The Arab Spring, which began with the intention of securing greater political freedoms and overthrowing autocratic regimes in the Middle East, is soon going to complete three years. Popular protests with sometimes violent overtones led to political reversals in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Libya. Protests still continue in Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon and they show no signs of abating quickly.While it may have begun with good intentions, we would be living in denial if we still believe that the Arab Spring continues to be a force of justice and freedom.The motivations behind the Arab Spring have slowly but surely been hijacked and overshadowed by external factors aimed at stamping their dominance in an area of strategic importance to the rest of the world.
Democracy may be good in general, but is the Middle East ready to adopt democracy? This is the bigger question. Democracy may be easy to obtain as the Arab Spring has shown, but much more difficult to sustain.Middle East has always seen tensions and power struggles because of Shia Sunni factionalism. Countries that are Sunni controlled tend to ally with each other, and likewise for Shia dominated countries. In some countries, Shia minorities rule over Sunni majority populations and vice versa. This situation of minorities ruling over majorities has become possible as a result of outside support from either Shia dominated Iran or Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia, whichever the case may be.Hence, the Arab Spring has directly resulted in a rise of opportunism for changing these power balances.It has become a breeding ground for yet another civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and is no longer a just revolution.And funding for these revolutions comes easily from oil money.
In such a factional environment, it is possible for only two kinds of political orders to survive and rule. Either one has to be rich and autocratic or one has to be an Islamist. Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi etc were all rich and autocratic leaders who would crush any political opposition by force.On the positive side, they were also more secular. But since the Arab Spring is being fought for greater political freedom, the autocrats are sidestepped, and the Islamists are alleviated to power.This only further stokes religious tensions, and results in sectarian clashes.However, if the country has a homogeneous population and is either overwhelmingly Sunni or Shia, then these tensions are either absent or very low-key.
So should democracy be the goal for Arab Spring? My answer is NO. Any democratic implementations in the Middle East will only bring Islamists to power and deliver a killer blow to reformist and liberal movements.It would indeed mean taking several steps back and not forward.
What is needed more urgently is a Secular order.Middle East politics should learn to grow above Shia Sunni factionalism and be inclusive towards people of all castes and creeds.Let there be a Unity government in all these countries with appropriate representations from all factions.Let geopolitical alliances stop being governed by factional agendas, but by economic relations.And this change cannot come from the top. It requires an overwhelming change in social and religious mindset.Th bravehearts of Middle East who came out in the streets to protest, need to make sure that they do not let their movement for freedom be hijacked by vested interests.Let the Arab Spring be a social movement for Secularism first and Democracy only second.Because Democracy in Middle East cannot survive without Secularism.Turkey is proof of this!!