Within a month, the events in the Arab world will celebrate their first
anniversary. The bill of the first year will be a mixed one, as expected.
With thousands dead in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere and
thousands more injured and arrested, the Arab people have already paid a big
price for a better future. Alternating between revolutionary zeal and
sinking pessimism, they will have a moment of reflection on the first
anniversary of the Arab Spring. A healthy dose of cautious optimism will be
This is not because the revolutions will die out. No, I think they will
continue at a different speed and with a different scope and intensity.
Success stories will be recorded, frustrations will soar, clashes will
happen and probably with sadness people will continue to pay a painful, high
price for an uncertain future. But the real challenge will not be the date
of the next election or new legislation. Important as short-term political
changes are, the real challenge will be to turn uprisings into revolutions
and revolutions into transformation. The herculean task is to make all this
happen in peace and maturity and with vision and integrity.
A seasoned journalist friend of mine who has spent a good part of his life
covering the Arab world recently remarked that Egypt did not have a
"revolution" but an "uprising." As he was referring to the recent events in
Egypt, it got my attention. He went on to say that what we saw in Egypt was
an uprising against Hosni Mubarak, not a revolution against the regime.
Mubarak was the window face of the real power wielders in Egypt, i.e., the
army, and now it is showing its real power.
My journalist friend is right in his down-to-earth assessment of where
things have come to in recent weeks in Egypt. But will it stop there? It
will not. True, the tug-of-war between the SCAF and the people in Tahrir
Square is about specific issues, such as the election date and the handing
over of power to civilian authority. But it is also about keeping the spirit
of the revolution going and not sacrificing it to internal politicking.
This is the main issue the Arab world faces today. A true revolution is more
than holding elections. It is about changing the way things are done. It is
a difficult process of overcoming the bunker mentality that has
incapacitated Arab societies for decades. It is about setting new
Often, political hustle and bustle tends to overshadow the deeper
transformation that a society goes through. Revolutionary transformation
entails a rethinking of the key components of a society and how it defines
such cardinal issues as the individual person, identity, loyalty, communal
relations, pluralism, politics, education, culture, economics, justice,
equality, dignity, security and freedom. Political leadership has a key role
to play in any social transformation. But the real source of change is the
conscience of a society.
Political revolutions must be complemented and followed by revolutions in
two other areas: economic and institutional-cultural. The future of Arab
democracies is contingent upon generating and maintaining a well-functioning
middle class as the backbone of electoral politics and a system of checks
and balances. The widening gap between the rich and the poor in most Arab
countries must be overcome to mobilize all sectors of society to contribute
to a nation's economy. Economic justice must be felt in the daily lives of
the people so that they continue to believe in the revolutions they have
What is even more important is the cultural and institutional revolution
whereby the old ways of doing things will have to change in substantial
ways. Arab and Muslim societies need to develop a new cultural and
civilizational discourse to overcome such old binaries as tradition and
modernity, Islam and the West, the individual and society, religion and
science, Islam and democracy, and so on. A truly cultural revolution means
mobilizing the traditional values of Muslim societies to chart a new future.
It is to be grounded in the tradition so that we can keep our horizons open.
It is important to maintain the political momentum in the Arab world and
move ahead with a positive political agenda. But the bigger challenge, we
should remember, is to turn revolution into a positive force and bring about
long-term and substantive change in the minds and hearts of people.
Tunisia has been leading the way so far. With the new government in Libya,
it will join the caravan. We shall see how Egypt and Syria will follow.
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Received on Wed Nov 23 2011 - 09:32:24 EST