The Arab Spring was not about “Sharia” or “Secularism”

24 01 2013

Dr. Moncif Elmarzooki, President of Tunisia is correct when he stated in an interview in Asharq Al-Awsat (23/12/2013) and I rephrase, that the Arab Spring was not about Sharia or about ethnicity, sectarianism and nationalism, it has every thing to do with liberty, civil rights, freedoms, end of a police state and freedom from economic deprivations, corruption and dysfunctional state, decent life with full rights of citizenship.

This was the case in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, in Yemen, certainly in Syria. US supported if not sponsored “secular” governments ruled with blood and iron, jailing and executing opposition, disfranchising large segment of the population in favor a ruling party and elite that looted the countries and rendered the nations of divided, those inside jails and those outside, those with a life style that many dreams of and a majority living in dire poverties.

In Tunisia as it was in Egypt, in Libya and in Yemen, it was not the “Islamists” who lead the revolution and took to the streets, forcing ruling dictatorship out of office. It was the young, mostly educated who lead the charge against oppressions and the state security forces and corrupt incompetent governments. Sharia, Isalmizations and “secularism” of the nations was not the driving force behind the success achieved by the people as they took to the streets breaking the wall of fear and defying bullets, and water cannons.

Over the last year or so I have been following, many writers and opinion makers and their analysis of the Arab Spring with views ranging from a “conspiracy by the US and the West against “nationalistic governments” as some claims the case in Syria and Libya, while others mostly “Islamists” claim the Arab Spring was all about “virtues and Islamic value systems” with many “liberals” in the West claiming it was an international conspiracy. With all due respect to all views, the Arab Spring was all about freedoms, civil liberties, dictatorship, failing government institutions, disfranchising majority of people. It was all about the rights of “citizenship” since people in most if not all the Arab world are referred to as “subjects” but never “citizens” with its wide ranging meaning.

Arab “nationalists and secularists” on the one hand are worried that the emerging powerful “Islamists” movements will change the nature of the state from a “nationalist and secular” to an “Islamistist and religious” and as part of the “Ummah”. This is at a time when these “Arab nationalists and secularists” disfranchised” important segments of the populations that are not “Arabs” such is the case in North Africa and in Iraq, failing to recognize the unique and enriching diversity of the “Arab” world with its Arabs, Berbers, Kurds not to mentions Christians, Jews, and others.

“Islamists” are moving now toward committing the same mistakes. By insisting on the “religious/Islamic” nature of the state they are disfranchising a substantial part of the nation who are Non-Muslims and “secularists” who do not adhere to the nature of an “Islamization” of the state or the institutionalization of the “Sharia” but believe in the “civil” nature of the state where citizens are equal in rights, opportunities and duties irrespective of ethnicity, faith, and gender, and as citizens of the state and not members of a “sectarian community” be it Muslim, Christians or Jewish. “Islamists” are unfortunately leading these states toward divisions and “sectarianism”.

Both sides, “Islamists” and “Secularists/Nationalists” are simply forgetting why the Arab Spring came about, freedom, civil liberties, economic reforms, educations, opportunities, and poverty. Most if not all of the people (Muslims. Christians and Jews) are true believers but they too want “Heaven” in the hereafter only, they want to live a decent life here on earth, a life of freedom from wants and poverty, a life free of fear from the knock on the door past midnight, they want respect of their rights as citizens in dealing with a chocking and frightening and discriminating “bureaucracy” that can be described as “hell on earth”, one oiled by bribery, corruption and ‘Mahsoobia”, dividing the people into those “with connections” and those “ without connections”. They want accountability and transparency from their governments and their elected officials. All of these rights have nothing to do with social virtues. It has every thing to do with “rights of citizenship”.

Religion, sectarianism, Sharia or secularism could not of itself solve or address the deep and entrenched problems of the “Arab” word from hunger, poverty, ignorance, lack of development, lack of science and technology, lack of education, lack of equal opportunities, dysfunctional bureaucracy that is main contributor to failing economies in almost all of the Arab world, certainly absence of accountability and transparency.

More than any thing else, the Arab world needs competent, honest, dedicated social, economic, educational, scientific, political leaders and competent corrupt free public servants that can bring the Arab world into the 21st century. All the money in the world will not and could not solve the problems plaguing the Arab world unless the people, the citizens take charge and do something about their own fate and future. They too have a duty and obligation to be part of the solution. They must not trust their future to “Islamists” as they trusted their fate to “secularists” but make sure the state is a “civil state” with rights of citizens to their faiths, independent of state or governing institutions.

Ps. The absence of “codifications” of Sharia allows countries, certainly groups to define it and exercise it according to its own ideology or interests.

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