From North African spring to Islamic winter
To begin with, I will first pay tribute to the North African history by avoiding the use of the so called ‘Arabic spring’ (Arabisch lente) in describing the growing popular unrest in North Africa, because this term does not, at least in my view, embody the political reality of this region. It might on the contrary accommodate the uprising in Middle East but definitely not that of the North African countries. I will mention two reasons to consider this point. Firstly, the first inhabitants of North Africa were the Imazighen (Berbers). The linguistic reality in the region was colored by the religious homogeneity. Secondly, if we take Libya as an example, we will see that westerns Mountains to the Jebel Nefusa are among the first villages which rised up against Kaddafi ‘s regime. It is indeed unrealistic to accept, for instance, the fact that the Zenten Berber tribes being confused with Arabs or assimilated to them. We should put these events in historical contexts. What is happening in North Africa -and it will continue to happen- is due to the initiation of the strategic employment of cultural backgrounds in political movement activities. This means that the Zenten, who are among the first villages who joined the battle against the king of the kings, were motivated by both cultural and political backgrounds.
Above all, the Zenten are the people who, on November 2011, captured Saif al-Islam, the fugitive son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and was taken by plane to the Berber region: Zenten. The same analogy can be used to argue the reasoning of refusing the term ‘Arab spring’ in describing other North African countries. Not unexpectedly, many people who do not have a sufficient knowledge on African history or are culturally apathetic might consider the Rif revolt led by Abd el-Krim between 1921 and 1926 as an ‘Arab’ revolt! Or even ‘Arab’ republic! Not so many days, Mohamed Slimané, a 21-year-old Rifi gasoline seller set himself on fire in Nador, a city in northern Morocco, representing the Rif uprisings against the police abuse, and safeguarding human rights. Nowadays, in the small Rif (Nador, lḥousima) which is another risk zone of revolution, under the umbrella of the February 20 movement, mainly the secularist activists, left-wing activists, unemployed university graduates or Amazigh movement demand deep change and some of them raised the flag of republic of Rif, ‘al-Jumhuriyya al-Rifiyya’.
Does this uprisings mark the beginning of the end of the monarchy in North Africa? In order not to anticipate the events, such optimism might be explained by both international politics and national ideology. Generally, revolution has no color, no nationality; it is a product of human experiences backed up by cultural claim, as it is the case of Amazigh issue. Historically, the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘Prague spring’ in Czechoslovakia in 1968. The difference between the Prague spring and the so-called Arab spring is that religion was absent in the East European movements whereas in North Africa and Middle East it is entirely present. On the other hand, the Prague spring of 1968 lasted till 1989, whereas the North African uprisings led to the immediate overthrow of the dictator regimes.
Additionally, the last obvious difference between the two ‘springs’ is that the Prague spring happened during cold war due to the effects of bipolarity between Washington and Moscow. Thus, the peaceful civilian insurgency in North African countries has nothing to do with the spring uprisings. It is, of course, just a fable form of naming the uprisings in North Africa as ‘Arabic spring’. Moreover, the beautiful flowering spring engenders thorns. In other words, how the so-called Arabic spring turns inevitably into an Islamic winter? And what is the positive message of the uprisings?
Before discussing the matter, let us have a summary of key events that swept the North African region. The first source of the uprisings started in Tunisia by Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire to protest his treatment by a corrupt and abusive policewoman in Cite Bousaid in Tunisia. The uprising was spontaneous, leaderless where no one was a hero and everybody was a hero. The founder of the uprising Bouazizi, a 26-year old Tunisian streetvendor has never dreamt to establish an Islamic government in his country or through North Africa or in other Middle East countries, or imagined himself that a square in Paris will be named after him, on the contrary ‘bread’ was the most important to him. He did not stood up for freedom of long bears, freedom for wearing hijab (headscarf) or demands the application of Islamic law. All he wanted to achieve was a legal permission for his grocery vendor. Witness to history, Islamists in Tunisia played no significant role in the ‘Jasmine revolution’. The wave of the insurgency in Tunisia blowed to Egypt, since if it works with Tunisia it should also work with the neighbouring countries. Despite the fact that the ‘Jasmine revolution’ was initiated by secularists, leftists and liberals, they failed to build a second republic since the Islamic political movements won the election. Tunisia’s victorious Islamists led Gannouchi, the Ennahda party’s leader, to announce that he would prefer ‘to implement the Islamic law (sharia) in the North African countries rather than neo-laicism’. I personally think that this claim could be achieved since they are financially supported from oil-rich Arab countries being the center of the reactionary counter-revolution and backed by the United States. This strategic alliance might lead the region to move from the ‘mild’ dictatorships to the ultra-conservatisms. This scenario may be explained by the Tunisian Islamists riot over animated film over Iran when a group of radical Islamists attacked the offices of the Nesma TV. As for Egypt, the uprisings started when a young Egyptian man died under disputed circumstances in the Sidi Gaber area of Alexandria on June 6, 2010. Before Egyptian authorities shut off the Internet and mobile phones, a Facebook called “We are all Khaled Said” was already formed and controlled by Google, which played a significant role in the Egyptian uprisings. Back to 2008, the alliance of youth movement and the UD department of State created a global network by using new latest technological tools in mobilizing young people. In December 2008, according to a Wikileaks cable, a ‘6 April young movement’ visited the US to take part in a state department organized “Alliance of Youth movement summit” in New York. This group will later appear on the scene being the ‘revolutionary youth council’ leading up to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Under the influence of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, AL Jazeera had broken the news that the ‘revolution’ was taking place in Libya. The first reaction of Muammar Gaddafi was that he claimed that the rebels were influenced by ‘Al Qaida, Osama ben Laden, and hallucinogenic drugs.’ He totally refused to move towards reform.
The Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in an interview with ABC News claimed the same angry reaction and states that ‘he would like to resign but he warns if he did so now, the Muslim Brotherhood party would fill any power vacuum.’ In Tunisia, Ben Ali did not have time to blame the Islamists since the events moved quickly. The Yemen president did the same claim when he declared that Al Qaida would take over the country if he heeded the protestor’s demands to step down. In his latest address, the Syrian president mixed confrontation and promises and claimed that the uprising is part of ‘foreign plot’. He still is answering the protesters with force.
Back to history, during the ‘Isseggusa n arṣaṣ’ (= the leaden years) in 1984 the king of Morocco, who ruled the country with an iron fist, declared that the uprising had been provoked by “the Marxists, who in this case who were in cahoots with Iran and the Zionists”. (See: Natacha Iskander, 2010: 113). In general, the tyrannical dictators could not swallow the fact that people needs freedom which allow them to take a share in the making of their society. Ben Ali ruled twenty three years, Gaddafi has been in power for 42 years, Hosni Mubarak was a president for almost thirty years, the actual Algerian president, Bouteflika, has been in power since 1999, each and every time he amends the constitution (99,99%) allowing him to run for the next term. The Yemen president hands over power after thirty-three years in office. If there were no death, the Arab presidents would have stayed in power forever; Saud Al Faisal, the so-called foreign minister of Saudi Arabia has been in this position since 1975. From 1975 till 2010 the Netherlands has known 12 foreign ministers from different political parties. UK has known more than 7 prime ministers from 1975 till now but Saud al-Faisal is still the foreign minister in office! In this vein, under the umbrella of protecting civilians from attack by their ruler, the United States welcomed the European military action and accepted to support the European assault within the NATO framework. On March 25, 2011, the United States and European forces attacked Libya. In the same vein, we could ask why the massacres in Ruwanda did not call for military action by the U.S? Early intervention in Ruwanda might have saved hundreds of thousands lives. The main reason is that Ruwanda has no oil and no gaz. The unique force that can stop genocides, civil war, and crimes against humanity or even altercations between two tribes is oil profits and not democracy.
As it is clear to all observers, the U.S has a long story in sponsoring the political Islam since the 80’s when the ‘CIA printed thousands of copies of Muslim holy book and shipped them to Pakistan for distribution for the Mujahidin.’ (See: Steve Coll, Ghost wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Ben Laden, from the soviet invasion to September 10, 2001). It is largely thought that the activists of North African spring were instigated by youth of facebook and twitter or youtube. The so-called ‘Facebook revolution’ is indeed an illusion! To arrive to an objective conclusion, a variety of factors should be taken into consideration. The United States and Qatar were seen as the main players; the U.S-Qatar axis share the vision of the neo-colonial roles in the region. The anti-American sentiment is deep in Islamic countries; Osama Ben Laden is a good example of anti-American feeling as he emerged from the Saudi background. In contrast, Qatar can offer a golden opportunity to the U.S imperialism in the region and could play the ‘mild’ role of Jihad. I believe that Qatar vast natural gaz reserves as well as the Aljazeera Arabic channel could develop this immoral aggressive character of American imperialism in North Africa and Middle East. By this, I want to emphasize on the fact that the ‘spontaneous leaderless’ uprisings or revolt find it difficult to make transition to authority. People just wanted to get rid of their dictators, and nobody could predict the outcome of the uprisings. Qatar, as a key bulwark of US imperialism in the region, was given ‘feu vert’ to encourage the Islamist to ride the wave. The U.S-Qatar axis could control the revival of jihad through political Islam. The westerns contribute to the participation of the fundamentalists through the participation of Islamic group to prevent the outside jihad and to avoid to export the political Islam to the westerns countries. The westerns initiated to open the dialogue with political parties; they attempted the confrontation with political Islam through violence and persecution with the aid of local Arabic countries. However, they failed to stop the jihad. It is becoming clear that after the fall of Arab dictators, a new competition arises between Saudi Arabia that sponsored the Salafists and Qatar, which sponsored the Muslim Brotherhood.
Leiden, December 2011