Lessons from the Arab world

By K.N. Pandita

West Asia and the Arab World are seething with mass mobilization. It began from Tunisia, a North African state where, like other contiguous Arab states, French cultural influence has been accepted as well as rejected. Uprising against Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was unexpected to happen that soon.  Masses in Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain and Djibouti in East Africa demonstrated restlessness. Inside stories from the Saudi kingdom are inaccessible.

Interestingly, the wave has inched onwards into non-Arab world as well like China. In Shanghai the Jasmine Revolution activists demand democratization in China. The contagion has spread to no fewer than twelve cities of the country. Authorities are jittery that anti – regime revolution may soon rock the entire nation and repetition of Tiananmen Square massacre may not be the solution.

In the initial stage of Egyptian crisis, Iranian supreme religious leader chipped in asking Tahrir Square crowds to go Islamic. They did not oblige. Now Teheran, having eaten the humble pie, thinks of resorting to sword-rattling. Two of her warships have moved into the Mediterranean waters in a bid to convey message to Syrian masses that Iran would forestall any conspiracy of overthrowing the government there. Iran suspects America’s invisible hand busy in subversion in Syria, the only Arab country in the Middle East befriending theocratic regime in Iran. Israel has expressed its concern over Iranian warships moving into the Mediterranean.

So far the mass movement in the Arab world has not shown any signs of being an Islamic religious movement. Despite subtle prompting by Iranian supreme religious leader, Cairo crowds have kept clear of theocratizing the movement. Apparently a widespread political and economic movement is rattling the entire Arab world, which has been generally ruled by autocrats, despots and tyrants. After decolonization of North African Arab states which had given rise to deep anti-colonial and anti-western sentiments, the dust settled down with the end of cold war era. Thereafter followed decades of brisk interaction between the Arabs and the western world and thousands of Arabs immigrated to the US and European cities. A new pattern of relationship developed between the Arab Diaspora and local cultural entities. The Arabs hitherto not used to democratic life style now began to feel and understand that they had been living under repression of despots back in their original countries. A lurking desire of reformation in all aspects of Muslim society ultimately became catalyst to the new phenomenon of mass movement that we witness today across the entire Middle East. If logically analyzed, one can say that this movement should not and may not be hijacked by the fanatical chapters as happened in Iran. The lessons from Iranian Islamic revolution cannot be ignored or forgotten. Rather it serves an eye opener to the pioneers of the present movement in Arab world.

However, India, a secular democratic country must try to learn some unavoidable lessons from the Middle East situation. Their movement is essentially against bad governance and lack of political freedom. These are the underlying motivations for mass movement. In India, we should not rest content with the satisfaction that we have a viable democracy in place. That is not all to be contented with. We are faced with far greater danger; corruption, bad governance and mismanagement. We have seen how the previous session of the parliament was stalled owing to unwillingness of the government to be transparent. We have seen how the government stubbornly opposed the installation of JPC thereby intensifying the doubts that the government had skeletons in the cupboard. These are not small happenings. We have also seen senior leaders trying to hoodwink the nation and we have seen how communalism is advanced subtly and by stealth. We have seen how the talisman of underplaying one communalism is made operative by profiling its counterfoil and so forth.

All this does not augur well for a democracy. Patronizing groupism, identity-ism and many more isms will fuel opposition to the system. The country is already locked in a grim battle with separatists, secessionists, Naxalites and Maoists. We are already pinned down by two big enemies on our east and west. We need to bring about a radical change in our thinking and approach. We need to redraw our priorities. It is import to stop unbridled propaganda of maligning political rivals by painting them in religious colour. That is self-destruction. These are the messages from Arab mass movements. We should not wait for the time when the masses of people mostly comprising the youth are left with no option but to imitate the Arab youth of today. Our political culture is on downslide, and needs to be arrested. Democracy is not the game of mere numbers; it is good governance for maxim of numbers.

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