Saturday, February 12, 2011

A heartfelt essay Has Egypt’s Hour of Reckoning Come? | IslamToday - English by the popular Sa`udi Arabi`an religious scholar, Sh Salman Oudeh.

These past few nights, I have been unable to sleep. Instead, I have been watching the news, captivated by the events that are unfolding in Egypt. At times, I am overjoyed by the understanding exhibited by the young people who exercise self-restraint and patience while proclaiming their demands, who are aware of the importance of being disciplined and who know they have to preserve their gains by not responding to any provocation.

At other times, I am saddened to watch the paid trouble-makers hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at their brothers, who break up peaceful crowds with horses and camels. They show the baseness of their morality as well as the cruelty of those who sent them, since such riff-raff do not act on their own initiative.

I also feel anxiety. Egypt is moving into unknown territory. Anything is possible right now. We are witnessing something truly unprecedented in the Arab world.

The long-suffering Egyptian people have moved ahead of their political parties, intellectuals, and leaders. They have gone beyond the long-winded accounts and incessant weighing of pros and cons, seeking a better future for their country and their countrymen so they can go forward with the other nations of the world in the quest for knowledge, freedom, development, and cultural advancement.

The protesters deserve better treatment than what the corrupt powers – who fear having to account for themselves – are meting out to them, hoping to distract them from their demand for immediate change by busying them with their own injuries and woes.

They have done everything they can to spoil the people’s positive energies and turn their spirit of optimism and celebration to one of grief and despair. It is as if they are saying: “The road is long, and the challenges are far greater than you anticipated. Turn back and rejoin the ranks of the desperate and frustrated.”

It seems like the corrupt powers simply want to say to the world: “Look at how these people fight among themselves. They do not deserve democracy!”

The fact that the protesters were abandoned and all military and security personnel were withdrawn at a particular critical time is proof that the move was strategically decided at the highest level. This warns us of the dangers that might be faced later on.

It takes vigilance and determination to keep things under control. Egypt is not a commodity that any individual or political party can sell off or break over the heads of its people if it does not get what it wants.

What is happening right now in Egypt – and what just recently took place in Tunisia – is reason to pause and think. This is especially true for those who are in strategic positions and the rulers who think they are immune to change, imagining that this kind of thing always happens somewhere else.

Tahrir Square – or “Liberation” Square – is not a new name. Today, however, it has become a rallying symbol and will remain so whenever there is a political emergency.

Demonstrations are an old idea. They have taken place over and over again during political crises in Arab states, Muslim countries, and throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of people came out into the streets on account of Gaza, Iraq, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and a host of other causes. Those protests always subsided. The participants went their separate ways without even making a dent in government policy. The demonstration would be featured as an urgent news flash on one of the networks, and that was it – as if it were all just a way for people to vent off steam.

The sorry state of Arab politics is lamented over and over again by intellectuals, reformers, and analysts. The political leaders themselves have started to talk like this, bemoaning political backwardness, but of course without ever identifying who is to blame for it!

Poverty, unemployment and misery are the common talk on the streets of our neighborhoods. Meanwhile, repression and the iron-fisted security apparatus is growing day by day, employing an ever larger cadre of personnel. This is something the rulers are quite proficient at, and which the population knows well to fear. Fear alone is the master of the situation.

Yes, foreign plots are an old thing – but internal conflicts are older still!

The scare tactics that have always been used to keep people from political organization are not working any more. People are seeing regular faces, using spontaneous language, demanding nothing other than freedom, justice, and respect for all human beings.

The miracle is coming in plain, simple speech, not in sophisticated double-talk or words used to promote the particular interest of one or another party or faction.

The major question is: What has changed? What is new in the lives and circumstances of the people that they are willing to act and put themselves at risk, but at the same time do not let their anger to turn them to violence and destructive acts?

We must realize that we are entering into a new phase of public awareness and a growing sense of the rights that other people around the world enjoy. It has become the right of each person to ask: Why am I excluded from these rights? Why am I the exception?

A human being is, after all, a human being. Everyone around the world has the same basic aspirations, needs, and hopes. This is the “revolution of hope” where people, after truly becoming aware of the what others enjoy, have begun to demand the same for themselves. They see their rulers as actively obstructing them from their aspirations, or at the very least not leading them faithfully in the right direction.

This growing awareness coincides with monumental changes in the technological landscape. It might be safe to say that communications technologies have exceeded the control of the world powers which created them. It is not a certain thing that the one who creates a tool will be able to control it.

Global communications networks, the video culture, the Internet, twitter, Facebook, YouTube... all these new media resources have facilitated the growth of new social groupings, of sharing and consolidating opinion, and connecting between people. Political association is no longer limited to the forming of a political party.

With the new media, eager young people can entertain ambitions that few before them could imagine: to have the solidarity of millions behind them, sharing a common outlook and strategic vision.

Withholding technology from the people or restricting their access to it is an old way of doing things, and it does not work. It merely inflames the people and makes them all the more resolved. It also makes them feel contempt for those who need to suppress them and curtail their freedom.

They are what I call the “Republic of the Marginalized”. There is a new spirit enlivening the hearts of the Arab peoples. We must acknowledge this – and rejoice in it. This is an historic opportunity for all those who wish well for the Arab world, a truly historic moment.

None of this comes as a real surprise. This did not happen by pure chance. All the critical factors have been in place and developing for a long time. It is just that we might not always be able to see the where things are headed until after they have unfolded. Then there are those who will use any fraudulent means to make the status-quo seem inevitable, so that when events begin to unfold, the gullible are taken aback.

I have noticed that there is a serious lag in the understanding of developing situations and appreciating of what they entail. This causes political players to hesitate too long in doing what needs to be done. They might finally offer a few concessions, but then it will be a case of too little, too late. The popular momentum will have gone too far to accept what might have once been sufficient. Nothing but meeting the people’s full demands will then suffice.

We should note that the most likely time for a revolution to happen is not when things are at their worst, but just when things begin to improve. The French Revolution was preceded by twenty years of the best political and economic success the country had witnessed for centuries. When things start to get better, people begin asking themselves: Where was all this yesterday? Why are we only seeing it now? This is an historic moment if it is accompanied by the right spirit, the right communications, and that “spark” which sets it off.

I therefore address all the Arab countries. I declare that I wish the best for all of them, every last citizen. I even wish the best for those who have up to now been oppressive and dictatorial… but they should realize that no state of affairs lasts forever.

These countries need to look where their feet are treading. They need to realize that the particular motives of each revolution are different, but the destructive consequences are the same. As Dr. Sa`d al-Otaybi said: “We need to revolt against the causes of revolution.”

None of the leaders can afford to delude themselves into thinking they are special, saying: “That is going on over there” or “We are not Egypt or Tunisia.” No one can go on thinking that Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, or the Gulf States are different than anywhere else.

Before you hear the outcries and demands being proclaimed on the streets in these countries calling for the fall of the regime – before you go rushing off to your security apparatus that may or may not help you – please proclaim your commitment to substantial and radical reform. It is not enough to throw a few crumbs at the people.

There will be those who will have to leave office and some others who will be able to stay on in honorary positions so that the people will be able to choose new leaders who are prepared to be accountable, responsible, and subject to the law.

We must learn this lesson well before it is too late. We have witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt that a spark set off in one place can catch fire elsewhere in an instant.

We need a new relationship between the ruler and the ruled, one that is not based on fear and coercion, but on recognition, partnership, and respect.

Security measures are appropriate for use only against violence. However, with those who are unarmed and who have shrugged off fear with forbearance and resolve, a different approach is required.

We read in the Qur’an: “Then, when We decreed (Solomon’s) death, nothing showed them his death except a little worm of the earth, which kept (slowly) gnawing away at his staff: so when he fell down, the Jinns saw plainly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have continued in despised toil.” [Sūrah al-Saba`: 14]

The Earth has been eating away at the stick of intimidation, and the people have begun to wonder why they have been so long patiently enduring the domination of those who have been leaning all the while upon a big rotting stick on the verge of collapse.

In the Arab world, totalitarian regimes provide people with no means to live, work, and earn a livelihood except through its channels. This means that when the regime falls, it takes the masses of people down with it.

This is why we say: It is best for all people to rise above their hatreds, animosities, and grudges. They should refrain from prosecuting people for their past policies or political connections. Our Prophet’s example still applies, like when he gave amnesty to Quraysh upon his taking power in Mecca, saying: “Go. You are free.” This is the ideal solution which allows everyone to get beyond their past, change their convictions and allow for things to be established in a new way.

We should remind each other to pray to Allah to protect the Egyptian people, keep them secure, and safeguard their future. May He bless them with what is best and restore them to their position of leadership and precedence in the Muslim world, and in the Arab region particularly. We ask Allah to safeguard all the Muslim lands and guide their leaders to what is in the best interests of the people. May Allah protect the countries from instability, civil strife, and dissention. Allah is indeed the best Lord and Protector.

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