Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim Reflects on the Aftermath of the Arab Spring


On November 18, 2014, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, founder and board member, IIIT; leader of the Malaysian opposition; and former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, shared his “Reflections on the Aftermath of the Arab Spring” with the general public at the IIIT headquarters in Herndon, VA.

Citing “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those in authority from among you” (Q. 4:59), Anwar attributed the Arab Spring uprising to the ruling elite’s view that the masses cannot protest whatever policies they decide to follow because they are, at least in their own minds, legitimate rulers. Opposing this concept, he asserted that the rulers must govern according to the maqasid in order to achieve the public good – something that they clearly are not doing. Thus the reforms must be systemic, for the entire system is riddled with corruption, abuse, violence, and self-aggrandizement. For the last decade IIIT has been active in this area and has produced many publications in an ongoing attempt to inform Muslims of what the maqasid are and how they can be implemented in contemporary societies.

Citing the lack of ethics in governance, Anwar stated: “The context of the atrocities inflicted upon by the masses was shocking.” Moreover, many “experts” who never saw the upheaval coming asserted that it would not spread beyond Tunisia, thereby showing their inability to understand or even sense the pervasive nature of Arab demands and expectations that finally erupted.

Initial hopes that Arab Spring would succeed in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya turned out to be a mirage in the case of the last two. Those countries that managed to oust their leaders were basically bankrupt, and the Islamists assumed power with simplistic and unrealistic ideas about what they could accomplish and how soon they could accomplish it. With little financial and other support from the Muslim world and the West, the early advances made began to be rolled back as more and more promises went unfulfilled.

On the whole, Anwar considers the Arab Spring a catastrophe, for now it is not the colonial powers destroying the countries but the countries destroying themselves. The West’s failure to formulate a firm policy toward Syria and ISIS (i.e., a “policy of ambivalence”), when added to an incoherent and inconsistent policy of “supporting democracy” in the region, has left the Arabs confused and cynical.

Muslims have quite a lot to learn from this whole experience, among them the following:

 - They must become inclusive by forming coalitions and alliances to achieve common goals. The time of combative rhetoric is over, for it only alienates others and turns them into unnecessary enemies. As the world saw in Egypt, Islamists must become more flexible, adapt to existing governing realities, get the military back into the barracks, be patient and practice restraint, be humble enough to admit that they need help, and show more compassion and understanding for others.

- They should study what has transpired in non-Arab Muslim countries: Pakistan (under Muhammad Ali Jinnah), Indonesia’s peaceful transition to democracy, and Turkey’s successful campaign to end the army’s influence in the political arena.

- They should take the concerns of non-Muslim communities seriously and make a good-faith effort to address them. After all, these citizens are also part of the nation.

During the Question and Answer Session, he made several more points in response to the audience’s many questions:

 - The regional upheaval will continue because the underlying causes remain unaddressed.

- The new leaders were unqualified to rule because living in a dictatorship deprived them of any chance to learn how to govern. All they had were theories, which turned out to be not very helpful when implemented.

- It is time for “constructive intervention” so that ASEAN member countries can seriously address long-term problems affecting Muslim minorities in Burma/Myanmar, southern Thailand, the southern Philippines, and Aceh. The leaders of these countries must understand that more killing cannot resolve the underlying problems of underdevelopment and marginalization; what is needed is social justice.

- The ulema have to understand that the many personal and other freedoms enjoyed in the West are necessary for the Muslim world to become full of new – and real – democracies.