial powers,20 the subsequent US imperial successor after World War II,21 and in turn, the subservient regimes of a monarchical or military character, established and/or supported by the former colonial or imperial regimes. All of these regimes, both external and internal, have oppressed and exploited the Arab peoples, and as human experience has taught us this eventually leads to revolution.
In short, from the Ottoman rule starting in 1522, until the “Arab Spring” of 2011 the Arab peoples have been in an almost constant state of subjugation by foreigners, as well as by their own rulers acting either as surrogates for foreigners or supported by foreign regimes. They have been deprived of their basic human dignity, as well as their opportunities for human and economic development. They have pursued their separate struggles, which have nevertheless remained part of the larger “Arab Revolution”. This is considered by some as a reason why this phase of the “Arab Revolution” is referred to as “the Arab Spring”. Thus far, this phase has taken place in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. In Tunisia and Egypt it is still a work in progress. In Syria and Yemen it has degenerated into a civil war. Libya has become a failed state. However, the actual spring of the “Arab Revolution” was not in 2010, but rather in the post–1919 period. This was when the Ottoman Empire broke apart and Arab peoples in different lands hoped to gain their independence and their dignity after centuries of foreign domination. They believed the implicit promise of President Woodrow (p. 406) Wilson in his Fourteen Points for a post–World War I era of peace and justice.22 But this was not to be. Wilson’s uplifting message to people in search of “self-determination”,23 like President Obama’s at the University of Cairo on June 4, 2009, while well-intentioned and heartfelt, could not withstand the tests of domestic and international political realities.24 Then, as now, the values and principles of freedom, justice, and dignity for the Arab peoples remained hollow words. These goals still have to be earned by the people in question through revolution, one at a time, and then will have to be consolidated over time through stable institutions of government. This is the bitter lesson of history that the Arab-Muslim world continues to learn, one incomplete revolution after another, one faltering step after the other. The United States’ failure to support these peoples’ legitimate claims and aspirations diminishes their faith in what they had hoped for from that country. Regrettably, when it comes to the choice of either supporting the people’s demand for the Jeffersonian principles enshrined in the United States’ Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,25 or supporting tyrannical, oppressive, and corrupt regimes that are compliant with US policy, the option has always prevailed, even during this ongoing “Arab Spring”. In the end, there is nothing that produces distrust and enhances radicalization like raising expectations only to let them come tumbling down.
To this day the essence of the post–World War I “Arab Revolution” has remained essentially unchanged—it is about freedom, human dignity, and justice, and that implicitly includes democracy.26 However, all of these aspirations are not easy to attain. They require, inter alia, organization, a political program, the ability to learn from the past’s mistakes, discipline, and patience. Arab societies are far from being there because of their levels of social and human development. At this point, the Arab peoples’ struggle is one for the basic needs of life. This struggle is about putting food on the table and providing security for the family. And this is proving to be quite a challenge for most Arab societies. Such history (p. 407) is, to paraphrase Joyce, the nightmare from which Arabs are trying to awaken today and which the “Arab Spring” sought in its own hopeful and naïve way to address.27 But then, as Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”.28 The memory of external and internal domination, repression, and exploitation in the Arab-Muslim world is neither dead nor past. Neither, of course, is the continuing reality of internal and international domination, repression and exploitation.
The range of human needs starts with the most basic needs of survival. It is only after these needs are met that others become necessary. Democracy and what it takes to make it happen and to make it work are often a luxury when contrasted with the essentials of physical survival. The Arab peoples are still, for the most part, struggling for their human survival while aspiring to democracy, even if it is still beyond their reach. That is why in the course of the Arab Spring there has been so much emphasis on laying down the foundations of tomorrow’s democracy. And that is why such a significant amount of energy has been put into developing new constitutions that would pave the way to democracy.29 To date, however, these gains have been formal and not real. New constitutions have been drafted, and with the exception of Tunisia, they have been instrumentalized by the new regimes, as in Egypt’s case, and by the old ones such as Syria. What is noteworthy, however, is that since the formal end of Ottoman domination in 1919 many Arab states have witnessed a popular demand for constitutions and this has been evident in the “Arab Spring” countries of Tunisia (2014), Egypt (2014), Libya (draft awaiting referendum), and Yemen (draft awaiting referendum). In other countries, like Jordan and Morocco, their respective monarchs, seeking to stay ahead of the curve, have amended and enacted new constitutions respectively, both in 2011.30 But many other Arab states do not have constitutions.
The Arab-Muslim world, as it is understood today, stretches from the Persian-Arabian Gulf in the East to Morocco and Mauritania in the West, from Syria and Iraq in the North to the Sudan, and the Sāḥel in the South, consisting of twenty-two individual states. In this article the term “Arab” is used to describe the peoples of these twenty-two states in general, although this includes non-ethnic Arabs, non-Semites, and non-Muslims as well. Nonetheless, because over 90% of the people who inhabit the Arab region are Muslims, these Arab states are referred to as Arab-Muslim states.31 Here the term is not used to refer (p. 408) to the other thirty-seven Muslim states that also belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.32
The first historically identifiable Arabs lived in what is today Yemen as different tribes who had developed contacts with one another in the centuries leading up to the formation of Islam under the Prophet, but the term has come to identify the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula and after World War I, many other peoples, including those of the Levant, Egypt, North Africa and the Sudan.33 With the advent of the Islamic nation, in its various forms, after the death of the Prophet in 632 ce, it lost its ethnic significance to acquire a political one. There were simply too many ethnic non-Arabs in the Islamic nation that extended from Morocco to the Indian subcontinent, Asia Minor, and sub-Saharan Africa. The beginnings of Arab identity proper can be traced to the early part of the seventh century, when Islam first spread across the Arabian Peninsula and then beyond, moving into the Levant in 637 ce and North Africa in 642ce, up to the fifteenth century when the Turkish Ottoman Empire had come to dominate the Muslim world.34 This dominance lasted until the end of World War I when a modern Arab identity emerged. In a complex way, this outward expansion represents both the birth of a common cultural and political Arab identity as well as the subsequent experience of these proto-Arabs who became dominated by Turkic and then Western European powers. As this writer argued in Storm Over the Arab World, “The Prophet had planned a vast nation of Islam to embrace the world, but his armies were chiefly Arab, and the central state that they created became an Arab (not primarily an Islamic) empire”.35 Part of the attraction of Islam lay in its universality, which looked beyond the particular characteristics of individuals and groups and provided them with a larger, universal identity, thereby assisting its cultural and religious expansion and acceptance. Moreover, it must be remembered that, unlike most invasions, the purpose was not singularly empire: When non-Arabs came under the control of the growing Arab Islamic Empire, they were incorporated as full members, and this new Islamic consciousness of nationhood which persisted through the centuries that followed and which was strongly influenced by the Arab culture.
This consciousness of an Arab Islamic nationhood, which is a shared identity, is founded on certain common denominators. First and foremost, it is predicated on a shared Islamic faith. But that religion’s common language is Arabic, and it necessarily reflects an Arab culture. There is no way of avoiding that with the Qur’ān and the Prophet’s Sunnah being in Arabic, as are most theological, doctrinal and interpretive works. Second, it is based on a common experience of foreign domination, colonization, and victimization over nearly 1,400 years.36 These two factors underpin the common Arab-Muslim experience of what is now considered the Arab world even though there is no homogenous Arab-Muslim identity, and there are differences between the various peoples of the Arab-Muslim world, something which is evident from the political fractures in the region. Pre-Arab cultures and traditions survive across the region, as do linguistic and religious differences. These differences still cause turmoil 1,400 years after the birth of Islam, as evidenced by the sectarian conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and the simmering one in Lebanon.37
(p. 409) The greatest level of integration and unitary control of the Arab world came between the middle of the fifteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century when the Ottoman Empire spanned from modern day Iran in the West to Algeria in the East, and as far as Yemen in the South to what has previously been part of the Habsburg Empire as it reached toward Vienna in the North.38 The Ottomans approached Arabs and the region as a single unit, though they administered each unit separately. Between the experiences and memories of the Arab-Islamic past and their experiences under the Ottomans, the Arab peoples retained the consciousness of being Arab Muslims.
The Ottomans did not approach their Arab subjects as equals, but rather as inferior persons from which they could extract taxes and labor. While not as oppressive as later external domination, Ottoman rule was hardly benign, it was cruel. It was also not uniform, and by the middle of the seventeenth century the Sublime Porte in Constantinople started to weaken and central control splintered, leading to the rise of regional leaders who exerted increasing control over their new fiefdoms.39 It should also be remembered that while the Ottomans were Muslims, they were not ethnically Arab, nor were they culturally Arabized. They were mostly Aryans, with some Turkic ethnicities and a very distinct culture and historical background. They had little in common with the Arab peoples.40 As such, the Arab peoples did not particularly welcome the Ottomans, and Arab nationalist movements, mostly Western-inspired, sprang up across the region during the latter part of their rule. Despite internal opposition, Ottoman dominion over the Arab-Muslim world continued until the end of World War I when the Empire was dismantled, as evidenced by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1922. In the wake of the World War I, the peoples of the Arab-Muslim world hoped to realize their nationalist demands and finally gain freedom and independence. This hope was short lived, however, as colonial authority passed from the Sublime Porte to London and Paris, the victorious powers in World War I, where it would remain for nearly thirty years. Spain and Italy were also colonial powers in Morocco and Libya, respectively. Despite the fervent wishes of the peoples of the region, the Arab-Muslim territories of the Ottoman Empire did not gain independence, rights, or liberties from their new colonial masters and certainly did not enjoy the dignity of self-determination. There were undoubtedly differences between Ottoman and Western rule, but in practical terms the Arabs remained the objects of foreign occupation and control.
Opposition to colonial rule increased after World War I when a wave of nationalist fervor washed across the region in response to the British and French colonialism. This was accompanied by similar developments in Morocco and Libya against Spain and Italy. In each Arab-Muslim state, a revolutionary ideology evolved, based on the specific experiences of the country and the policies and practices of its respective colonial authority. In these countries only modest success was achieved, as colonial authorities suppressed or co-opted opposition movements whenever possible while only rarely granting concessions, as they did in Egypt in 1922, leading to that country’s independence and its first constitution in 1923. But the prolonged socio-psychological impact of foreign domination over the peoples of the region is evident in the post–“Arab Spring” experiences of the respective Arab states. Tunisia is the only state that is holding on to the hope of success: Libya is a failed (p. 410) state with two parliaments and governments in Benghazi and Tripoli (seeking nonetheless to reconcile their differences), Egypt has regressed into a military regime, Iraq is divided and struggling, and Yemen and Syria have fallen into civil wars.
The colonial and neo-imperial eras were bleak for the Arabs, who not only were denied their civil and political rights but also their economic and social ones. As stated in Storm Over the Arab World, “[I]mperial rulers and foreign entrepreneurs took far more than they gave. Revolution breeds best where the fruits of progress are most unfairly distributed. It is not in the nature of man of be content with the scraps dropped from another’s table. In the Arab Muslim world western wealth stood forth on boastful display… . Western films revealed such luxury as no ordinary Arab dreamed of. Even the common soldiers in white armies could hire native servants. Few Arabs learned to read and write. They had no schools. Those who achieved a little learning had small hope of higher education”.41 As a whole, the Arab-Muslim world became divided between the overwhelming majority who were poor and downtrodden and the few who were rich and superior. The scale of this poverty and inequality was in inverse measure to the ostentatious wealth of those who were not and it stood in sharp contrast to the economic, social, and human development of the West.42 The Arab experiences also stood in sharp contrast to the post–World War II progress made by Asian societies, such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia to name only a few, the latter of which is a Muslim society. The questions arising from the disparities between these societies, Western societies (including Eastern and Central European ones after 1989), and the Arab-Muslim world are not only enormous but also perplexing as to the significant deficit in human development and the disintegration of the social fabric that once bound these societies together. Islamists throughout the Arab-Muslim world and elsewhere attribute it to the decline in individual and social values that an Islamic form of government would achieve. But that seems more politically self-serving than realistic as Islamists offer their slogan “al-Islam Hoa al-Ha”, Islam is the Solution.
The end of World War II, however, weakened the hold of colonial and imperialist power and independence became inevitable, as France and the United Kingdom were weakened and no longer able to enforce their rule. Into this power vacuum, however, stepped the United States as it began to exert control over the region, effectively taking over many of the United Kingdom’s functions as the new global hegemon. Eventually the region was freed from colonialism and power passed to nonrepresentative monarchs and military dictators selected or supported by Washington, London, and Paris. Some of these monarchies (p. 411) subsequently morphed into military oligarchies that continued to be tied to their former or new imperial powers in the region, such as the USSR. In effect, the colonial era passed into the imperialist era in which Western states and the USSR (until 1989) attempted to maintain control over the region through local proxies, much as had been the case under Ottoman and pre-Ottoman control.
The socio-economic and human development of Arab-Muslim states at the time of their respective gaining of independence was low. This did not improve thereafter except in economic terms for the indigenous people of the oil-rich Gulf States. For the Arab peoples, the successor rulers maintained the policies of their predecessors, in repressing and exploiting local populations. These new regimes perpetuated the imperial dominance of the colonial powers and suppressed the legitimate desires and needs of their people, including benefitting the oligarchies they created. Such relationships have not changed to date, the “Arab Spring” notwithstanding. For the peoples of the Arab-Muslim world, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.43 In a perverse way, the wealthy Gulf States did not fare much better in terms of human and social development. Their power/wealth remained in the hands of the few. This reality is also likely to come to an eruption soon, particularly in Saudi Arabia with a population of 25 million and 5 million living at or below the poverty line.
Nationalism dominated the Arab-Muslim world between the 1920s and the 1960s when pan-Arabism became ascendant, eventually bringing a number of Arab nationalists and pan-Arabists to power, including Gamel Abdel-Nasser in Egypt44 and Aḥmad Ben Bella in Algeria, the Bacth Party in Syria and Iraq, and Mucammar al-Qadhdhāfī in Libya.
None of these ideologies and political movements managed to bring about good or effective governments. They also failed to satisfy the economic needs of the people. The Arab revolutions that sprang up across the region in the 1950s and 1960s were a product of the need to remove outside control, to establish good and effective government and to achieve economic and social development, thereby completing the circle of full political self-determination.45 Confronted by a failing economy and the increasingly repressive policies of its advocates, nationalism, pan-Arabism, and Bacthism lost their standing among the Arab peoples once they realized that only the faces in leadership changed, but not the peoples’ conditions.
The outcome was a transformation of the ideological character of Arab activism from nationalist and secularist movements to religious ones. Islamism replaced nationalism and other ideologies as the dominant political ideology on the street as of the 1970s. However, (p. 412) religious revival also had another function, namely to remind Arabs of the greatness of their past and the transcendental values of their religion and culture, something which perhaps had not been sufficiently acknowledged by the more secular nationalist leaders.46
To be clear, Islamism is not about the religion of Islam per se. It is an ideological precept built on selected religious values, principles, and norms conveniently interpreted to provide both the legitimate basis of the given political group; including its methods, particularly when they violate the values, principles, and norms of Islam. But Islamist political ideology gives solace to the weak and the dispossessed through the manipulation of faith and hope that the disenfranchised so direly need. Muslim rule has never been about freedom of the people or democracy. It has also never been about the accountability of rulers. It has been about the preservation of power by the ruler and his sharing it with his ruling regime.47 Certainly, there have been Muslim rulers through fourteen centuries who have provided more justice and fairness to the flock they ruled than others. Nonetheless, when Arab nationalist movements failed between 1920 and 1960, religiously inspired political movements were able to argue that they could call upon a greater power and a higher justice. Their appeal resonated with the masses more than that of the nationalist slogans whose failure had been proven in the everyday living conditions of the Arab masses. It did not matter whether the religious-political agenda realistically had a better chance of succeeding in providing better answers to existing problems. If nothing else, it offered hope to those that had lost all hope. Thus, in Egypt since the late 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood has had the simplest response to the peoples’ woes: “Islam is the solution”. Who could dispute or argue with that statement? Of course there was the question of “how”—but that was to come later once the party was in power. And when that happened in 2012, it failed.48 But then no nationalistic slogan managed to become more appealing to the downtrodden Egyptian masses.49 Pro-democracy secularists pushed forward their agenda and offered new constitutions, but they too failed—as had the post–World War I era of constitutional democracy in some countries of the Arab world—because their attempts were instrumentalized by oppressive and corrupt dictatorial regimes.50 Thus far very little has changed, though there is still some slim hope.51 What is important to note here is how the secular democratic constitutional movement, throughout the Arab-Muslim world, has overlooked the Islamic identity of its peoples. Furthermore, they have overlooked the moral and ethical uplifting appeal that emotionally moves the masses in the drafting of post–“Arab Spring” constitutions. In a cultural sense, they have borrowed too much rhetoric from the West and not enough enforcement capabilities, which are sorely needed to translate constitutional rhetoric into reality.
(p. 413) As is often the case with religious movements, however, the Islamist movement has become increasingly fundamentalist with a tendency toward violence. This means a call for a return to the early and simple days of the Prophet, including the indiscriminate use of the sword, as IS and Boko Haram have so tragically demonstrated between 2013–2016. The message has been the same one from the days of Ibn Taymīyah (1293–1328) to the Salafīs and Wahhābīs of today.52 Inevitably in this Islamist ideology, everything that resonates negatively with the people is an opportunity ripe for ideological and political exploitation. As is apparent, the United States in particular and the West in general have become prime objects for Islamist opprobrium. In this new ideology, it matters little whether the reasons are logical or relevant: Movies by crackpot amateurs in California and cartoons in Denmark or Paris are legitimate sources of anger and resentment, as are drone strikes on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, torture at Abū-Ghrayb and Guantánamo, and support for Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and ongoing seizure of Palestinian lands.53 This comes in addition to the United States’ and Israel’s double standards, exceptionalism, and Islamophobia. All combined, these factors make for a strong case for the Islamists, and violence is the inevitable and tragic outcome of this anger, frustration, and feeling of despondency. Passivity is seen as the continuation of the post–World War I colonialism and its continuation after World War II under the United States’ imperialism, maintained up to the present day proxy regimes. The rise of the al-Qā cedah network of organizations, groups, and individuals since the 1980s attest to this phenomenon. Nonetheless the limited effectiveness of their approach—September 11, 2001, notwithstanding—has given rise to the next historical stage, namely a more unified organization that operates from a defined territory, whose recruits, mostly young, come from all over the world.54 This is what IS is.
The rise of contemporary Islamism and its resort to violence is not only due to the profound psychological toll that history has taken on Arab Muslims but is also due to the failure of the secular democracy movement in the region. This can be mainly attributed to the disorganization of its various liberal/nationalistic/secular/pro-democracy groups and their inability to organize and coalesce into effective political organizations. More important, the (p. 414) debilitating effect of corruption on Arab societies has resulted in a weakening of its social fabric, thus making reform and renewal ever more difficult.
The single most important factor in understanding the events of 2011–2015 is the cumulative interactive experience of Arab societies with socio-economic-political factors, including the debilitating effects of corruption on each and every Arab society, that brought about the peoples’ alienation, despair, and anger. This is in addition to the demeaning and disenfranchising experience of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and of the abusive and corrupt national regimes that followed. And last, but not least, of the increasing human and social development deficit that developed in so many Arab societies.
That violence would result from such characteristics is hardly surprising or revelatory.55 Throughout history people have fought for much less. The resentment of American settlers toward King George was based on a fraction of this and was considered legitimate grounds for dissent and war, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. A more modern corollary comes in the struggle of black Americans against second-class status in the post–Civil War United States. Langston Hughes, the African American poet, pointedly asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” and answered with another, similarly provocative question, “or does it explode?”56 The Arab-Muslim world has lived with a dream deferred for centuries, but especially the last decades. And now it is exploding—not surprising, given the history and context of the situation. But regrettably for most people, this dream is once again being suppressed. In such a tense situation Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims who live under the same conditions register and amplify every slight, no matter how significant or serious, in ways they otherwise would never have. These slights include the cartoons of the Prophet published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, the release on YouTube of the slanderous film The Innocence of Muslims in July 2012, or the incessant anti-Islamic attacks by Islamophobes and others.57 Such provocations reopen old wounds and add insult to the existing injury of colonialism and neo-imperialism, not necessarily because they are offensive in and of themselves, but because they recall a period of emasculation and foreign domination. There is an old aphorism about the cornered animal being the most dangerous, and in some sense Arabs and Muslims have been cornered by colonialism, neo-imperialism, and corrupt national regimes. In this context ongoing slights of their religion and morality are seen as continuations of the past. In the context of the history of the Arab-Muslim world (p. 415) and the perpetual denial of basic respect, fundamental rights, and accountability, whether directly by the West or through its proxies, these matters take on existential importance.58
One of the most tragic manifestations of the Arab colonial past is its persistence under indigenous rulers’ internal repression. The oppressed person continues to be transformed from a subject into an object, unable to affect the condition of his or her life. As the French saying goes, the more it changes, the more it remains the same. So what is left to do? One of the very few acts of independence left is resorting to violence. Fanon interpreted the violence of oppressed people as an act of agency. This view is perhaps the best way to understand what has been going on in the Arab-Muslim world. Indeed, all too often the only avenue of agency open to the oppressed is violence, an action whereby they can claim some sort of control.59 In a world in which weapons are cheap and political accountability largely nonexistent, people eventually strike out however and wherever they can. Given the nature of society, in which the powerful wall themselves off and forcefully police the political, social, and economic subaltern, in a perverse way the people themselves become the targets of violence. As seen in the Arab Muslim world, as the oppression and repression of those in power increases, so does the popular reaction as an expression of resistance and agency–Some would also say as an expression of last resort. These lessons have not been learned in the West as they continue to react to violent phenomena as a manifestation of “terrorism” tout court—and that is why they are failing to stem the violence.
The majority of victims in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen suffer at the hands of other Muslims. The same is true in Nigeria with the actions of Boko Haram, in Somalia with the Shabāb, to name only these two non-Arab arenas.60 The more recent violence of IS is particularly cruel and so blatantly contrary to Islam’s values, principles, and norms. Nonetheless, all these individual actors claim Islam as their justification, despite the fact that there is no basis for it whatsoever. To them and to other so-called fundamentalists, everything else has failed: nationalism, communism, democracy, and whatever else one might care to list. The only ideology left is Islam, and that is without any limits on its means, because to them the end justifies any means.61 Islam itself, however, rejects the postulate that the ends justify the means because it is a religion grounded in higher values and principles, requiring that both the ends and the means conform to these values and principles as well as its specific legal dictates. Therefore, violent conduct toward Muslim and non-Muslim civilians is contrary to Islam,62 whether such acts are committed by groups such as IS,63 Shabāb in Somalia,64(p. 416) Boko Ḥarām in Nigeria,65 Anṣār Al-Dīn in Mali,66 Ṭālibān in Afghanistan,67 or suicide bombings by Palestinian resistance fighters.68 All of this having been said does not absolve the Arab peoples from their social and political failures. Other people from other cultures have been in similar negative historic contexts and have outgrown them. The Arabs have not, and that is their own fault. It reveals a weakness in the Arab Muslim societies that is so obvious in every such community, no matter how large or small or where it is located. In contrast, individuals, when taken out of the Arab-Muslim societal or group context, seem to easily transcend the collective weaknesses of corruption, self-interest, lack of discipline, failure to organize, fairness to one another, collective solidarity, and the art of consensus-building. In part, this is described in the ensuing section concerning the failure of economic development.
Today most of the Arab-Muslim world remains one of contrasts with ostentatious wealth existing side by side with extreme poverty. The region is essentially underdeveloped and in some areas desperately impoverished. As noted above, in economic terms, the West has taken much more from the Arab-Muslim world than it has given, but this applies even more so to the region’s despotic and corrupt indigenous rulers. It is one thing to be oppressed and exploited by external colonial and neo-imperial foreigners, it is quite another to be subjected to these same treatment by one’s own people. The former brings injury, the latter adds insult, thus fueling the prospects of violent revolutionary outcomes. Arab economies are still the products of colonial and neo-imperialist policies designed to extract as much benefit as possible as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the few and to the detriment of the many.69
Over the past thirty years East Asian economies have grown significantly by following an orderly path of industrialization and economic development planning, while the (p. 417) Arab-Muslim world has been stuck in a low gear, especially since 1990.70 The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Arab Development Challenges Report of 2011 pointedly ties the lack of freedom, justice, and dignity to past oppression and the gross underdevelopment of the region, noting:
A resurgent Arab region is seeking an end to a system marked by the political economy of renter states and demanding a move towards developmental states with commitment to freedom, social justice and human dignity. From the outset, those in control failed to understand the underlying dynamics that were driving popular discontent, built up over many years in a system characterized by political repression and economic and social inequality. Repressive tactics were employed to silence or contain dissenting voices, but so deep seated was pent up popular opposition towards ruling elites that in response to this repression, large and diverse segments of the Arab populations joined the youth who stood at the movement’s vanguard.71
However, as the report notes, Arab economies and development schemes have become top-heavy, having become “increasingly concentrated in the hands of political and economic elites with preferential access to crucial assets and resources”.72 Ultimately, the UNDP concludes:
Poverty, whether measured in terms of human capabilities or in money metric terms of income or expenditure, reflects the convergence of social, economic and political exclusions, which is glaring for the majority of the Arab rural population. Indeed, the severity of rural poverty and the large disparities between rural and urban development reviewed in this report are indicative of failed rural development policies. It is sufficient to note that 50% of the Arab population is rural, while agriculture, their primary economic activity, accounts for no more than 15% of Arab GDP […] Therefore, it would be safe to conclude that despite some notable progress, the region has generally failed to transform its massive oil-wealth into commensurate improvement in human well-being and decrease in human deprivation. Furthermore, the absence of effective social protection mechanisms exacerbates the risk of falling into poverty, as the poor are at the receiving end of economic systems that favor patterns of consumption for the rich, such as investment in luxury and speculative real estate projects, while those sectors that can create decent and more stable employment opportunities languish. Failing to institute and respect mechanisms of participation and accountability, Arab regimes missed many opportunities for course correction and even failed to understand people’s aspirations, thus creating conditions that led to popular uprisings.73
These problems are laid bare in the UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report and since then they have increased in large part because of demographic increases, lack of economic and social development, including education, and the perpetuation of corrupt oligarchies and dictatorial regimes. The Arab region has an average Human Development Index score of 0.641, placing it just barely within the group of “medium development states”. As a point of reference, “very high human development” starts at 0.889, “high (p. 418) human development” starts at 0.741, “medium human development” starts at 0.630, and “low human development” starts at 0.456.74 It should be pointed out that only three Arab states have climbed into the highest category of development, namely the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain.75 In comparative terms, current growth in the region is the lowest in the developing world. While South Asia and East Asia fare worse on some indices, their regional HDI scores are still growing at a faster pace than the Arab-Muslim world. Indeed, only Europe and Central Asia are growing more slowly, which more can more likely be explained by their own shortcomings than by great achievements on the part of the Arab states. As a whole, the Arab region comes out below the global average and just barely above the category of low human development. In most respects the region approximates the level of human development level of small island states. Moreover, the aforementioned very highly developed Arab states appear to have moved up the tables not so much because of their achievements but because of their small populations and fantastic wealth.
Economic and social development, as well as human development, have been noteworthy failures in most Arab states, including those with a high per-capita income. The extent of these failures varies in each society. Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco are among those relatively less affected than, for example, Egypt, Algeria, and Yemen; since the war in Syria, that country, along with Yemen, has been the most negatively impacted. The correlation between economic development and social and human development is definitely significant, and all three impact stability, democracy, and human rights, whether it be in the Arab Muslim world or anywhere else.
World powers have clearly taken an interest in the events of the “Arab Spring” but have done little to help support pro-democracy movements in different states. While the carnage in Syria goes on, the international community turns a blind eye to it. In 1990 the United States and a coalition of supporters raised an army of almost 800,000 troops to oust Ṣaddām Ḥussein from Kuwait,76 even though he had committed to voluntarily withdraw from Kuwait.77 His occupation of Kuwait caused less than 100 casualties.78 However in (p. 419) Syria, with an estimated 400,000 casualties and eleven million refugees and internally displaced persons by 2015, by the Assad regime supported by Iran and Russia, nothing is done to stop the carnage. Geopolitical interests have and continue to dominate the scene in the Arab world. Exceptionalism and double standards characterize approaches to the region by influential countries such as the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Typically, it has been the United States and other Western powers, who have meddled in the affairs of the Middle East, but recently Russia and Iran have grown in influence as well. In the case of Syria, Russian, and Iranian actions and influence have provided military, economic and political support to the Assad regime. China has also acquired much influence over the Sudan and is making inroads in Egypt. Saudi-Arabian actions in Yemen are another recent manifestation of this accepted phenomenon.
After years of living in conditions comparable to a pressure cooker, the people of Tunisia erupted in opposition as a result of a single incident involving a single person. Shortly thereafter the peoples of Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria also burst into revolt. In each case, the international community, and more particularly the United States, reacted in differing and inconsistent ways. The gamut of Western response has ranged from military intervention in Libya,79 to political support in Egypt,80 to military assistance in Yemen, some military action against IS in Iraq and Syria, and to general paralysis regarding the larger Syrian civil war.
On the whole, the people of the Arab world have regarded these responses negatively. Their perception of such conduct is that it is part of a Machiavellian plot to destabilize or destroy the Muslim Arab world, mostly for Israel’s interest. Arab political discourse is often prone to looking for conspiracy theories to explain internal affairs and looking toward external actions in particular as a way of explaining their own failures. No conspiracy is far-fetched enough to be discarded; everything is possible. This is understandable in the case of people whose destinies have been controlled from abroad for centuries, and then from within by ruling elites. For the disenfranchised, anything is possible and everything that happens is for a reason. Those who tend toward such outlooks cannot comprehend why major powers like the United States and NATO might at different times act pragmatically, opportunistically, or in response to domestic internal considerations. They certainly cannot grasp how such disregard for the Arab peoples persists in Washington, London, and Paris. Therefore, there is always a perceived imaginary plan or scheme, in short a conspiracy of sorts.
(p. 420) Many Egyptian secularists believe that the United States conspired to assist the Muslim Brotherhood in destabilizing the country in 2011-2013, and Yemenis are convinced that cAlī cAbdullāh Ṣāliḥ, the deposed tyrant, still sits at the levers of power in Ṣanacāʾ as part of a ploy to maintain control over the strategically important country. Similarly, the Sunni Arab-Muslim world is broadly convinced that the United States selected the Shīcah as a tool to use for political domination in Iraq, thereby facilitating the subjugation of Sunni Iraqis for geopolitical reasons. In other words, Iran was given Iraq and now Syria to fulfill its imperial designs in exchange for its renunciation of nuclear weapons and aggressive actions against Israel. An earlier example of this thinking was the Arab perception of the West’s relationship with Sudan and the widespread belief that the United States directly caused the breakup of the country in 2011 by supporting the Southern Peoples Liberation Movement. No one believes that the United States lacks the power or capacity to remove the Assad regime in Damascus, irrespective of the positions of Russia and Iran. It seems to Arabs that the ongoing war in Syria serves the geopolitical interests of the United States and Israel, and that this primarily explains why NATO warplanes bombed Libya but not Syria. The truly confused and confusing policies of the United States, which supported intervention in some places but not in others, and which prop up regimes in one country but not another, are set against a backdrop of some sixty years of clumsy neo-imperial policy and practices in the Arab-Muslim world, particularly its unequivocal support for Israel and failure to resolve the Palestinian Question. Notwithstanding the violations of international law committed against Palestinians, Israel continues to have the unqualified support of the United States. Can there be any different contextual framework for understanding US policy and practices in the Arab world? Conspiracy theories flow thick from this premise, streaming into popular perceptions of why the United States supports corrupt, dictatorial regimes, while failing to support democratic movements in Arab countries.
Russia, like its predecessor the USSR, also engages in the same game of geopolitics, exceptionalism, and double standards whenever it can. The fact that it is so blatant is almost breathtaking. But in doing so, Russia also slaps the United States in the face, as the latter remains unable to act due to its internal political limitations. All of this means that the laudable goals of the “Arab Spring” movement have been overtaken not only by internal power-politics but also by external geopolitical considerations that are beyond the Arab peoples’ control. But it also means that in this era of globalization, the post–World War II human rights have been overtaken by power and wealth interests.81
The “Arab Spring” started in Tunisia, followed by Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, respectively. Tunisia is so far the only country in which regime change and the path toward democracy have progressed. In Egypt, regime change has occurred twice between February 2011 and July 2014. However, democracy did not survive with a military regime taking over from July 3, 2014, onward, with a strong majority of public support. Libya has disintegrated into a failed state, and Yemen is in the throes of a civil war likely to result in its break up into two states. The Syrian Assad regime has survived thanks to the Russian and Iran’s direct military involvement and political and economic support, notwithstanding the aforementioned deaths of an estimated 400,000 civilians and eleven million internally displaced persons and refugees. Iraq, though not one of the “Arab Spring” countries, is also in the throes of a (p. 421) latent civil war with IS and an ongoing low-level conflict between Shīcah and Sunni with the former being supported by Iran.
The ongoing conflicts in both Syria and Iraq are influenced by the involvement of external powers. This involvement is in part for their respective geopolitical interests, and in part because of sectarian rivalries which in turn have an impact on other political and military interests in other states. Russia supports the Assad-led cAlawī regime for its own geopolitical interests. Russia’s interest in Syria is to make sure it has port facilities on the Mediterranean, and thus to remain a world naval power. It is Syria’s primary, if not exclusive, arms supplier and provider of military and technical assistance and support. There are also an estimated 30,000 Russian nationals residing in Syria. Though how much it can influence the Al-Assad regime is questionable. Iran’s interests are the consolidation of political and military power and influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, all of which are states where sizable Shīcah communities exist. These communities look to Iran’s religious marjacīyah, which means leadership, for spiritual guidance. As a result however, this has an effect on more than just religious questions. In time, the joint platform of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon will give Iran the opportunity to exert its influence in the oil-rich Gulf States through the respective Shīcah minorities in Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia as well as the Shīcah majority in Bahrain. The Ḥūthī Shīcah in Yemen are in control of half of the country.
As of 2014, Iran has a new interest in the Iraq-Syria arena, namely combating the so-called “Islamic State” or IS. In a bizarre way, this results in Iran and, indirectly, the Assad-led cAlawī-Shīcah of Syria siding with the United States, Russia, and the Sunni Gulf States as well as Jordan and Egypt in fighting IS. This new conflict is taking place within the context of (or at least on the same territory as) two other political-sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and has made some strange bedfellows. As the IS movement expands in both the Arab and broader Muslim world and brings new recruits into its fold, including Muslims from the Western world, it is acquiring a dimension that transcends the Arab and Muslim worlds and thus involves many more states and their respective interests, not the least of which is what they perceive of as domestic terrorism. Another development of the ever expanding IS phenomenon is its political-military extension to other Arab states, such as Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt’s Sīnāʾi Peninsula. For all practical purposes, IS, which is driven by a religious ideology of its own making, has overtaken the loosely connected network of al-Qācedah. Unlike the al-Qācedah, which had the characteristics of a franchise, to use a commercial organizational model analogy, IS is an organization with a vertical power structure and a territorial base. Therefore, its military capabilities and the military/political dangers it poses are more significant. These harmful effects include worldwide terrorism.
Russia and Iran provide military aid to their client state of Syria while Iran also aids Shīcah factions in Iraq, Ḥizbullāh in Lebanon, and the Ḥūthī in Yemen. The United States aids Egypt military and also provides modest economic aid to Tunisia, which not only needs it but is moreover the only “Arab Spring” partial success story to date.
None of the “Arab Spring” countries have thus far developed effective methods for transitional justice and post conflict justice.82 In specific terms, this means that none has addressed the needs of victims.83 Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have made changes in (p. 422) their constitutions, but only Tunisia has successfully withstood the test of implementing its new Constitution of 2014. It is the only country in which democracy seems to be progressing in the right direction. Egypt has not fully implemented its 2014 Constitution since all of its human and civil rights provisions await enactment into law—these laws can also strongly restrain these rights. The repressive measures undertaken since 2013 have proven their point.84 In Egypt and in every other “Arab Spring” country, democracy has regressed.
The “Arab Spring” has also bolstered the Kurdish national claim, which at this time is divided into four components: Iraq, where a de facto Kurdish state already exists; Syria, where efforts to establish a regional government in Kurdish areas are underway; Turkey, where guerilla warfare is ongoing between Kurds and the government; and finally the still to arise claim by Kurds of Iran. In the first two cases the Kurds took advantage of the tumultuous situation in the Arab world to advance their claims. The latter two have to face regimes that will use every available force to prevent any Kurdish ethnic claims.
The outcomes of the “Arab Spring” can be judged in different ways, but any such assessment has to be made in accordance with its original goals, namely: the pursuit of freedom, justice, and human dignity. These are a reflection of fundamental human values, ones which can be said to be part of the commonly shared values of all human societies since recorded history began. Nonetheless, there are those who argue that these values have different cultural contexts and societal applications. While this is true in our contemporary global society, there is an ongoing harmonization of these differences, which are largely a reflection of the economic, social, and human development of different communities. In modern terms, there are a number of categories through which these fundamental human values find their expression and application. Such categories include those of democracy, the rule of law, the constitutional process, accountability, and the redressing of wrongs. These specifics categories are singled out here because all those involved in the “Arab Spring” movements throughout the Arab states expressed their desire for them. They are also what civil society organizations in Arab states have called for and long advocated. The same is true in the other Arab states that have not experienced the “Arab Spring” directly, but where these objectives are being consistently advocated.
An important matter to note here is that in a number of Arab states, including those which have been part of the “Arab Spring”, a constitutional reform effort has been undertaken, such as that in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. These constitutional efforts have borne some fruits not only because new constitutions have been enacted but also because their provisions have been invoked, and in varying respects they have been adhered to. Here again the most successful experience is the Tunisian Constitution of 2014. The proposed new Yemeni Constitution, drafted between 2012 and 2014, has not been capable of preserving the country’s unity in and of itself, while Libya’s 2011 Constitution has been invoked as a unifying force for the different factions that have rendered it dysfunctional. This dysfunction is why the interim Libyan Constitution of 2011 is still in the process of being amended. Egypt’s Constitution of 2014, which was drafted with significant influence from the present regime, has worked for the benefit of that regime.85 Only Tunisia has managed to establish a democratic process which it followed through on with legislative elections 2014 and a presidential election in 2015. Egypt also had a presidential election of sorts in 2014; however, its result was foregone conclusion with Field Marshall cAbd al-Fattāḥ al-Sīsī (p. 423) being elected to office. The 2015 legislative elections were controlled and guided by the military establishment.86 In Tunisia the contested presidential elections were carried out fairly and resulted in a challenger to the incumbent president being democratically elected. In Yemen and Libya no constitutionally based presidential elections have taken place. Syria remains the greatest focal point of tragedy in the Arab world, with its dictatorial regime of Bashār al-Assad, the successor of his father Ḥāfeẓ al-Assad, a military dictator who took the country over in 1970. Syria was part of the “Arab Spring” in that its initial local demonstrations aimed at obtaining minor reforms in the dictatorial regime of the Assad family. This family comes from the Shīcah minority community of cAlawī (which makes up an estimated at 12% of the total population of Syria), and the demonstrations against them resulted in massive repression as described above.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the “Arab Spring’s” goals and objectives of democracy, freedom, justice, and human dignity have been co-opted by domestic interests and groups and overtaken by geopolitical realities. Contrary to widespread popular belief, IS is not the main obstacle to these goals and objectives. The main impediment is the lack of economic, social, and human development. The Arab peoples’ history of oppression, lack of freedom, absence of democracy, injustice, and human indignity appear to be continuing under new guises. But this does not mean that such goals and objectives are no longer present among many in the Arab masses or that they will not resurface at another time. In other words, while the short-term “Arab Spring” may have come and passed, the long-term Arab Revolution, as described above, is simply preparing to enter its next phase when the time is ripe.(p. 424)
2 For example: M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution” in Adam Roberts et al. (eds.), Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016); M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Editorial” (2014) 8 International Journal of Transitional Justice 325; M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Egypt in Transition: The Third Republic” (2014) 4 (4) PRISM 3; Stephen R. Grand, Understanding Tahrir Square: What Transitions Elsewhere Can Teach Us About the Prospects for Arab Democracy (Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC 2014); Adel Iskander, Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution (The American University in Cairo Press, New York 2013); Esam al-Amin, The Arab Awakening Unveiled: Understanding Transformations and Revolutions in the Middle East (American Educational Trust, Washington 2013); M. Cherif Bassiouni, “The ‘Arab Revolution’ and Transitions in the Wake of the ‘Arab Spring’” (2013) 17 UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs 133; Layla al-Zubaidi and Matthew Cassel (eds), Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution: Voices from Tunis to Damascus (Penguin Random House, London 2013); Marc Lynch, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (Public Affairs, New York 2012); Wael Ghonim, Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater than the People in Power: A Memoir (First Mariner Books, New York 2012); Dr. Aly el-Samman, Egypt: From One Revolution to Another: Memoir of a Committed Citizen Under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak (Gilgamesh Publishing, London 2012); Ashraf Khalil, Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation (St. Martin’s Press, New York 2011); Robert Solé, Le Pharon Renversé: Dix-huit Jours qui ont Changé l’Égypte (Les Arènes, Paris 2011). The use of the term Arab-Muslim is not intended to exclude non-Muslims, mostly Christians who live in many of these societies in varying numbers and percentages of the population. Such societies include Egypt (10% of over 88.4 million), Jordan (2.2% of over 8 million), Palestine (1-2.5% of almost 2.8 million in West Bank, <1% of almost 1.9 million in Gaza), Syria (10% of over 17 million), Lebanon (40.5% of almost 6.2 million), Iraq (<1% of 37 million), Tunisia (<1% of over 11 million), Algeria (<1% of over 39.5 million), Morocco (<1% of over 33.3 million). See United States Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook”, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/, accessed March 14, 2016. But over almost fourteen centuries they have been impacted by many similar historical factors as their Muslim counterparts. They have absorbed so many of their social characteristics. Nevertheless, at different times and in different ways, they have suffered under Muslim rulers the same fate as their national Muslim counterparts have suffered at the hands of foreign rulers. There is no doubt in the end that these are Arab Muslim societies dominated by Muslim values, or whatever is so propounded, ruled by Muslims, where non-Muslims are not treated as equals to their Muslim counterparts (and that is, in many cases, a very mild way of putting what is at times outright discrimination and unequal treatment).
3 For example: Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Faber & Faber, Blackstone Audio, Ashland, US 2013); Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2014).
4 In this context, it is of course also important to remember that the past is also contextual and can be appropriated for many causes. As Orwell cautioned in 1984, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984 (1941). It is certainly true that many across the Arab-Muslim world are manipulating the past for their own cynical purposes. However, as this article argues, the reality and gravity of foreign hegemony and exploitation cannot be repudiated.
5 See (n 3).
6 For example: M. Sükrü Hanioglu, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire (Princeton University Press, Princeton 2008); Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Empire (Folio Society, London 2003); Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005).
7 See (n 3).
8 For example: Robert Wright, “Hidden Causes of the Muslim Protests,” The Atlantic (Washington DC, September 16, 2012), http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/09/hidden-causes-of-the-muslim-protests/262440/, accessed August 25, 2015. Wright argues that the “hidden causes” of the September 2012 protests across the Arab-Muslim world were the consequence of America’s foreign policy, namely: (1) the use of drone warfare; (2) support for Israeli policies vis-à-vis Palestine; and (3) the continued presence of American troops in the region. While these arguments are certainly salient and help to explain the most recent protests, these rationales fail to provide the necessary context to explain why these issues matter in the first place. Certainly such conditions are evident in other states and regions where there hasn’t been such a response. Understanding the past eighteen months and the Damoclean sword that hangs over region requires a deeper assessment of why these issues matter so much and the origins of the psychology of ordinary people who rail against them. This article attempts to provide such an analysis.
9 Eugene Fisher and M. Cherif Bassiouni, Storm Over the Arab World: A People in Revolution (Westchester, US 1972). Unfortunately, the book has been relegated to total obscurity because an organization that I have never been able to identify convinced the publisher to withdraw the book from publication, even though pre-distribution had yielded some very positive reviews. Some 200 copies appear to have been saved, and a few of them can still be found.
10 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (Vintage Books, New York 1978). For another early critic of these perspectives, see also Maxime Rodinson, The Arabs (Chicago University Press, Chicago 1979); Maxime Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World (Monthly Review Press, New York 1982; new edition published by Zen Books, London 2015). But these views also represent a Western intellectual perspective.
11 The term “Arab peoples” refers to the populations inhabiting each Arab state, as it is now known, and which subject to boundary differences and name differences, existed as far back as at least the fourteen centuries.
12 supra note 2.
13 US support for the gradual territorial expansionism of Israel since 1948 has in recent years reached a level of unconditionality, further undermining Arab trust in the United States. For a historical perspective, see Michael B. Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy, America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (Norton, New York 2007); Ibrahim Abu-Lughod (ed), The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1987); Walid Khalidi (ed), From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948 (Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington DC 1987); Walid Khalidi (ed), All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington DC 1992); Walid Khalidi, Palestine Reborn (I.B. Tauris and Company, London/New York 1992); Walid Khalidi, Khamsuna caman a cla taqsim Filistin (Dar Al-Nahar, Beirut 1998); Walid Khalidi, “Dayr Yasin: al-Jumca, 9/4/1948” [Dayr Yasin: Friday, 9 April 1948] (Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut 1999).
14 Rahsid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (Beacon Press, Massachusetts 2013); cf. Daniel Kurtzer and others, The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989–2011 (Cornell University Press, New York 2013).
17 Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants” (Issue), The Atlantic (Washington DC, March 2015), http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/, accessed August 25, 2015.
18 The IS fighters, who originated in Iraq, went to Syria to fight alongside those who opposed the Shīcah cAlawī regime of al-Assad, which is supported by Iran. See M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Misunderstanding Islam on the Use of Violence” (2015) 37 Houston Journal of International Law 643
19 See (n 6).
20 See (n 2).
21 As of the 1970s a new factor has emerged, namely sectarian Sunni-Shīcah rivalries. This is fanned by Iran entering the fray by encouraging the historic seeds of Sunni-Shīcah rivalry, using sectarianism as a way of expanding its own imperial designs and geopolitical interests, as is evident in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. See Oren (n 13).
23 Robert Friedlander, “Self-Determination: A Legal-Political Inquiry” (1975) 1 Detroit College of Law Review 71, 73; M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Self-Determination and the Palestinians” (1971) The American Journal of International Law 31. For the perspective of the British and French colonial aspirations, see James Barr, A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East: 1914–1948 (W.W. Norton & Co., New York 2012).
24 For a critical assessment, see Bahieddin Hassa, “Open Letter to President Obama,” Al-Ahram News Weekly (Cairo, February 7, 2013), http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/1328/21/Open-letter-to-President-Obama.aspx, accessed August 25, 2015. See also M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution,” in Adam Roberts et al. (eds), Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters 53 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 2015).
25 Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence succinctly described this in the following terms: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers form the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
26 As described in Lynch (n 2), the challenges facing the Arab world are: legitimacy, identity, independence, sectarianism and ethnocentrism, social justice and economic development, modernity, and geography (and Israel).
29 In 1997 the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at its Cairo meeting, adopted a resolution based on a text prepared by this writer reflecting the need for a strong rule-of-law system to support a functioning democracy. In turn, the rule of law requires an independent, impartial, fair, and effective judiciary and respect for and observance of human rights. See Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Universal Declaration on Democracy,” September 16, 1997, http://www.ipu.org/cnl-e/161-dem.htm, accessed August 25, 2015. In its 2015 Report Human Rights Watch addresses the status of Human Rights in all Arab countries. See Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2015, Events of 2014” (2015), http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/wr2015_web.pdf, accessed August 25, 2015.
30 Neither one of these constitutions brought any change in the status quo ante. The cosmetic changes they made are in keeping with the saying of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in The Leopard (Random House, New York 1958): “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” And so, new constitutions are adopted.
31 For an explanation of this term, see (n 2).
33 Fisher and Bassiouni (n 9) 331.
34 See (n 6).
35 Fisher and Bassiouni (n 9) 9.
36 See (n 3).
38 See (n 6).
39 Perhaps the most famous of these was Muḥammad cAlī, an Albanian who established independent control over Egypt in 1805. See P. J. Vatikiotis, The History of Modern Egypt: From Muhammad Ali to Mubarak (4th ed., Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1991); Afaf Lutfi Al Sayyid Marsot, A Short History of Modern Egypt (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1985).
40 See (n 6).
41 See Fisher and Bassiouni (n 9) 336. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon remarked on the contrasting conditions of the Arab town and settler town, remarking scathingly: “The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown and hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white people, of foreigners. The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the madīnah, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs.” Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Press, New York 1963).
44 See id.; Bassiouni, “Egypt in Transition” (n 2); Bassiouni, “Editorial” (n 2); Abdel Rahman el-Rifaci, Thawrat 23 July 1952: Tarikhoha Al-Qawmi Fi Sabrco Sanawat: 1952–1959 [History of the 23 July 1952 Revolution and Its National Impact: 1952–1959 ] (Dar El Macref, Cairo 1989).
45 Fisher and Bassiouni (n 9) 333 et seq. (“Nasser in Egypt and Ben Bella in Algeria argued that the Arab revolution is a product of Arab experience designed to serve Arab needs, and the observer is forced to accept their analysis.”) However, as noted in Storm Over the Arab World, “The revolutionaries’ determination to destroy foreign ownership and management of the economy, in order to protect their new political grip, left their states with very few native citizens capable of operating the existing economy, and there was no alternative except total control by government.”
46 Fanon (n 41) 213 (“The struggle for national liberty has been accompanied by a cultural phenomenon known by the name of the awakening of Islam. The passion with which contemporary Arab writers remind their people of the great pages of their history is a reply to the lies told by the occupying power.”).
47 See M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Misunderstanding Islam on the Use of Violence,” (2015) 37 Houston Journal of International Law 643; M. Cherif Bassiouni, The Sharicā and Islamic Criminal Justice in Time of War and Peace (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 2014).
48 Adam Roberts and others (eds), Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters 53 (Oxford University Press, 2015); Bassiouni (n 2). See also Chapter IV in M. Cherif Bassiouni, Chronicles of the Egyptian Revolution: 2011–2015 (Cambridge University Publishing, forthcoming).
49 Id., see Chapter V.
50 Id., see Chapter VI.
51 Id., see Chapter XIV.
53 M. Cherif Bassiouni, The Institutionalisation of Torture by the Bush Administration: Is Anyone Responsible? (Intersentia, Cambridge 2010); Laurel E. Fletcher and Eric Stover, The Guantánamo Effect: Exposing the Consequences of U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices (University of California Press, Berkeley 2009); Philippe Sands, Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values (Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke 2008).
54 The sources and causes of violence are multifaceted. They have been so throughout history, even though the pursuit of power and wealth seem to be the primary motivators at the collective level. This pursuit of power has frequently taken the form of religious belief. See M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Misunderstanding Islam on the Use of Violence” (2015) 37 Houston Journal of International Law 643; David Nirenberg, Neighboring Faith: Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2014); Jack David Eller, Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History (Prometheus Books, New York 2010); see cf. M. Cherif Bassiouni, The Shari’a and Islamic Criminal Justice in Time of War and Peace (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2014), showing that Islam prohibits certain forms of violence in much the same way as contemporary International Humanitarian Law; Christopher Bail, Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream (Princeton University Press, Princeton 2014), describing the cultural and political environment in the United States that has led to anti-Muslim fringe organizations, and the role of the media in shaping perceived Muslim identity as “terrorist.”
55 Fanon (n 41) 60 (emphasis added). Fanon, in a particularly insightful section of The Wretched of the Earth, describes the duality of the colonizer and the colonized: “The colonial world is a Manichean world. It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he is the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with beauty or morality; he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces.”
57 These acts of aggression include the threatened burning of 200 Qurʾān by Pastor Terry Jones in 2011, the vitriolic attacks of the polemicist Robert Spencer, and the desecration of Qurʾān by soldiers in Afghanistan and Guantánamo by urinating or burning the Muslim holy book.
58 M. Cherif Bassiouni, Post-Conflict Justice (Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden/Boston 2002); Jane E. Stromseth (ed), Accountability for Atrocities: National and International Responses (Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden/Boston 2003); Neil J. Kritz (ed), Transitional justice: How Emerging Democracies Reckon without Foreign Regimes (3 volumes, United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington DC 1995); Bassiouni (n 2).
60 Bassiouni (n 50) 1–17.
63 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “About 2000 People Killed by Islamic State Since the Establishment of ‘Caliphate’” (December 28, 2014), http://syriahr.com/en/2014/12/about-2000-people-killed-by-islamic-state-since-the-establishment-of-caliphate/, accessed August 26, 2015.
64 For example: Human Rights Watch, “No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia” (Report) (February 20, 2012), http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/02/19/no-place-children, accessed August 26, 2015.
65 Adam Nossiter, “In Nigeria, New Boko Haram Suicide Bomber Tactic: ‘It’s a Little Girl,’” New York Times (New York, January 10, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/world/africa/suicide-bomber-hits-maiduguri-nigeria-market.html?_r=0, accessed August 26, 2015.
66 For example: Adam Nossiter, “Saying Mali is ‘Our Country,’ Militias Train to Oust Islamists,” New York Times (New York, August 5, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/world/africa/mali-militias-poorly-armed-but-zealous-to-oust-islamists.html, accessed August 26, 2015.
67 Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Highbridge Company, Minneapolis, US 2014); Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi (eds), The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, US 2009). See also Atia Abawi, “Afghan woman whose nose, ears cut off travels to US,” CNN (Atlanta, US August 26, 2015), http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/04/afghanistan.mutilated.girl.update, accessed August 26, 2015. The report recounts the story of a 16-year old girl named cAyshah who was sold into marriage to an abusive Ṭālibān fighter in order to pay off a family debt. cAyshah ran away from her husband, and when she was found, she was tried before a court. Here she was sentenced to having her nose cut off and being left in the mountains to die. She survived, and subsequently traveled to Los Angeles for reconstructive surgery. See also “Reports of the Independent Expert, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, on Human Rights in Afghanistan” (September 21, 2004) UN Doc A/59/370, “Report of the independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, M. Cherif Bassiouni” (March 11, 2015) UN Doc E/CN.4/2005/122.
68 Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, New York 2005); James Feldman and Robert Pape, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (Chicago University Press, Chicago 2010).
69 UN Development Programme (n 42).
75 UN Development Programme, “Human Development Statistical Annex” (2011), http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2011%20Global%20HDR/English/HDR_2011_EN_Tables.pdf, accessed August 26, 2015.
76 United States Central Command, “Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Executive Summary” (July 11, 1991), http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB39/document6.pdf, accessed August 26, 2015.
78 Media reports of the time put the number casualties from the occupation as high as 4,000+ though it was never confirmed or documented. This author worked with the Ministry of Justice of Kuwait at the time of the establishment of the Iraq Special Tribunal to document the casualties of Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis killed by Ṣaddām forces and was only able to obtain evidentiary record on some ninety-one cases. This was never formally documented nor formally reported, probably because it could have been interpreted in a way that overlooks the prohibition of aggression in international law. See William M. Arkin, Damian Durrant, and Marianne Cherni, “On Impact: Modern Warfare and the Environment. A Case study of The Gulf War 45” (Greenpeace study) (May 1991) (“current interviews suggest the figure is a couple of thousand”), http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/1991/6/on-impact-modern-warfare-and.pdf, accessed August 26, 2015; Abdullah M. Al-Hammadi, Torturing a Nation—A Document Study of the Iraqi Aggression Towards Kuwaiti People (August 2, 1990–February 26, 1991) (Al Wazzan International Press Co, Kuwait 1995) 109–119 (cites one study that there were “465 victims of war injuries,” as well as a second study indicates 373 casualties “of which, 180 were Kuwaitis”). See also Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights Watch World Report 1992, Iraq and Occupied Kuwait” (1992), http://www.hrw.org/reports/1992/WR92/MEW1-02.htm, accessed August 26, 2015 (“Over 280 people are still missing after having been arrested or disappeared during that period … But there is insufficient evidence to support the widely circulated reports by the Kuwaiti government-in-exile and repeated by U.S. officials that substantially larger numbers were executed in retaliation for the beginning of Desert Storm on January 17”); Judith Miller, “Standoff in the Gulf; Atrocities by Iraqis in Kuwait: Numbers Are Hard to Verify,” New York Times (New York, December 16, 1990), http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/16/world/standoff-in-the-gulf-atrocities-by-iraqis-in-kuwait-numbers-are-hard-to-verify.html, accessed August 26, 2015.
80 Adam Roberts and others (eds), Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters 53 (Oxford University Press, 2015); M. Cherif Bassiouni, “Egypt in Transition: The Third Republic” (2014) 4 (4) PRISM 3.
83 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, UNGA Res 60/147 (December 16, 2005), UN DOC A/Res/60/147 (December 16, 2005); Special Rapporteur M. Cherif Bassiouni, Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Independence of the Judiciary, Administration of Justice, Impunity: The Right to Restitution, Compensation and Rehabilitation for Victims of Gross Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, UN DOC E/CN.4/2000/62 (January 18, 2000); M. Cherif Bassiouni, “International Recognition of Victims’ Rights” (2006) 6 Human Rights Law Review 203.
86 See Hossam Bahgat, “Anatomy of an Election: How Egypt’s 2015 Parliament Was Elected to Maintain Loyalty to the President,” Mada Masr (Cairo, March 14, 2016), http://www.madamasr.com/sections/politics/anatomy-election, accessed March 19, 2016.