Clergy Corner

The Middle East’s Sand Castles

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Finally, for the first time in history, the Egyptian people have risen up to take charge of their own collective destiny. Providentially on February 11 – the 32nd anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran – a youthful generation of Egyptians had the first taste of the decisiveness and invincibility of the power of the people, and its first victory, which had come in the wake of less than three weeks of its display.

Hosni Mubarak, the US lackey who had tyrannized Egypt for three decades, was forced to leave, handing power over to a council of US-trained and US-groomed generals. Following his last “defiant speech” on Thursday night wherein he tried to dodge the “script carefully crafted” in Washington, Washington Post recapitulates, “Mubarak was told on Friday that he must step down, and within hours, he was on his way to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.”

There was a “peaceful transfer of power” between Egyptian hands, while the slippery reins of power still remained in what were safe hands for the Americans. While taking care to arrange a safe transition, the US has maintained a public stance favoring the demands of the Egyptian people. Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser for the Middle East under George W. Bush, who has apparently been advising the Obama administration on Egypt in recent weeks, said: “We come out of this as a country in pretty good shape, with a basis to build a relationship with the new government.”

By conceding a pawn in the early stages of the game, the Americans have proved that they have indeed learnt some things since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Middle East may yet have some hard lessons for Washington.

Basically, American foreign policy in the Middle East for the last six decades, following the British before them, has been one of building sand castles – an approach based on an outdated view of the world and a remnant of the colonial era. At the center of this scheme conceived by the imperial myopia has been the colonial entity called Israel, an unsustainable apartheid based on the theft of Palestine and denial of the most fundamental rights of its people, an affront not only to the Arab and Islamic worlds but a flagrant negation of basic universal human values and rights.

Similarly, Washington’s support for despotic regimes in the region, dictatorships, kingdoms and emirates, has been based on an outright denial of the right of self-determination to the Muslim populations of the region. Even before the revolutionary uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt shook the ground, the unsustainable character of these sand castles was obvious.

If the foreign policy of the United States is to shed its barbaric past, if America is to outgrow its fetish for sand castles and craft a new foreign policy for the region worthy of a civilized country, it should be willing to align its interests and goals with the rights and aspirations of the people of the region. Any foreign policy that is conceived otherwise will prove to be a fetish for sand castles.

It is true that London and Washington are not solely responsible for the sad political history of the Islamic world during the last century. The blame lies equally on the political formulation of Muslim jurists, whose theories – conceived in violation of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) – have served as the theoretical justification for the establishment of tyranny and continuity of despotic regimes since the fall of the Caliphate and its capitulation to hereditary monarchy under Muawiyah (son of the Prophet’s arch enemy, Abu Sufyan). The regime instituted under Muawiyah has endured until the present times under different dynasties and in a variety of garbs with the support of the official clergy.

It was only when the clergy distanced itself from the despots and thieves and became a champion of the rights of the people to independence, freedom, and self-determination, that the Muslim world was able to begin the transition from Umayyad despotism to democratic governance some believe is suggested by the Qur’an: The governance of their (the Muslims’) affairs is through consultation amongst them (42:38).

Only by reverting to the principles laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the Islamic polity has been able to liberate itself from the despotic tradition that was first instituted by the Ummayyads and reinforced in modern times by the West. It is only natural that this should have happened first in Iran, where the dominant Shia Islam has never formally ratified – even when forced to coexist with Shiite monarchs – the formulations advanced to justify despotic rule by the main-current jurists.

The ouster of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt is only the first step towards the establishment of popular regimes that can ensure independence, freedom and the right of self-determination for the people of these countries. The United States and the West in general are not going to shed their age-old fetish for building sand castles overnight. While appearing to sympathize with the people’s aspirations, they will try their best to closely monitor and manipulate the developments according to their faulty perceptions and misconceived, unsustainable goals.

Revolution is a new and unprecedented historic experience for the people of Tunisia and Egypt. Self-determination, independence and freedom will not be offered to them on a golden platter. Their struggle is against entrenched oligarchies and intelligence agencies of Europe and America, who, in collusion with the leaders of the big corporations, are experienced players at the game of enslaving nations.

It is only with an iron will, constant vigilance, creative ingenuity, an unflagging endurance, and willingness to sacrifice that the people will be able to overcome the stratagems of the enemies of their independence and self-determination. The hand of God, who ousted the Shah of Iran, and Mubarak and Ben Ali over the past month, is with them. He is indeed the ruler of the hearts and minds of men and the sole source of victory, even as He is the sole source of all that is in existence. Whatever the people build will endure, and the sand castles are sure to crumble before their will and determination.

Ali Quli Qarai is an Iranian scholar, formerly the editor of Al-Tawhid, a quarterly journal of Islamic thought and culture. Among his published works is an English translation of the Qur’an.

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