Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Foreign conspiracies are not to blame

No foreign conspiracy has a chance of success unless a nation is already fragmented from within, writes Yassin El-Ayouty

Attributing instability to foreign conspiracies is like blaming household problems on absent neighbours. Conspiracy advocates are essentially escapists. They are also brainwashed by an old colonial narrative.

If a nation looks at itself from within, it will soon discover that salvation comes from within. No conspiracy has a chance of success unless a nation is so fragmented that a conspirator can come in through national cracks.

Take a broad look at the modern history of the Middle East. The former Ottoman Empire collapsed because it abused its minorities. Al-Astanah (Constantinople) regarded the Greeks, the Serbs and the Arabs as empire-servers, not empire co-builders. The so-called ulemas (Islamic scholars) of the time through their deep ignorance of Islam also advocated disengagement from the West. Those ulemas were the forefathers of the Boko Haram (Western Learning is Sinful) group in today’s West Africa.

But Turkey revived in 1923, with its leader Ataturk ending the Muslim caliphate and making the new Turkish Republic secular. The imperial period was no more. However, denying the Turkish Kurds the right to use their language and have an autonomous status in the 21st century will keep Ankara the capital of a country that is in constant battle with itself. If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fancies himself as a new Islamic sultan, he must be smoking some very strong weed (hashish) indeed.

In Syria, now flattened and fragmented, the minority Alawi-Shias are brutalising the majority Sunnis. Under Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a war criminal, the country has descended from “a failed state” to a “non-state.” Bashar (ironically in Arabic the name means “good tidings”) might keep on fighting. But what he will end up with is a partitioned Syria, with an Alawi enclave protected by Russia that is smaller than Lebanon.

Again, the disappearance of Syria has not resulted from foreign machinations. It is the inevitable outcome of lopsided power-sharing between an oppressive minority and an internally colonised majority.

As a result, it is laughable to read banners on the outskirts of Damascus declaring “One Nation with an Eternal Message” (ummatun wahidah taht risalatun khalidah). An eternal message has been bequeathed to Muslims in the Quran, and this is one of diversity. Islam is not “a faith and a state.” It is “a faith and a nation.” Islam does not create states. The Quran gives clear evidence on diversity being a natural human phenomenon the respect for which is a predicate of good governance. “If your Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one nation,” it says (chapter II, verse 118).

The terms “minority” and “majority” might also apply to women in today’s Saudi Arabia. In spite of its huge oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has bifurcated governance made up of the government in Riyadh and the Wahhabi religious centre in Diriyah. Riyadh rules, and the Wahhabis run the country’s social life with their belief in denying gender equality.

As a result, whereas women once sat on the councils of the Prophet Mohamed, today’s Saudi women are subjected to walls, to totally covered faces except for peep holes for eyes, and to total rule by their male relatives. Can this last forever? It is impossible to think so. Is 50 per cent of the Saudi population a minority? Yes, it is a minority in that it is being deprived of the rights that are enjoyed by the male half of the population.

This may explain why in Egypt recent attacks on the country’s Coptic minority, 10 to 15 per cent of the nearly 100 million total population, have triggered the declaration of emergency laws by the government. Reporters from the New York Times based in Cairo, such as US journalist Declan Walsh, do no justice to the paper’s motto of “All the News that’s Fit to Print” when misleading reports in the paper appear, such as the headline on 11 April that read “Attacks Show ISIS Strategy for Egypt: Gaining Ground by Killing Christians.”

This is rubbish. Does ISIS, the Islamic State group, a faction on the run, has a strategy? Is it gaining ground in Egypt? Could hit-and-run attacks or suicide bombings be a strategy, a term reserved for structural command and control?

It is ominous for world peace to find the America of US President Donald Trump so divided in itself that its unstable president has not been able to accomplish in his first 100 days in office one single piece of legislation. Daily descriptions in the US media of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi having engineered a “military coup” in July 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood will have no effect on the New Egypt. Egypt is now becoming the only strong state in a volatile region.

Within the space of just a few years, we may see a New Sudan (without the Darfur and Kurdufan provinces); a New Libya (divided into three provinces); a New Yemen (of South Yemen and North Yemen); a New Iraq (with Kurdistan gone, to be followed by a fictitious sectarian divide between the Sunnis in the north and the Shia in the south); and the unreconciled Palestinian statelets of Ramallah and Gaza. All these would be historic outcomes, not of foreign conspiracies, but of uneven minority-majority relationships.

But Egypt is, and will remain, a different story. Though it has somewhat impoverished educational and public-information systems, the country’s DNA of national unity is always pumping reflexive energy. This energy could be augmented by an Egyptian one-person lobby in Washington in the form of an Egyptian Copt, preferably a woman, speaking to Americans as the country’s ambassador.

This would be an enlightened response, representing true thinking outside the box. It would be a return to the Egypt bequeathed by the 19th-century ruler Mohamed Ali. Between 1832 and 1839, his Egypt nearly conquered the ailing Ottoman Empire. Cairo’s weapon then was its diversity.

The writer is a professor of law at New York University in the US.

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