A year after two long-entrenched dictators were consigned to the dustbin of history, the shell-shocked monarchies of the Muslim East appear to have regained their composure somewhat. Initially, they appeared to be teetering on the brink but today they are striking back both at home and abroad. Mass arrests of protesters coupled with huge bribes have provided them some breathing room. But even this would not have saved their thrones were they not supported by their western masters in Washington, London and Paris. The tribal monarchies are presenting themselves as champions of democracy and supporters of people’s rights, provided these apply to regimes they do not like. They appear to be having some success in places like Libya and Syria where the uprisings have had open support from such primitive family-based regimes as those in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
At home, these regimes have clamped down hard on protesters and dispatched troops to places like Bahrain to crush the people’s legitimate demands expressed through entirely peaceful means. The Saudi regime holds more than 30,000 political prisoners and this number is rising but one would be hard pressed to read about this in the New York Times or hear about it on al-Jazeera, for instance. The tribal-owned network has been a handy tool in the hands of the dinosaurs that rule the kingdoms and sheikhdoms. Like CNN and Fox News, it has gained notoriety for spreading disinformation.
To understand what has transpired and what can be expected in the future, it is important to categorize countries based on their current situation. Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco form the first tier of countries where some changes have occurred following elections. The second group comprises countries like Libya and Yemen where rulers have either been killed (Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya) or forced out of office (Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen). In the third category lies Syria where a foreign-backed uprising is underway and has become an open battleground for influence in the Muslim East. What happens in Syria will shape the destiny of the entire region. Ironically, while change in Syria is desirable, its consequences for the larger struggle in the Muslim East will be disastrous. The last category is that of the primitive monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Jordan and Kuwait. To varying degrees, they are all fighting for survival by waging battles on someone else’s territory.
It would be tempting but wrong to conclude that just because elections have been held in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco that the people’s problems have been solved. The old systems remain entrenched together with their institutional support mechanisms. A few new faces from groups that were traditionally hounded and suppressed have been co-opted into the system but little else has changed. The danger for Islamic parties, whether in Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco is that while they will have to solve the problems bequeathed by the old regimes, they are not free to formulate their own policies. With their hands tied behind their backs, they will be blamed for all the failures. This is what happens to political parties, even those with an Islamic tag, that opt to work within the old corrupt system. It is impossible not to get contaminated by stepping into filth. Some people in Egypt appear to understand this and the youth have still not given up. How far and long they will continue to challenge the old order is difficult to predict.
It is, however, the struggle in Syria and the role played by such tribal monarchies as Qatar and Saudi Arabia that are crucial to understanding the future of the Muslim East. The struggle in Syria is not merely for people’s rights. The more crucial aspect is the assault on the resistance front comprising Hizbullah, Syria, Hamas and Islamic Iran against Zionist Israel. The US is and has always been fully committed to the Zionist entity even at the expense of its own people. It is the dinosaurs of the desert that have now come out of their caves to support Israel openly. The Arabian regimes have always functioned as the first line of defence for Israel even if they tried to hide their subservience behind loud rhetoric. If was the repeated humiliations of these regimes and their spectacular failures to redress Palestinian grievances that gave rise to such movements as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hizbullah.
Subservience comes naturally to the Arabian rulers and treachery runs in their blood. They have never had any legitimacy even if defined in the narrow sense of people’s approval of their rule. On the broader canvas, kingship is forbidden in Islam and legitimacy is obtained only when rulers apply divinely ordained laws. On all counts, these rulers are illegitimate and must not be allowed to remain in power. Only the support of Western imperialists keeps them in power. This merely confirms their illegitimacy as far as the people are concerned.
They use such weapons as ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions to cling to power. The sectarian card is the most potent weapon but they also play the others. Migrant workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, for instance, are treated like slaves by the tribal-based monarchies. Physical and sexual abuse of workers who have no rights is rampant. Sectarianism is always invoked when these illegitimate rulers feel threatened. It is being used in Syria with devastating effect. What is tragic and shocking is that some members of the Islamic movement and ‘ulama’ have also fallen for this. True, the ‘ulama’ have been co-opted through bribes but it is a telling reflection of the sad state of affairs that a Syrian ‘alim, Sheikh ‘Adnan al-‘Arour (residing in Saudi Arabia) would appeal to the Israelis to save the people of Syria without the Saudi regime, that has no diplomatic relations with the Zionist entity, arresting him. If some ‘alim in Saudi Arabia were to call upon Islamic Iran to help the people, it is safe to assume he would be immediately arrested. For the Saudi regime, Islamic Iran is an enemy but Zionist Israel is a friend!
If the people of Syria do not wake up to this reality, they might end up in worse shape than what they currently face. They must ask themselves: do they want to live in subservience to the US and Zionist Israel or even worse divide Syria along sectarian or ethnic lines? A century ago, the British came promising “liberation” of the Arabians from “Ottoman imperialism.” The result was breakup of the Muslim East into unstable nation-states. Do they want to repeat the same mistake all over again?