The Arab revolutions that promised to overturn the illegitimate regimes that ruled the Muslim world for decades are not over. Syria is presently suffering terribly as a dynastic dictator carries out a brutal crackdown against his own people. Government attacks have been going on for over 10 months and have killed over 5,000 innocent civilians. Just today, at least 44 innocents were killed as regime troops attacked a city with mortars.
Over the weekend, a UN resolution against the regime was defeated when it was vetoed by Russia and China. The UN resolution backed by the West was not a Western plan for imperialism, it was supporting a plan dictated by the Arab league – Muslim countries that know very intimately the history of Western colonialism and meddling. It should be noted that Pakistan supported the resolution alongside the Americans.
In another Muslim country, another attempt to turn back the tide of democratic change is taking place. In Egypt, the first free elections in decades allowed the people to elect their own leaders and even gave religious parties the opportunity to openly enter politics. Unfortunately, the military has been dragging its feet in letting go of power, and pro-democracy protestors have taken to the streets only to be attacked by their own military.
When religious parties won Egypt’s elections, many expected the Americans to step in and support the military in an anti-Islamic crackdown. But something funny happened. Instead of supporting the military against the religious parties as they had done in the past, the Americans supported the Egyptian people. Egypt’s military has reacted by arresting Americans working for pro-democracy NGOs.
These stories are fascinating to me because they suggest the possibility of a revolutionary change in the direction of world history. Muslim political history went wildly off course in 1953 when the CIA overthrew the democratic government of Iran. Throughout the Cold War, the nation that supposedly supported democracy actually supported vicious dictators in Muslim countries in an effort to ‘contain’ communism.
American support for dictators resulted in suffering across the Muslim world. After a while, it resulted in suffering across the West also. Jihadi groups like al Qaeda struck out against Western countries for their support of the illegitimate regimes that they believed were preventing them from creating a new Khilafat across the Middle East. The West responded to these attacks by supporting the illegitimate regimes even more, creating even more resentment among the people.
Despite the West’s fears, a new jihadi Khilafat was never going to rise up. Majority of Muslims didn’t want to get rid of dictators in military uniforms only to replace them with dictators wearing clerical robes. The people wanted to be left alone to rule themselves according to their own laws and their own customs. They wanted the democracy that was taking root in 1953 before history went wildly off course.
The Arab Spring, then, was inevitable. What was not known was how the West would react. Would they repeat their past behaviour and support illegitimate regimes in a Quixotic quest for ‘stability’? Or would they return to their supposed principles and support the wishes of the people? Recent events provide real reason to hope that the answer is, finally, a return to principles and the support of the people.
History takes a long time to unfold. In the past, the West and especially America has made policies based on short-term thinking. Though it may seem strange, American support for dictators in the Middle East was based on the same short-term thinking as their support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. But this short-term strategy brought long-term problems. Just as it takes 100 lies to tell 1 lie, so it takes 100 short-term policies to enforce 1 short-term policy.
Today, the Americans are throwing their weight behind Arab League plans for a political transition in Syria, and they are supporting the democratic elections in Egypt even after those elections returned a victory for the religious parties. These decisions might not be in the short-term best interests of American policy, but they could signal the turning of the tide away from short-term thinking to long-term thinking by the world’s super power. If this is the case, we could see 2012 as the year not of an Arab spring, but a global democratic spring.
Talk of ‘carrots and sticks’ is often used when discussing American attempts to influence Pakistan’s foreign policy. We have always considered our own carrots to be our willingness to help the Americans in Afghanistan or against India when they were with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But what now? Today we have an opportunity to increase our influence with the ‘carrot and stick’ of our support for them in return for their support for Muslim democracy.
We can bring the Taliban to the table in Afghanistan and help negotiate an end to the war that allows the Americans to leave without losing their pride. In return, we should ask not for aid or weapons, but for continued American support for democracy in Syria, Egypt, and other Muslim countries.
Experts debate what shared interests Pakistan and America could possibly have. If the Americans are serious about turning over a new leaf and supporting Muslim democracy, that is certainly one shared interest that our countries share. And it’s not a bad starting point for developing a relationship based on mutual respect that Ambassador Sherry Rehman spoke about recently. More importantly, though, we have the opportunity to help put history back on track and serve our proper role as a guide for democracy in the Muslim world.