Revolutions are known to devour their children, and popular uprisings driven by the promise of change for the better have been notorious for turning into nightmares.
The so-called Arab Spring is another dark night unfolding across the Middle East. This was predictable, and inevitable.
The Tunisian fruit-seller who sparked this Arab Spring by self-immolating was a man driven to despair by the very culture into which he was born, and from which he knew there was no escape. The act of self-immolation was a terrible display of despair of a desperate man.
And so is the political drama in Arab streets — from Tripoli to Cairo to Damascus — an uncoiling of desperation among people trapped in a tribal culture stamped by authoritarianism. But the culture is unforgiving, for it has been made by hard men and handed down from fathers to sons. The history of this region, from the earliest years of Islam to the present time, is one relatively unbroken record of authoritarian rulers. This is the closed circle where politics move from bad to worse, not good to better. And this is what we are witnessing in the streets of Cairo — in Tahrir Square that caught the imagination of people afar watching on their television screens what they naively imagined to be the blossoming of freedom in the land of the great pyramids.
I mentioned in my column last week that Arab Spring has been the springtime for Islamists. Mshari Al-Zaydi, an editor of Al Arabiya News in Dubai, echoed my observation when he wrote, “what we are seeing is a political Islamist tsunami” and that this has turned out to be “the Muslim Brotherhood Spring.” Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood has become more or less de facto rulers from Tunisia to Egypt, and likely will take control of Syria once the regime of Bashar al-Assad crumbles.
In the long sweep of Arab history, the authoritarian rule of military men and so-called republican parties — such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and his successors in Egypt, and the Ba’ath party in Iraq and Syria — have held power only for brief intervals. The political reality has been Arab resignation, as the culture demands, for authoritarian rule under the banner of Islam.
The prophet of Islam had not even passed away when the struggle for power broke out in Medina, and this struggle for power within a few decades turned into a bloody massacre of the prophet’s family at the hands of ruthless men. Arabs and Muslims have lived for 14 centuries in denial of their own blood-soaked history that became the template of their political culture.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the hard, ruthless, power-hungry face of men who disguise their politics behind the veil of a religion.
The Wahhabi rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the cold and calculating terrorists of al-Qaida, the bearded thugs of the fundamentalist Muslim parties in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere are the siblings of the Muslim Brotherhood with their faces unmasked.
Arab Spring, without any surprise, turns out to be the desert wind blowing away false hopes and hollow promises for democracy and peace that a naive West, riddled with its own contradictions, wished for the Middle East.