Power and possibility
As the global quest for power continues, pushing and pulling events, there may be emerging a new entity on the global stage: the revolutionary Arab nation, writes Mohsen Zahran
Sixty long years have passed since 23 July 1952 coup d'état by the young Free Officers and the ousting of King Farouk of Egypt and the Sudan. The subsequent quest for power and control of Egypt's destiny, and the establishment of the new revolutionary Republic of Egypt witnessed a succession of authoritarian rule by ex-army officers: president Gamal Abdel-Nasser for 16 years, Anwar El-Sadat for 11 years and Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. These were six decades of totalitarianism, injustice, conflicts, decline, corruption, economic stagnation, suffering, dependence on foreign aid, despair, and desperation politically, economically, socially and culturally.
The 25 January youth revolution sparked new hope for Egypt to institute dignity, social justice, freedom, and respect for human rights. Throughout the history of human civilisations, mankind has been preoccupied with, and motivated by, quests for power, authority and control. The manifestations of such quests have ranged from the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by the Pharaoh Menes during the First Dynasty in about 3000 BC, to the conquests of Ahmos, Thotmosis and Ramses II, to Alexander the Great's armed invasions of Asia Minor, Egypt and Mesopotamia, to the Roman Empire's colonisation of whole regions of Europe, Egypt and the Middle East. The early Islamic campaign to spread the Islamic faith from Egypt to North Africa, southern Europe, to the Middle and Far East (600-900 AD) reflected similar modus operandi.
Three centuries later, the several expeditions of the Crusades, which lasted for nearly two centuries (1100-1300 AD), were aimed at capturing for Christianity the Holy Land of Palestine, together with defending Eastern Europeans against the Turks. They were essentially religious missions of conquest. These were followed shortly thereafter by the emergence and prominence of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Istanbul as the seat of the Islamic Caliphate (1400-1900 AD), which lasted for nearly five centuries until the end of World War I, in the early 20th century. Mohamed Ali Pasha established his Alawaite dynasty in Egypt in 1805, and dispatched his armed expeditions into central Africa in order to secure the origin of the River Nile, into the Arab peninsula, into the eastern Mediterranean region of Palestine and Syria, as well as into Turkey, and even into Latin America. Elsewhere, colonial military powers were used consistently by West European countries -- especially England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy as well as by Russia, Japan and China -- to conquer neighbouring regions to accomplish their colonial objectives of power, control, security, procurement of needed resources, and subsequently, political, economic and cultural dominance.
Throughout, human civilisations have witnessed the rise and fall of several empires, the disappearance of many nations, the eradication of established entities, in addition to the eruption of horrific wars, causing the tragic killing of the innocent multitudes of millions. The quest for power has its variety of tools and venues, ways and means, in order to achieve its targets, which are not merely innocent or missionary in form or in content. Political objectives of dominance have been primary; however, of no less meaning, value, or implication have been the undeclared objectives of economic, spiritual, social and cultural consequences, with short, medium and long-term goals. After World War II, the East-West power struggle and confrontations, whether overtly or covertly, dominated world actions and events. Strategic plans for a power build-up and expansion of spheres of influence dominated the global scene for decades, with less powerful or "insignificant" countries used as pawns and venues in the global chess game. The ill-fated Arab unity declarations and limited experiments of Gamal Abdel Nasser during the 1950s and 1960s were quickly ambushed and squashed by world powers, through the tripartite (England, France and Israel) aggression of 1956, the dissolution of the union with Syria in 1963, involvement in senseless tribal wars in Yemen, and the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967.
Although the "Iron Curtain" collapsed at the end of the 20th century, one could see clearly the emergence of a new polarisation with the US and European Union (EU) on one side confronting the challenging role of Russia and China on the other. This polarisation is now compounded, given the current economic depression in the West contrasting with the thriving economies of the Russia and China. At the regional levels, political analysts could point out several rivalries and polarities fuelling the quest for power and authority, be it political, economic, cultural or religious: the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 between Britain and France, with the consent of Russia, divided the spoils and territories of the "Sick Man of Europe", the Ottoman Empire, after its defeat in World War I. The agreement subdivided their spheres of influence in the Middle East and North Africa, regardless of national aspirations and human rights, thus planting the seeds of future conflicts and instability that have been sprouting confrontations and violence during the last 100 years.
The vested interests of the US and Russia, especially concerning the fundamental issues of energy, oil, natural resources, environment and armaments, have continued to influence world politics and international relationships. One can hardly forget George W Bush's evangelistic statements after the Islamic fundamentalists' terrible attack on the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, killing nearly 5,000 people, which he referred to the new crusade. US military interventions, in collaboration with the EU, in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to eradicate the sources of terrorism represent a new strategy of power quest and dominance, with its full meaning, scope and implications. The continuing challenge and containment of Iran for its nuclear programme is not also an innocent objective. The various mini-wars and armed conflicts in various African countries, in the Middle and Far East, are part of the grand roadmap of geopolitical power manoeuvres, struggles, drives and conquests. The era of the neo-colonialism is rapidly asserting itself, even engulfing the spreading manifestations of the "Arab Spring" in North Africa and the Middle East. The noble aspirations of the Arab youth uprising to demand freedom, justice, dignity, and employment have been partly aborted, used, misdirected, extinguished or contained in view of the larger objectives of dominance, power, authority, manipulation and control.
At the national level, after the glorious victory of the 25 January Revolution, and during the long transitional period, the military have monopolised all executive, legislative and political authority. Many youth groups have been dismayed and disappointed that after 18 months their goals have been scarcely accomplished. The concepts of polarisation, and of divide and rule policy, have been manifested in most declarations, actions and events. The revolution seems to have stalled, lost steam or being hijacked. Polarisations, conflicts and infighting have become too evident to ignore or disregard. Religiously between the Muslim majority and Coptic minority; the rich and poor; the liberals and the Islamists; the old guard and the new torch carriers; the liberals and the conservatives; the armed forces and civil parties; civil societies and governmental institutions; urban communities and rural conglomerations; the radical Salafis and moderate Al-Azhar, capitalism and socialism, Sunnis and Shias; the haves and the have nots; the revolutionists and the traditionalists; chaos and security; lawlessness associated with the revolution versus totalitarian order linked to the old regime; Upper and Lower Egypt; business and labour; public and private sectors; political parties and independents; young revolutionaries and interest groups; and finally, a religious state or a civic state. The list of contrasts and conflicts and depressing dichotomies appears endless.
The intervention and backing of international and regional power players are too obvious to deny or neglect. US support for the Muslim Brotherhood's assumption of power in Egypt, Tunis, Morocco and evidently in Syria, Algeria and the Gulf States seems almost assured, regardless of their policies and actions in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran are now additional regional players supporting their pawns, interests or their own banner carriers, although the dominant radical Wahhabi Islamic movement in Saudi Arabia is behind the fanatic Islamists in Egypt, which embraces traditionally moderate Islam. Politics fosters strange bedfellows!
The processes of change and stabilisation will take their course in due time, provided dedication, transparency, sanity and social justice are given top priority, according to a plan of action with a definite roadmap to accomplish unifying national goals. The peaceful 25 January Revolution erupted and deserved universal acclaim, admiration and support. The multi-million crowd, representing people power, gathered in Tahrir Square, demanding basic human rights, has now inspired similar massive popular protests against governments in democratic countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, France and the US. The whispers of agony have been amplified vividly everywhere from Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Israel and Tunis, to Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
The world community will never be silent again, for the torch of freedom and basic human rights is too glaring to disregard, for the consequences could be apocalyptical, as the 20,000 martyrs of Syria have recently justly reconfirmed. In retrospect, with all disappointments, despair, impatience, instability, chaos, lavishness and serious economic decline, a beam of hope prevails. It has ignited patriotic and nationalistic reflections during conflicting events, episodes and demonstrations, strikes in Tahrir and elsewhere. In Egypt, where the central government has ruled for more than 5,000 years, people yearn for stability, order and continuance and prosperity, especially with the election and installation of the first president to be popularly chosen in a democratic and free election. Are the dreams of the renaissance of a multi-national confederation of Islamic states looming on the horizon, with extensive oil wealth, swelling populations of 300 million people of common cultural and religious values and economic aspirations? This new dawn of an emerging regional entity, blessed with multitudinal human and material resources, spread over a land area of nearly five million square miles, roughly equivalent to that of the United States, needs to be recognised, heralded, and nobly upheld.
The writer is emeritus professor of urban planning at the University of Alexandria.