Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The other face of revolution

Al-Ahram Weekly

Major political changes take place either through gradual transformation or sudden upheavals. Either way, they are mostly a reflection of a shift in the balance of power. Sudden as it was, the 25 January Revolution was an inevitable reaction to the ineptness and corruption of the previous regime, which led to widespread suffering and joblessness.

The Arab Spring, the term Western experts accorded the wave of regional uprisings of the past two years, associates the changes in this part of the world with those that happened in East Europe two decades earlier. But there are some who think of the Arab uprisings more in terms of the French Revolution of 1789 and the turbulent events that followed.

What we mustn’t forget is that in both Tunisia and Egypt, the most startling examples of the Arab Spring, the army took sides with the people almost immediately, thus sparing the two countries much of the mayhem seen in other places.

On the surface, both Tunisia and Egypt are relatively stable today. However, the chances of future turbulence remain unusually high. This is what comes to mind when you see Al-Qaeda flags make their appearance in Tahrir Square in Cairo, or when you’re told that extremists have been crossing from Algeria to Tunisia in their thousands, or when you follow the news from North Sinai. The Al-Qaeda flags are a disturbing sight, whether they are seen in parades in Egypt, Libya, Syria or Yemen.

This is the disturbing truth about the Arab Spring. It may have started as a protest against tyranny and corruption, but it played into the hands of religious extremists of the most ardent type, of people who call their opponents ungodly and who are eager to shed blood for the flimsiest of reasons.

In Libya, the militia are still powerful, more than a year after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the triumph of the revolution. Irregular combatants are refusing to hand in their weapons and join the state institution. Al-Qaeda is also believed to have set up bases in Yemen and Syria.

Terrorism is the antithesis of freedom, let’s not forget.

Freedom is all about respecting the views of others, whereas religious extremism is about denying others their rights.

Dialogue is all about exploring different points of views, whereas extremism is about excluding all manner of opposition.

The problem in this, as the sad fate of the Arab Spring shows, is that the political vacuum that followed the uprising gave the worst types of extremists, Al-Qaeda operatives included, the chance to surface with no fear of reprisal. Extremists have used every opportunity, employed every pretence, to use freedom to their own advantage.

To be fair, we have to admit that terrorism wouldn’t have infiltrated our countries had the fertile soil not been there. Latent elements in our culture helped the extremists along. For years, we’ve used security measures against the extremists when we should have been eliminating the culture that leads to extremism.

To confront terrorism, we have to address the mindset that leads to it, rescue the people who get trapped in this mindset, and eliminate the climate that encourages it. We need to strike at the cultural and intellectual root of terrorism. And we need to put an end to the pernicious social activities in which the extremists are engaged.

Terrorism is a conspiratorial endeavour that grows in secret places and nourishes on blind obedience. It finds room to grow in societies that abhor pluralism and combat diversity. It requires total submission, complete absence of reason and inflexible interpretation of holy texts. The hardline extremists, whose mindset offers the foundation for terrorism, cannot come up with fresh ideas. This is why any discussion with them deteriorates into threats and insults.

In Egypt and the Arab world, we stand at a watershed. Either we manage to rescue the freedom of expression from the claws of extremists, or we abandon all hope for progress and true knowledge.

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