The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East

Book Cover, the arab awakening

Across the Arab world millions of women and men have taken to the streets, showing that dictators can be overthrown without weapons. But what happens now?

What is happening in the Middle East? Tariq Ramadan, one of the foremost Muslim intellectuals, calls the events “uprisings”, more permanent than “revolts” but still short of thoroughgoing “revolutions”. So far, Tunisia is the only clear democratising success, and there it remains unclear if the new dispensation will be fundamentally more just than the last.

Half of this slim volume is spent examining whether the uprisings were staged or spontaneous. Ramadan counsels against both the naive view that outside powers are passive observers of events, and the contrary belief that Arab revolutionaries have been mere pawns in the hands of cunning foreign players. Certainly the US and its allies helped to guide events by collaborating with the military hierarchies which removed presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, and by full-scale intervention in Libya – for a variety of obvious reasons. An agreement signed by Libya’s NTC last year, for instance, guaranteed France 3 per cent of future oil exports.

There’s been Gulf and Western hypocrisy over Bahrain, home to Formula One and the US Fifth Fleet, and al-Jazeera’s coverage has been tailored to reflect its Qatari host’s strategic concerns. Then, less convincingly, the social media conspiracy: trainees from 37 countries learned non-violent cyberactivism in Serbia. Google provided satellite access codes to Egyptian activists, but not their Syrian counterparts.

Ramadan blames the ideological void on “the deadening weight of dictatorship” which impoverished “the life of ideas in society”. “Critical, creative economic thinking appears to have deserted the Arab political debate”. Rejecting the superficiality of “Islamic finance”, he calls for a fuller critique of capitalism’s unethical content. More than that: he wants the Arab Muslims to draw upon “cultural … capital” to produce “something new, something original”. He calls for social justice based on the Quranic verse “We have conferred dignity on human beings,” and for an all-encompassing cultural and “intellectual jihad”. He calls for revolution, in other words.

Extracted from: The Independent

Arguing that the debate cannot be reduced to a confrontation between two approaches – the modern and secular versus the traditional and Islamic – Ramadan demonstrates that not only are both of these routes in crisis, but that the Arab world has an historic opportunity: to stop blaming the West, to jettison its victim status and to create a truly new dynamic.

Tariq Ramadan offers up a challenge to the Middle East: what enduring legacy will you produce, from the historic moment of the Arab Spring?

Extracted from: Tariq Ramadan