Friday, January 28, 2011

Political rumblings in Arab world reveal corrupt, secular regimes

The irony of the revolution in Tunisia, and the rumblings in Egypt and Yemen is that one does not really know the outcome. In these countries, the authoritarian regimes subscribed to secularism and modernism of some sort, and they have ostensibly kept the religious radicals on the leash as it were. Of course, religious conservatives supported the dictatorship in Tunisia, and they continue to support the Hosni Mubarak government in Egypt and the Ali Abdullah Saleh's in Yemen. The United States too backs the two authoritarian regimes. There are some traces of formal democracy in Egypt, but Mubarak, much like his predecessors Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwer Sadat, had kept out the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
There is the possible danger in Egypt and Yemen that the fall of the unpopular authoritarian regimes could be followed by the rise of religious radicals, though it may not take the neo-theocratic form it has taken in Iran. It is necessary to remember the sequence of events in Iran. The fall of the Shah Reza Pahlavi government was replaced by the secular, liberal government of Shapour Bakhtiar and in the early days of the February Islamic revolution that of non-cleric Abolhasan Bani Sadr. Iran presents a complex picture of religious radicalism as presented by the domination of the Shia clerics -- the ayatollahs -- and puplist politicians who deftly mix Islam and politics.
It has to be recognised that the political Islam represented by Muslim Brotherhood is much like the extreme Christian conservatism of the Tea Party faction of the Republican party in the United States. The shape of events in Yemen that could unfold will remain unpredictable. Islamic radicals could get their hands on to levers of power but there is no strong political-religious movement in that country.
The more interesting thing about political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is that modernist, secular regimes had turned authoritarian and corrupt, giving rise to the opposition mainly led by religious radicals.
Algeria faced a similar situation in the 1990s. The secular military beat back the challenge of the popular religious radicals in a brutal manner. But it cannot be denied that the religious radicals once in power would have been equally brutal.
It is a sad dilemma for the people in these countries -- they are caught between the nightmares of authoritarian secular regimes and that of religious fundamentalists.
The liberals, though their presence is significance, may not have much of a chance in steering the politics of their respective countries into that of moderate, democratic channels.

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