Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dark Challenges Restrict Arab Spring

It is an uphill battle for people fighting reactionary forces, like Egypt's military rulers, who are entrenched in civil society
By Fawaz Turki
What is the future, you ask, of the Arab Spring? If our point of departure for a prediction is Egypt, then sadly that future does not augur well for Arabs.
Predictions in history are of course a fool's errand. Consider the conclusions of the two most seminal works ever written about the Arab struggle for national self-definition, The Arab Awakening (1938) by George Antonius, and History of the Arabs (1951) by Philip Hitti, both of which remain in print, attesting to their durable significance. The former, which devoted itself to the history of modern Arab nationalism, claimed that despite their betrayal by British and French colonialism, Arabs would overcome the treachery of the Sykes-Picot Agreement that dismembered their nation and move on to become a free and independent people.
And the latter, a panoramic and magisterial narrative of the history of Arabs from medieval times to the end of the first half of the 20th century, had an epilogue averring that, because of their oil wealth and rich cultural heritage, Arabs would move on to become a major force in global politics. Both scholars, one an astute observer of the time his people lived in, and the other a pre-eminent chronicler of their history, were wrong in their predictions. The jury is still out, you say, on the future of the Arab Spring? Maybe, but it is going to be an uphill battle fighting those forces of reaction entrenched still in the heartland of civil society. Take Egypt, traditionally the bellwether of political and social change in the Arab world and whose revolution began in a place with a resonant name like Tahrir Square.
On September 29, as many as 25 plainclothes police raided the offices of Al Jazeera in Cairo and detained journalist Mohammad Sulaiman, attesting to how a policy of censorship and intimidation prevalent in pre-Mubarak Egypt is still very much in practice today. According to the Al Jazeera website and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, they broke down the front door and roughed up staff members. They aggressively demanded staff IDs and confiscated equipment. When asked to show a warrant, they failed to produce one.
On September 24, these same authorities halted production of the independent weekly, Sawt Al Umma, because they objected to the magazine's coverage of the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak. The 100,000 copies that had already been printed were confiscated and pulped. Roughly around the same time, Rose Al Yousuf, a publication that had been around since the early 1950s, was ordered to remove a seemingly offending page from a Tuesday issue. The editors were made to comply, at pain of incarceration.
The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) has not hedged on its intention to enforce the Mubarak-era law that allows for civilians, including journalists, to be detained indefinitely and tried in military courts. They have further ordered the print media to obtain approval, beforehand, of all articles dealing with the armed forces, again at pain of incarceration.
As if there was any doubt left in anyone's mind that Egyptian authorities have resorted with increasing frequency to censorship and intimidation to silence free expression, several independent bloggers have also been convicted and sentenced in military tribunals for "insulting the military" — a meaningless charge if there ever was one.
And as far as censorship is concerned, well, it is both idiotic and repugnant. It is that for two good reasons: censors are not erudite creatures better informed than ourselves, with less fallible judgments than ours about what we should be reading, and secondly, censorship, in this globalised, wired age we live in, does not work. Those who want information about an issue — an issue that the authorities do not want to see aired in the local media — will find it elsewhere simply by hitting a few buttons on the keyboard of their computer. Case closed.
The third seminal book about the Arab struggle for social justice for the common man, that equals in its might the masterful History of the Arabs and The Arab Awakening, is yet to be written. We are still too close to the fact, too engulfed in the hypnotic trance of the Arab Spring, for anyone to be so presumtuous as to write it. One hopes though, that the author, probably now still in diapers, will have a more prescient prediction about the future than the one that Anonius and Hitti had envisioned from their own temporal perspective.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 09/10/2011
-Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile

No comments:

Post a Comment