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The Arab Autumn

Cover Story


In the backdrop of the ongoing Muslim bloodshed in Libya, Syria and Yemen, DR. AUSAF SAIED VASFI calls upon the Arab intellectuals, scholars and think-tanks to transform the current Arab autumn into a real Arab spring based upon the sovereignty of Allah, the Holy Qur’ān and Sunnah.

Right from North Africa down to the Middle East, no person or persons of consequence, raised their powerful voices to stop Muslim bloodshed in Libya, Syria and Yemen. After all it was the bloodletting of Muslims, the brethren-in-faith.

It was the Saudi monarch alone, who, on August 8, sternly asked the president of Syria: Stop violence or risk defeat! King Abdullah also recalled the Saudi ambassador in Damascus. So, after an hour, did Kuwait and Bahrain. Had Abdullah not shown courage, the Arab silence would not have broken. Following the toppling of autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt this year, a strong pro-democracy sentiment is sweeping across the Arab world. A sort of frustration bordering on civil war can be sensed at the subterranean level everywhere.

To quote Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques exactly: “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. Syria should think wisely before it is too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms.” Strong words indeed!

It is obvious if Bashar Assad does not read the writing on the wall, the NATO, always in search of oil deposits, would start strafing key Syrian installations.



The Alawite oppression in Syria is 41-year-old today. What goes without saying is that the Alawites – a confused sect whose religious beliefs and practices baffle Muslims – constitute 10 per cent of the total Syrian population. The Muslim youth are kept busy in the mosques tilted towards Sufism. The target of the Alawites is and has been the Sunni majority. The Left-inclined administration is run with the active hype of security forces and Mukhabrat (intelligence). The Sunni presence is heavier in Hama and Deir Al-Zor.

Rule by fear coupled by brutalities has a history in Syria. Mr. Thomas L. Freidman recalls in the New York Times, August 3: “In Feb. 2008, the then President Hafez Al-Assad had put down a Sunni rebellion in Hama by shelling the neighbourhoods where the revolt was centred. Then dynamiting buildings some with residents still inside and then steamrolling them like a parking lot.” The Amnesty International had put the casualty figure at 20,000.

The problem with the Arab dictators and sub-dictators mindset is that they rarely think in terms of establishing institutions. The word “civil society” is perhaps alien to their psyche. They appear to rule out democratic experience for their people to work with. Did Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Egypt ever think of setting mechanisms necessary for smooth governance and statecraft?

Free and fair election appears to be an anathema to them. Whatever institutions have quite admirably been set up at the initiative of Saudi Arabia are almost dysfunctional. Does the writ of Gulf Cooperation Council or Arab League or Organisation of Islamic Cooperation run large in West Asia and North Africa? If so, why are inter-Arab problems not resolved at the inter-Arab level? Are these fora not potent enough? Where lies their weakness?



There is a marked absence of a coherent ideology in the Arab Islamic world. This is, sadly enough, despite the existence of Islam in individual lives of the people living over there. They say prayers punctually, fast during Ramadhan, pay zakat and perform the pilgrimage also. But their lives, individual, corporate, social and political, are at a safe distance from Islam. At the time of birth, marriage and death they remember Islam. But the ideology does not guide or regulate their collective lives.

Would the US have been in a position to fish in the troubled waters if the Arab world had not been divided and sub-divided, both vertically and horizontally, into Yemenis, Libyans, Tunisians, Moroccans, Saudis and Egyptians?

Today, Washington regulates mosques in the Muslim world. The US can strike at will. It can change regimes. It can gobble up natural resources of any Muslim state. The US can finish any Muslim stalwart it considers uncomfortable. Had this day come if the Arab, nay, Islamic states, been like a leaden wall?

Another casualty of differences in the Arab world is agreement on how to deal with the cancer of the Middle East – Israel.



The reason why Zionism could not be given a bloody nose by its prime victims – over 1.5 billion Muslims – is the lengthening hyphen between Shiites and Sunnis in the region.

Although the level-headed groups in both sects are committed to liberating Palestine, local political compulsions and petty sectarian interests at the home front seldom allow those who feel the pain of Palestine to deal with the issue with the force it deserves.

Shiites’ alleged connivance with Western forces against Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s “liberation” followed by reprisal bomb attacks against Shiites, capital punishments handed to Saddam and his cronies in Iraqi kangaroo courts, celebrations over their executions, tip-offs against resistance fighters resulting in their ruthless killings and the formation of a hardcore Shiite government in Baghdad are some of the recent factors that drove a wedge into whatever semblance of unity there was between Gulf countries and Iran in particular and Shiite and Sunni masses in general.

The Palestinian cause gets a severe beating when Saudi Arabia, which claims to be the biggest champion of Palestinian rights, feels alarmed over Iran’s rising influence in the region and its military and nuclear power. Iran believes in flexing muscles so that Israel and its masters in Washington do not dream of invading it to destroy Bushehr nuclear plant. Israel sees Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme as the greatest danger to its security. But, unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and its allies see it as an existential threat to them and, if Middle East observers are to be believed, Riyadh would not even hesitate to give Tel Aviv Saudi air space to carry out surgical strikes against Iranian nuclear installations.



Iran’s reported role in fanning unrest in Bahrain, its moral support to the Shiite community in the six-nation GCC bloc, its support to Houthi rebels in Yemen against Saudi Arabia two years ago are the main reasons for the unbridgeable gulf between Riyadh and Tehran.

Mutual relations are at the lowest ebb. Saudi Arabia recently refused to receive the Iranian foreign minister. Pakistan, it is learnt, has been playing the role of a mediator, but things are not on the right track yet. Saudi Arabia’s military help to crush the uprising in Bahrain left Iran fuming. Bahrain sees Iran as its enemy No. 1.

As the Arab spring saw dictators in the region being mauled by the oppressed public, the double standard of Iran and Shiite Hezbollah came to light when they failed to support the Syrian masses struggling to end Bashar Al-Assad’s corrupt and criminal Baathist regime. Both backed wholeheartedly Shiite Bahraini protesters against the Sunni monarchy there, but refused to side with Syrian demonstrators because there the Sunnis are rising against the pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah Alawiites (10 per cent of the population ruling the country for over four decades).

The only silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds of sectarian hatred is the united struggle of Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, and purist Sunni Hamas, headed by Khaled Meshaal, which enjoys state support in Damascus for its anti-Israel activities.

Hezbollah alone has the potential to give the Zionist state sleepless nights if it gets genuine financial and moral support from rich Arab monarchies which compete with one another to be in good books of the Pentagon. During the last Israeli aggression against Lebanon, Hezbollah destroyed over 40 Israeli Merkava tanks and caused the Jewish state extraordinary losses. Israeli defence minister had to resign and several other important heads had rolled.



Instead of seeing Iran’s military might as a threat to their existence, Gulf rulers can contribute to the Muslim struggle against Israel by extending unconditional support to Iran whose nuclear programme is an important deterrent against the Jewish state’s designs to alter the map of the Middle East.

As long as the region is divided on sectarian lines, Israel’s safe existence is guaranteed.

Let the Arab intellectuals, scholars and think-tanks seriously think in terms of rolling back what they call Arabism. It is sapping the Islamic solidarity and rusting the Muslim Ummah in addition to torpedoing the Muslim bloc. Let them try to transform the current Arab autumn into a real Arab spring based upon the sovereignty of Allah, the Holy Qur’ān and Sunnah. Arabs must come out of their Arab shell.

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