Would You Permit Me?

Would You Permit Me?

    في بلاد يغتال فيها المفكرون، ويكفر الكاتب
وتحرق الكتب، في مجتمعات ترفض الآخر، وتفرض الصمت على الافواه والحجر على الافكار،
وتكفر اي سؤال، كان لابد ان استأذنكم ان تسمحوا لي..
In a country where thinkers are assassinated, and writers are considered infidels and books are burnt, in societies that reject the other, and force silence on mouths and thoughts are forbidden, and to question is a sin, I must beg your pardon, would you permit me?

فهل تسمحون لي
ان اربي اطفالي كما اريد، وألا تملوا علي
اهواءكم واوامركم؟
Would you permit me to bring up my children as I want, and not to dictate on me your whims and orders.

     هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم اطفالي ان الدين لله اولا، وليس
للمشايخ والفقهاء والناس؟
Would you permit me to teach my children that the religion is first to God, and not for religious leaders or scholars or people?

      هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم صغيرتي ان الدين هو اخلاق وأدب وتهذيب
وامانة وصدق، قبل ان اعلمها بأي قدم تدخل الحمام وبأي يد تأ3ل؟
Would you permit me to teach my little one that religion is about good manners, good behaviour, good conduct, honesty and truthfulness, before I teach her with which foot to enter the bathroom or with which hand she should eat?

   هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم ابنتي ان الله محبة، وانها تستطيع ان
تحاوره وتسأله ما تشاء، بعيدا عن تعاليم أي أحد؟
Would you permit me to teach my daughter that God is about love, and she can talk with Him and ask Him anything she wants, far away from the teachings of anyone?

       هل تسمحون لي الا اذكر عذاب القبر لاولادي،
الذين لم يعرفوا ما هو الموت بعد؟
Would you permit me not to mention the torture of the grave to my children, who do not know about death yet?

هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم ابنتي اصول الدين وادبه واخلاقه، قبل 
ان افرض عليها الحجاب؟
Would you permit me to teach my daughter the tenets of the religion and its culture and manners, before I force on her the ‘Hijab’ (the veil)?

هل تسمحون لي
ان اقول لابني الشاب ان ايذاء الناس وتحقيرهم
لجنسيتهم ولونهم ودينهم، هو ذنب كبير عند الله؟
Would you permit me to tell my young son that hurting people and degrading them because of their nationality, colour or religion, is considered a big sin by God?

        هل تسمحون لي
ان اقول لابنتي ان مراجعة دروسها والاهتمام بتعليمها
انفع واهم عند الله من حفظ آيات القرآن عن ظهر قلب دون تدبر معانيها؟
Would you permit me to tell my daughter that revising her homework and paying attention to her learning is considered by God as more useful and important than learning by heart Ayaats from the Quran without knowing their meaning?

        هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم ابني ان الاقتداء بالرسول الكريم يبدأ
بنزاهته وامانته وصدقه، قبل لحيته وقصر ثوبه؟
Would you permit me to teach my son that following the footsteps of the Holy Prophet begins with his honesty, loyalty and truthfulness, before his beard or how short his robe is?

    هل تسمحون لي
ان اقول ل7بنتي ان صديقتها المسيحية ليست
كافرة، والا تبكي خوفا عليها من دخول النار؟ 
Would you permit me to tell my daughter that her Christian friend is not an infidel, and ask her not to cry fearing her friend will go to Hell?

    هل تسمحون لي
ان اجاهر، ان الله لم يوكل احدا في الارض بعد الرسول لان يتحدث باسمه
ولم يخول احدا بمنح ‘صكوك الغفران’ للناس؟
Would you permit me to argue, that God did not authorize anyone on earth after the Prophet to speak in his name nor did he vest any powers in anyone to issue ‘deeds of forgiveness’ to people?

     هل تسمحون لي
ان اقول، ان الله حرم قتل النفس البشرية، وان
من قتل نفسا بغير حق كأ نما قتل الناس جميعا، وانه لا يحق لمسلم ان يروع مسلما؟
Would you permit me to say, that God has forbidden killing the human spirit, and he who kills wrongly a human being, is as if he killed all human kind, and no Muslim has the right to frighten another Muslim?

   هل تسمحون لي
ان اعلم اولادي ان الله اكبر واعدل وارحم من
كل فقهاء الارض مجتمعين؟ وان مقاييسه تختلف عن مقاييس المتاجرين بالدين، وان
حساباته أحن وارحم؟
Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that his standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion, and that his accountability is kinder and more merciful?

هل تسمحون لي

Would you permit me?

نزار قباني
Nizar Kabbani
Syrian Poet, Diplomat, Writer & Publisher


Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives
In 2005 the front cover of Time magazine displayed a photograph of Dr. A.Q. Khan under the heading “Merchant of Menace”. At the time Khan was under house arrest following a dramatic televised mea culpa which sent shockwaves around the world. Khan confessed to having been responsible for the worst acts of nuclear proliferation that the world had yet witnessed. Khan admitted to betraying the nation’s trust and selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya & Iran amongst others. The then military government of Pervez Musharraf, to much scepticism was content to portray Khan as a solitary rogue scientist, and exonerated the military of any involvement or knowledge of the “Khan Network” as it later became known.
The revelations in the Washington Post this week of Khan alleging that the North Korean’s had paid him large sums of money and “jewellery” to be paid to at least 2 Pakistani General’s, confirmed the worst fears of most Pakistani’s. For a highly suspicious western audience already baying for blood following the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in a military garrison city some 20 miles from the nation’s capital, this was further evidence of double dealing and perfidy, to add to the growing list of Pakistani transgressions.
Investigations continue internationally at the scale and depth of the proliferation alleged to have been carried out by the Khan network. Another investigation continues within the Pakistan military to establish how high up the chain of command the corruption and pay offs permeated and who knew what & when.
Pakistani’s weary at their nation continually being portrayed as a rogue state & facing opprobrium from around the world, may be forgiven for wondering how it all came to this sorry state of affairs.
The lives of two Pakistani scientists who were inextricably linked to the Pakistani nuclear programme is worth examining to see how they mirror Pakistan’s divergence as a major ally of the west in the 50’ & 60’s, (member of NATO sister organisations SEATO & CENTO), to it’s current status as world pariah and nuclear proliferator.
Dr. Abdus Salam was a theoretical physicist and is Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate . An outstanding & gifted student who dazzled his teachers and peers, Salam quickly rose up the ranks of academic excellence. He won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1949 and excelled by gaining a double first and winning the prestigious Smith’s prize in Physics. The renowned scientist Sir Fred Hoyle advised Salam to stay on and continue his work at Cambridge. Salam, proud of his Pakistani/Muslim heritage and with a zeal to serve the nation, demurred and opted to return to Pakistan and take up an academic post at Government College, Lahore.
Those who knew Salam recall a Pakistani patriot who was both a scientific genius and a person who rejoiced in his Muslim cultural heritage. In his daily life he displayed the joie de vivre of a renaissance Sufi poet who relished reciting Urdu/Persian (Rumi) & English poetry, and regularly referred to the Quran as a source of inspiration in his study of Physics & science. Whilst Salam himself rejoiced in his Muslim roots, he faced one major difficulty. A section of Islamist opinion regarded him as a heretic because he belonged to the heterodox Ahmadi sect within Islam.
In 1953 fate intervened and Salam’s sojourn in Pakistan was interrupted as communal rioting against Ahmadi’s burst out in Lahore and martial law was declared in the Punjab. Salam unable to set up a research institute in Pakistan due to opposition from some of his peers left the country and returned to Cambridge. Salam’s stellar scientific career continued and over the next few years his international fame as a Physicist grew. By 1960 the Pakistan government had faced down the Islamists who opposed Salam and had appointed him scientific advisor to the government, and Salam was instrumental in setting up the Pakistan’s nascent nuclear energy programme.
Pakistan’s nuclear programme had taken on a critical importance in 1972 as Pakistan became aware of the advanced stage of India’s secret nuclear weapons programme. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the Prime Minister appointed Salam to head up a team of scientists to develop a nuclear deterrence to the emerging Indian nuclear threat. Salam would have remained at the head of that programme and overseen the entire project had fate once again not intervened.
The charismatic Bhutto had for some time been touting himself as the leader of the Muslim world. The attendance of all the heads of the Islamic world in Lahore, Pakistan at the 1973 Islamic Conference was Bhutto’s crowning glory. To further endear himself to Islamists Bhutto decided to bow to the demands of the islamofascist Jamaat i Islami in their demand for Ahmadi’s to be declared a non-Muslim minority. In 1974 the National Assembly of Pakistan controversially declared Ahmadi’s non-Muslim, and amended the constitution of Pakistan accordingly. For Ahmadis in general and Salam in particular this was a grave injustice and insult, and Salam felt his position untenable and resigned his government position.
Whilst the 1974 amendment in Pakistan’s constitution was without doubt a turning point in Salam’s life. The events of 1974 had a far more cataclysmic effect on the future course of Pakistan. For the first time in Pakistan’s nascent history the Islamists had scented blood and having made the government bow to its demands were at last, in the ascendancy.
A.Q Khan was born in Bhopal, India and unlike Salam was an immigrant to Pakistan and migrated to the new nation with his family at the time of the partition of India. The journey to Pakistan as a refugee was a traumatic one and it clearly had a profound effect upon Khan who developed a lifelong hatred for India. He grew up in a devoutly Muslim household that held orthodox Sunni views. His cause has been championed by Mullahs of the Deobandi school of thought, and they have always acclaimed him as one their own. His life had much in common with one of his later patrons the dictator Zia ul Haq. Both were refugees from India, and adopted the Deobandi creed of Islam. Khan’s academic achievements did not enjoy the stellar trajectory of Salam, and he rose up the ladder of academia with modest results and eventually became a Metallurgist by training.
Khan’s career took off after a spell in the Netherlands working for FDO & URENCO, both companies specialising in work relating to the nuclear industry in general and the building of centrifuges in particular. Considerable controversy surrounds Khan’s work in the Netherland’s with claims that on the pretext of translating highly confidential documents relating to the building of nuclear centrifuges Khan secretly copied these designs and took them with him to Pakistan. This led to a court in the Netherlands convicting him in absentia for industrial espionage .Khan was without doubt a talented Metallurgist, but arouses considerable fury amongst nuclear scientists in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge his title of “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”. A mantle that Khan is more than happy to accept and takes great pride in recounting his own central role to the nuclear programme at fawning Islamist gatherings.
A turning point in Khan’s life was the 1971 debacle leading to the break-up of Pakistan, and the ascendancy of India as nuclear armed nation. He had by this time started to court Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and assured him that he could deliver a viable nuclear weapons programme. Khan aroused fury and suspicion amongst other nuclear scientists in Pakistan but through a mixture of conspiracy against the Pakistani nuclear establishment and displays of extreme antipathy towards India he was able to find patronage amongst the military elite. By the time Zia took over the country Khan had become the nuclear weapons programme supremo and had sole charge of the weapons programme and specifically the building of nuclear centrifuges. Khan had persuaded Zia to remove his programme from oversight of the civilian Pakistan Nuclear Energy Commission (PNEC), and instead had brought in the army’s Corps of Engineer’s as his partners in development.
Little is known about when exactly Khan began his nuclear proliferation programme suffice to say that it would seem that there were little or no checks and balances or civilian oversight of Khan’s activities. By 1998, following the successful testing and explosion of a nuclear device at Chagatai, Khan was acclaimed a national hero and crowned the father of the nuclear bomb by a wildly exuberant and patriotic Pakistani populace.
Khan’s acclaim and adulation would later come to a crashing halt as the full extent of his proliferation was exposed to Pakistan and the world in general. Pakistani’s were bewildered by the public humiliation of Khan and his fall from grace to general ignominy. Islamists in particular, who regarded Khan as one of their own, were quick to claim evidence of a western plot to tarnish the reputation of a national hero. The fact that the national hero has now admitted that he personally delivered bag loads of cash & diamonds to various military officers seems not to trouble the Islamist zealots who regard it as a wider conspiracy against the world of Islam.
Salam was a Pakistani patriot throughout his life who despite having lived in the UK for many years refused to take up British citizenship. For as he told my father, if the day came that he was ever awarded the Nobel Prize he wanted the honour to go to Pakistan. He regarded himself a Muslim and part of the Muslim Ummah and upon receiving the prize in Stockholm recited verses of the Quran during his acceptance speech dressed to the hilt in full Pakistani national dress. He was buried in Pakistan and his gravestone was inscribed with the words describing him accurately as the first Muslim Nobel Laureate. The government of Pakistan instructed that the word Muslim be erased leaving the nonsensical inscription describing Salam as the first Nobel Laureate.
The lives of both Professor Abdus Salam & A.Q. Khan are linked inextricably with Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Both represented the two faces of Pakistan and its twin curses. Whilst Salam fell victim to the adoption of a virulent and pernicious version of Islam that countenanced nothing but it’s own Deobandi/Wahabbi orthodoxy. Khan fell victim to the curse of corruption that afflicts modern day Pakistan.
Had fate not intervened with Pakistan’s lurch to religious extremism and the adoption of obscurantist Islamist ideology Salam may have led Pakistan towards a renaissance in scientific excellence and the adoption of a nuclear energy programme that not only provided the deterrence that Pakistan so desperately craved but a civilian nuclear programme that would have solved Pakistan’ energy crisis.
Instead the Metallurgist and future nuclear proliferator A.Q Khan was instrumental in giving Pakistan the bomb, but at the same time betrayed its national interest for that most venal of reasons – a bag full of cash & diamonds.

Who gets Pakistan?

Who gets Pakistan?

Despite growing up in the West a distant childhood spent in Pakistan studying, somewhat improbably at an English medium public school nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas has left me with a legacy of regular daily correspondence from old school friends & colleagues from Pakistan. Apart from the run of the mill catch up and updates on work, family and friends, I am also regularly forwarded articles, news clippings, and YouTube clips highlighting the absurdities and incongruities of some aspect or another of day to day life in Pakistan.

The correspondence ranges & reflects a veritable kaleidoscope of Pakistani opinion. Ranging from deep ideological driven rants against the current Zardari government, former military dictators, US foreign policy, the latest political scandal that has gripped the nation or to the more bizarre clips highlighting the absurdity and contradictions of day to day life in that struggling country. The 14 hour a day electricity outages in a country where the summer heat hovers around 45c, the astronomical hike in prices for daily commodities as the IMF imposed austerity measures begin to squeeze the economy, and the sheer hopelessness and incompetence of a corrupt and venal political class. As you can imagine my inbox is rarely empty and the range of opinion never ceases to amaze and horrify me in equal measure.

The question that I have often asked myself and it would seem the question that has racked the political analysts around the world is, who really “gets” Pakistan.

Is it the failed state whose demise had been predicted since before its inception, by the departing British at independence, or is it really the wests counterweight to Indian pretensions of regional hegemony. At one time a bulwark against the territorial ambitions of the communist Soviet Union but now in the eyes of many, a terrorist swamp mired in a fight to the death with Islamist rebels anxious to turn the clock back to a middle ages Caliphate.

A nuclear equipped state with enough firepower to destroy itself and most of the region but unable to provide uninterrupted electricity to its overcrowded sweltering, gasping cities that are heaving with a multitude of humanity anxious to finish the day intact and not the victim of the almost daily suicide attacks that have become endemic in its towns and cities. The recent suicide bombing of a police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Taliban badlands) by a husband and wife team led someone to caustically remark “And they blew up happily ever after”.

Pakistan’s chattering classes can be divided into what are sneeringly referred to as the liberal elite, who are often neither liberal in the western sense or particularly elite in the economic sense but are identified by their adherence to English as their lingua franca. The writers and commentators in Urdu regard themselves as the true voice of the people and view the English speakers with disdain and regularly accuse them of a colonialist mindset. But if the Urdu speakers are the voice of the people, then it is a voice that is often shrill, forever prone to conspiracy theories and always hankering to a highly romanticised Islamic golden age.

There is little doubt of course that these golden ages of Islam existed in the times of Haroon ur Rashid of Baghdad, or the glory that was Moorish Spain, or Sultan Osman the Magnificent of Ottoman fame. But go on to remind these commentators that the glory of these societies were their celebration and assimilation of other cultures and their confidence in accommodating a plurality of faith and ideas within their Islamic empires and you are met with blank stares and incredulity and accusations of naivety. This narrative is firmly rejected and instead the Wahabi indoctrination prevails where modernity is firmly rejected and the only Islamic age that has any legitimacy is that of the “Rashideen”. The four Caliphs of Islam who ruled following the death of The Holy Prophet.

The piety and nobility of these four great titans of the Islamic world notwithstanding, it is the Islamic shariah and in particular the hotly disputed and debated punishments laid out in the Islamic code that are at the forefront of all these prescriptions for another Islamic golden era.

Lop off the hands of thieves, and stone a few adulterers and lo and behold you have created “Aman” or peace within society. The proponents of this idealised notion of Islamic society are either the anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti US commentariat, whose adherence to all things Islamic extends, occasionally to a bearded stubble and an oft lauding of the deeply “misunderstood” Mullah Omar and his “reformist” Taliban or the individual most favoured by Pakistanis in the latest Pew Opinion Poll – Imran Khan. To even begin to catalogue the legion of contradictions that former cricketer Imran Khan represents is a book in itself!

Like Mullah Omar and his acolyte Usama Bin Ladin (or vice versa). These reactionaries hanker for a purer age, an age uncorrupted by modernity and display a luddite rejection of the benefits of science, advancement in medicine, and all the accoutrements of modern society. Omar bin Ladin the eldest son of the late unlamented Head of Al Qaida in a recently published memoir remembers his father refusing to use the a/c despite the searing heat in Saudi Arabia and insisting on a diet of milk, honey, dates & figs, emulating the times of the Arabs of yore.

Whilst Mullah Omar it is widely accepted adopted this frugality of spirit through a genuine desire to lead a simple life. The Pakistani Mullah remains a more venal breed. One of the most notorious of these Mullahs goes under the sobriquet of Mullah Diesel, referring to his penchant for taking a cut from the trade and traffic of this commodity through his area of control. The Mullah and his party sit in the Pakistani parliament in alliance with whoever is in power. At one time he was an ally of the “Daughter of the East” Benazir Bhutto no less, and served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. A party member who served in the Zardari government as the Minister of Religious Affairs was charged with having fleeced and extorted millions of rupees from pilgrims to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. President (10%) Zardari felt moved enough by this scandal to sack this individual from the cabinet.

Although, one is not sure whether Zardari’s anger was as result of being aggrieved at not receiving his cut, or simply the fact that he thought it bad form for the Mullah to be caught out. Recent Wikileaks reveal that the venerable and deeply misunderstood Mullah Diesel appealed to the US ambassador that he was a suitable candidate for the post of prime minister, and should not be ignored by the US but until that opportunity arose, would like a visa to visit the US, thank you very much!

But there is another Pakistan that comprises of people like philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose Edhi Foundation ambulances and emergency workers have become a regular sight at each new scene of terrorist outrage or natural calamity. New confident Pakistani writers such as Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, and Kamila Shamsie have created waves in western markets at their skill and art of storytelling. The scion of the ubiquitous Bhutto family no less, Fatima Bhutto has created a stir with her literary output both in poetry and prose. The country’s media is bursting with writers, commentators, & broadcasters ranging from across the political spectrum. The cities of Lahore Karachi have a thriving literary and artistic culture that somehow manages to seek expression and exposure that defies logic and the fatwa’s of the ever present mullahocracy.

I would not dream of suggesting that I “get” Pakistan. But those who seek to view Pakistan through the prism of terrorism, religious obscurantism,& persecution of women/minorities may only get one part of the picture. Anatole Lieven in his recent book on Pakistan describes it as “A Hard Country”, which is an understatement of magnificent proportions. The reality is, that most Pakistani’s don’t “get” Pakistan themselves and most seem to have stopped trying to understand its myriad of contradictions, daily compromises and duality of personality.

Instead they have adopted an attitude of quiet resignation and choose to live the life that fate has dealt them as best they can, and leave other commentators to try and “get” Pakistan. Its own citizens are long past caring & simply want to survive one day to the next!!

Trying to make sense of the shifting sands of the Arab Spring invokes the full gamut of emotions. Ranging from unbridled optimism, to the depths of despair balanced by occasional heights of anticipation fuelled by unreal expectation. Arab commentators have tried to identify a consistent thread through the various uprisings and upheavals throughout the Middle East region but to little or no avail
The uprisings and turmoil began following the death of Mohammed Bu Azizi in Tunisia.His self-immolation arising out of his treatment at the hands of the police coupled with the indignity of years of unemployment led him to carry out his act of utter despair. His sacrifice led to an outbreak of national indignation and Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali the first of the tyrants to face the wrath of an outraged population fled to Saudi Arabia to avoid justice at the hands of the Tunisian people. The apparent ease and haste with which Ben Ali left lulled many in the region into the false hope that other tyrants would leave with similar ease. Subsequent events around the Arab world during those feverish and dramatic spring months would prove otherwise. Even Ben Ali’s reasons for his hasty departure were given a new spin. In statements made on his behalf by his lawyer. Ben Ali argued that he had only left Tunisia to install his widely reviled wife in Jeddah. He had been warned by his staff, that his family were facing imminent threats to their life.Ben Ali claims that he had ordered his Tunisian air crew to wait at the tarmac at Jeddah for him to return, but subsequently discovered that the flight had departed to Tunisia leaving him stranded in Saudi Arabia.But as Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen is discovering now once you arrive as a “guest” of the Saudis it is not so easy to pry yourself loose.
When it dawned upon King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that Hosni Mubarak of Egypt may follow in quick succession to Ben Ali and seek exile in Saudi Arabia,thus giving the desert kingdom the unenviable reputation of offering refuge to a succession of dictators and corrupt politicians ranging from the late General Idi Amin of Uganda to Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. King Abdullah felt compelled to intervene, by ringing Hosni Mubarak from Morocco, were he was convalescing and ordering him to stand up to the protesters in Tahrir Square.Of course this only delayed the inevitable by a few weeks, and did not alter Mubarak’s eventual fate.
Ben Ali before departing, appointed his successors in Tunisia from amongst his own cronies, and they being equally anxious to deflect any attention from themselves promptly placed him on trial on last Monday for embezzlement of millions of dollars from the state exchequer.Neither Ben Ali nor his lawyers were present at court and the kangaroo court, for it could be described as nothing else, promptly convicted him by the end of the day amongst chaotic scenes and sentenced both Ben Ali and his wife to 35 years in absentia.
One can only hope that this does not set a precedent for future trials of tyrants in the region. The trial of Hosni Mubarak is coming up soon in September and it would be a travesty if he were to suffer the same fate.It is esential that a clear demarcation be made between the practices of a tyrant and his regime, and the practice of a new democratic government that is installed in its place.Nothing would enhance the repuation of the successor governments and grant them the legitimacy that they so desperately crave than to show to the world that they adhere to the rule of law,and by so doing lay bare the corruption and cruelty of the previous regime.There will be some remnants of the former regime who have survived so far, and have a vested interest in not delving too deeply into the deep and dark secrets of 30+ years of coruption and injustice which might be laid bare through a fair and transparent trial, but this is even more reason to bring to account and banish once and for all the ghosts of these tyrants and their cronies and supporters.
Both Egypt and Tunisia have one thing in common, in that both have not truly shaken off remnants of the former regimes.Tunisians are increasingly restless and jaundiced as they see the same old faces remaining in power and are with increasing frequency questioning whether or not a true change in the power structure has taken place in Tunisia.The same mood of restlessness can be seen in Egypt, but this has been muted so far as there is a reluctance to accuse the transitional military government outright of dragging its feet towards reform.
There is also the promise of elections that Egyptians are nervously looking forward to. The Muslim Brotherhood has undergone a complete makeover and presents its most moderate face forward. By way of example it points out its pluralistic credentials by highlighting the fact that a few of its original founding members were Coptic Christians and to reinforce the point it has recently appointed a Copt as one of its leaders.Their is little doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood that Gamel Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadaat feared so much has undergone a major change in its thinking. Some of its former leading lights such Ayman Al Zawahiri and Sayid Qutub would today denounce its moderation and adoption of democracy.But whilst the Muslim Brotherhood is able to hold out a clean pair of hands in terms of corruption and not being tainted by association to the regime of Mubarak, which in itself is no mean thing, considering the widespread corruption endemic in all reaches of the Mubarak regime. Their still remains a fear amongst Egyptians that the Brotherhood may simply be putting on a façade, and once in power would revert to type.The fear of counter revolution in the style of the Iranian revolution leaves a nagging doubt hanging over the Brotherhood.What is clear is that Mohammed Al Baradei and Amr Mousa, the candidates that Egyptians perceived were being foisted upon them by the west have been roundly rejected by most Egyptians.The perception is that this has left the field wide open to the Brotherhood simply by virtue of their being an absence of any other viable candidate who can claim the same clean and untainted hands as the Brotherhood have displayed.As the elections draw closer there is an uneasy air in Cairo as Egyptians wonder whether the unappealing prospect of a Brotherhood victory may persuade the military to step in and either postpone or take over in Egypt.
Field Marshal Tantawi a 1973 Egyptian war hero has been content for Mubarak and his family and cronies to take most of the blame, and has alllowed the arrest not only of Mubarak’s venal sons, but also that of Suzanne Mubarak his Welsh born wife. Although her prompt re-payment of some £20 million in illgotten gains resulted in her early release much to the chagrin of most Egyptians.
The total lack of transparency and accountability of all of its dictators and tyrants has been the hallmark of the region, understandably whilst in office but inexplicably once they have been deposed.(Here they have much in common with Pakistan).For there to be any meaning to the new mood of optimism in the region it is essential that transparency and accountability are to the fore and the pantomime of the trial held in Tunisia is not replicated elsewhere. For without transparency there is no democracy and for the much heralded Arab Spring to have true meaning it should have legitimacy and clearly distinguish itself through its actions from the regimes and misdeeds of the past. Although not related to the middle east but as an illustrative point one looks at the regime of Musharraf in Pakistan who rather than leave his arch nemesis Nawaz Sharif to languish in jail following his conviction and sentence opted for the rather novel, but age old practice of exile. Musharraf agreed to send Sharif to Saudi Arabia with his fortune and ill-gotten gains largely intact. Sharif having agreed to forsake politics as part of the Saudi brokered deal eventually reneged on the deal, and having returned to Pakistan is once again in a position to indulge in his venal politics. Ultimately, this was all rushed through through a desire for a quick fix, to save face, and not cause humiliation to Nawaz Sharif. The same Musharraf who colluded with the Saudis in depriving the people of Pakistan the justice and accountability that they deserved with the sentencing of Sharif, ironically now finds himself in exile, and unable to return himself to Pakistan himself.
The Saudi penchant for arranging these fixes and backroom deals should not be replicated and no other dictator should be allowed to leave and seek sanctuary in the desert kingdom or anywhere for that matter .Whilst the concept of loss of face and the preservation of honour and dignity is prevalent in Arab society, the activists and young people driving the Arab spring today recognise that the bringing to book and holding to account the corruption and terrorism of the tyrants and rulers is in itself an honorable act, and legitimises the aspirations of the Arab spring.
The Nazi leaders who were responsible for genocide, murder and tyranny on a far greater scale than any of the current leaders in the Middle East were all afforded trials at Nuremburg. Those trials laid out in great depth and detail the horrors of Fascism and Nazism in so comprehensive a fashion that both its proponents and the virulent ideaology that they represented were banished and discredited for generations. A more recent example were the Tuth & Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa that laid bare the evil of the apartheid regime but helped heal a nation that many predicted would descend into civil war. That should be the justice meted out to Asad of Syria and his Baathist thugs and Qadaffi of Libya.Both have presided over kleptocracies masquerading as socialist havens, whilst all the time bleeding their countries dry for the enrichment of the favoured few at the cost of the disenfranchised & dispossessed many.
Qadaffi’s recent indictment for war crimes by the ICC may have caused some joy to the beleaguered citizens of Misrata but in general there is a mistrust of the ICC amongst most in the Arab world. They recall the indictments issued against Omar Al Bashir for war crimes in Darfur and recall that he remains in power today and continues to act with impunity. Even more pertinent for the Arab street is the knowledge that no Israeli/US politician or General will be hauled before the ICC. That glaring anomaly alone is sufficient for most Arabs to disregard the efforts of the ICC.
For the first time in generations Arabs are waking up to a new age where the past giants of the Arab world Syria and Egypt are gripped in domestic paralysis whilst they chart their future. That paralysis may last for an entire generation. No longer will these two behemoths of the Arab world be striding across the Arab stage at the forums of the Arab League or dictating the course of the Middle East peace process with Israel. Instead new players are jockeying for power and influence and a leading position, as champions of the Arab world.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s prompt but ultimately futile attempt to persuade Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to face down the protesters encouraged the Saudis to take a more proactive and decisive role in Bahrain. Here the Saudis drew a line in the sand and ordered their troops and tanks across the causeway into Bahrain to bolster the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as it tried to hold back the wave of protests that engulfed the regime.The gratitude of the Bahrainis to their Saudi patrons is all too visible as one looks at all the public buildings plastered with pictures of the smiling King and his Saudi benefactor.The great monument at Pearl Square was quickly bulldozed lest their be any reminder or traces of the nascent protest movement.
King Abdullah’s decade old peace plan for the Palestinian/Israeli standoff has been hurriedly dusted off and is being touted across the region. Some Israelis perhaps recognising that there were major changes afoot in the Arab world started to refer to the Abdullah plan as a basis of any future deal. Prince Turki Al Feisal a former Saudi Interior Minister and brother of the current Foreign Minister in a major article for the Washington Post warned the US that the Saudis will not take too kindly to any attempt by the US to frustrate the move by the Palestinians to declare sovereignity and seek recognition at the UN in September this year. Saudi Arabia was making it clear that it was taking a lead in Arab affairs and in an unprecedented move was willing to face a falling out with its main ally the United States, later in the year. Somebody described Turki Al Feisal’s article as akin to the Saudis parking their tanks on the Obama White House lawn.
For the first time commentators in the Gulf have started to refer to a new term. The return of Turkey as a key player in the region has led Arab commentators to refer to a new Ottomanism as under the newly elected Recip Tayyip Erdogan Turkey once again started to flex its muscle and influence across the region. The new generation of Arabs do no hold the jaundiced view that many older Arabs have for their former colonial masters. The Ottomans arose mixed emotions in the Arab world. Having faced repeated rejection by the West in its application to join the EU, Turkey had finally decided to turn its back on any further attempt to pursue an increasingly futile attempt at membership of the EU.A rejection that Europe may yet come to regret. Instead, Turkey looked towards the Arab/Muslim world. Buoyed by unprecedented economic growth and a new confidence in world and regional affairs evidenced by Turkeys involvement in facilitating peace talks between both the Taliban and Afghanistan and talking to disparate Palestinian groups and speaking out loudly against Israel’s siege of Gaza has won Turkey many friends. Increasingly, Arab commentators are referring admiringly to the Turkish model of democracy and Islam as a future goal for the Arab world.It did not go unoticed throughout the region that in Erdogan’s victory speech following his sweeping victory he was unashamed at hiding Turkish aspirations as he declared that “Believe me, Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir.”.
This is a new resurgent Turkey willing to denounce the brutality of Syrian oppression by the Asad regime and opening its borders to Syrian refugees despite a recent thawing of relations between the two neighbours. To display its maturity and reassure the US perhaps, Turkey announced this week that it would not be allowing its ship the Mavi Marmara to take part in the Gaza flotilla that departs later this year in an attempt to break the Israeli siege. But Arabs will not forget Erdogan’s public dressing down of Shimon Peres at the Davos World summit early in 2010. For years the Turkish democratic model had been derided in the Arab world. The sight of Muslim women being banned from wearing the Hijab, and Islamic practice and adherence firmly kept in the background in Turkey ensured that any pretensions that Turkey may have had to speak for the Muslim world were firmly quashed. But no longer so, as Arab commentators speak admiringly of the Turkish model as a vision worth emulating by the wider Arab world. Its accommodation and adoption of modernity within a loose Islamic framework that allowed personal freedom and democracy chimed with the spirit and zeitgeist of the times.
The only discordant note in the Arab spring is set by the other great player in the region, Iran. The Arab world has been at loggerheads with the Persians for centuries and fears of Persian influence and conspiracy are rife throughout the region. Whether it is the accusations by the Bahrainis that Iranians were behind the recent uprising in Bahrain, and armed and provided material support to the Shia rebels, or meddling in Nouri Al Maliki’s government in Iraq.
The Saudis sitting on a sea of oil and enjoying the benefits of the ever increasing price of a barrel of oil and Turkey enjoying the benefits of becoming a regional trading and manufacturing hub can afford to dabble in the affairs of the region.But unlike Turkey and Saudi Arabia which can both rely upon their relative economic stability, Iran crippled by decades of sanctions faces serious domestic upheavals that make it less of a threat than the West might think.
The tottering Syrian regime has lost Iran one of its major Arab allies.It remains to be seen whether the new Hizbollah dominated government of Najib Miqati in Lebanon can survive without the support of Walid Jumblatt’s Druze party or Saad Hariri’s Sunni or the large Christian minority. Couple that with the Iranian support for the recalcitrant Hamas in Gaza and the regimes reputation for troublemaking and mischief making has gained it pariah status in the region let alone in the febrile mind of Washington. Ahmadinejad’s occasional outburst and uncompromising attitude towards Israel played to the gallery and the Arab street found his insouciance and gall amusing, as Iran cocked a snook to Israel and the US.When the Iranian leadership recently made the the somewhat ludicrous claim that the Arab spring was a continuation of Khomein’s Iranian revolution of some thirty years before, it was met with ridicule and resentment at this Persian attempt to usurp a uniquely Arab movement.The gulf between the two is illustrated by the inability of either to agree the name of the ocean that divides them.The Arabs jealously refer to the Arabian Gulf and the Iranian are as adamant that it should remain the Persian Gulf, an illustration of the centuries old suspicion and hostility that the two share. The simplistic view that the minority Arab Shia may turn to Shia Iran for support or even forge an alliance is largely a fallacy. The Arab Shia are Arab first and although at times their may be a convergence of interest, this is unlikely to ever be of a permanent nature.
The Arab spring augurs well for the region and the world in general. As long as it is recognised that it is a work in progress, and that it only gains legitimacy and authenticity by being acknowledged as an organic Arab led movement, the signs of it leading to permanent change are manifest. The West’s age old canard of Arab exceptionalism and the argument that Islam could not accommodate democracy is being laid to rest. And yet the sight of NATO jets bombing civilians in Tripoli has damaged the authenticity of the Libyan rebels and they have lost some of the initial authority that the Arab world had granted them.
The incessant cry of “something must be done” at the next wave of Syrian refugees must be resisted by the West. Accusations will of course be made of western indifference and double standards and calls for intervention but these must all be resisted. Similar calls were made during the Prague spring in Czechoslovakia, the precursor to today’s movements. That was crushed and trampled under the tracks of Soviet tanks, but cool heads prevailed and despite the cries and demonstrations of student protesters on campuses throughout the West, the US and its allies held back and chose not to intervene.
and clamour for the day that they wrest control of their destinies from the tyrants that have suppressed and thwarted their ambitions and aspirations for decades.The West should allow that happen.

Tying to make sense of the shifting sands of the Arab Spring has at times proved to be an exercise in futility mixed with antic

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