Dr. Al-Ahmari: violence against protesters solves nothing
Written by: Mustafa Ferhat.. The Arab movement is followed by wide controversy with regards to its legitimacy and whether it is a result of Arab misery or an attempt to redraw the features of the “new Middle-East” under the control of Western powers. Others question the reason as to why the revolutions took place in republics and exempted—in terms of spread and severity—most monarchies, while a third group closely follow the change in ideologies and demand the transfer of the revolutionary spirit for religious thought to the limitation of scholars’ authority and influence on society.
These are the most prominent aspects discussed with Dr. Mohammad Hamed Al-Ahmari, Director of the Arab and International Relations Forum in Qatar, in order to take a look at his thoughts as a thinker with regards to the current events and its affect on Arab and Islamic societies.
The Arab revolutions took over the scene from the beginning of 2011 to this day…how does an intellectual view—or is expected to view—this Arab movement?.
Intellectuals are supposed to view it from two sides; one, is that something that they have been constantly speaking about, calling for, and hoping for has been accomplished…a large portion of the change they have been calling for in their writings and texts has been accomplished…and this change is greater than what they expected, in terms of speed and accomplishment, and was better than what they expected in terms of the amount of negative impact; many hopes, which no one expected to occur came to life. What happened was far greater than the ouster of dictatorial figures; democracy and a new way of life was established. The results are greater than what was expected…they were faster…deeper…and participations was not limited to only those who were learned, but society as an entirety participated.
If we compare circumstances before and after the revolutions, what ideological and intellectual changes took place in Arab societies, keeping in mind that the conflict between supporters of the revolutions and opposition of the revolutions are still taking place?.
There is great change in more than one aspect. The process of change in these countries is not yet over; they only broke the barriers to begin the process of change freely. Society can be faced with barriers, clashes, failures, and hardships during this beginning phase of the change process; they only cleared the way for change, but that does not mean that there is a clear way to a stable end.
With regards to the regimes that are still hanging on and are resisting change, they are fearful and cautious…some were responded to easily, and others weren’t…the way to change is not open, but the challenge has become greater…they can only continue if they respond more and not with reluctance.
There is apprehension with regards to the Arab movements, and its accomplishments remain shady and unclear…violence has spread…and the status of the countries degraded in a manner which brought chaos to the way the state itself is ran…must a revolution go through all this in order to reach its desired result?.
People hope that revolutions go about a way that is familiar to them…and many analysts and historians in the past and the present liked to set precedents for revolutions…in the 50s and 60s the Western world was obsessed with developing precedents for revolutions. The historian Brenton was one of the people who attempted to set these precedents, and divided the revolution into phase. However, it seems that there is no system that you can bind people to in terms of the issue of change within a society.
People have the power to overthrow the government, which is a difficult task, giving the people the belief that they are able to accomplish this task continuously; which is good and bad at the same time. Countries need stability, and without this stability, revolutions will have a negative impact causing society to feel concern for the future.
Some believe that the revolutions are Western-made in order to bring about the “new Middle-East”; do populations move with just a foreign click of a button?.
The truth is that there are youth groups in Arab countries who were trained to manage peaceful protests, the beginning of which took place in Serbia then in the Portuguese revolution. However, this was not what brought about the Tunisian revolution; Al-Bouazizi did not take part in these courses and never thought of such a thing, and the result was unplanned. The idea and the training came about at a time when societies needed that change. There were many aspects which hinted that the people are directing themselves towards freedom and democracy…I wrote a book in 2003-2004 called the “features of the future” and I wrote about freedom, revolution, and justice and there were aspects which hinted that this will occur. This movement was not sparked by one or two individuals; the situation defective and could not continue the way it is…with the unsustainable circumstances, resentful masses, groups, establishments, and a resentful West hoping for this situation to end, the spark of the revolution was a success...We cannot say that there is one main reason of group behind the revolutions.
Some say that the movement targeted republics and exempted monarchies, how did this occur?.
This statement is not realistic…the term republic implies that the state is governed by the public, and if this were true, then there will be no need for change because the country is ruled by the people. However, this is not the situation. In the Arab world, a term is far different than what is actually taking place in reality. These republics were far more dictatorial than what people assumed. Therefore, change was a must. People regard reality and not the terms used. Arab republics are closed and acted as a temporary prison. However, in the Gulf and Morocco, society does not have that same sense of tension with their governments. For example, the Tunisian regime prohibited women from wearing hijab, and that is amongst the most basic human rights…this strictness and cruelty prompted people to bring about the change. In monarchies however, there is a sense of tribal communication which leads to a sort of openness. In addition to that, the economic state in the Gulf is well, making aspects run more smoothly. Regardless, if the Gulf regimes do not respond positively, it will face the same challenges.
This means that the Gulf is not immune to revolutions and the winds of change?.
The Gulf is not immune, and there were government responses such as in Oman following the instability which occurred; there was financial support and reforms. In Qatar there is a promise of an elected consultative council. In Kuwait, the government was very responsive and changed the Prime Minister. In Bahrain, there was no response. Saudi Arabia provided financial compensations and began releasing some prisoners. There is no country which is immune to the popular movement and the current will reach the Gulf States like it reached others.
What is the optimal change in the Gulf in your perspective?.
The optimal situation for the Gulf is for reform to take place without any clashes and without massive losses…there is no great deal of hatred or blood feuds in Gulf societies. Therefore, whenever there is a chance to bring about change without any shocks that would be best for the ruler and the ruled alike. However, if the ruler practices a sense of stiffness, the people will go the same, thus raising the voice of opposition and increasing the demands.
Is it possible that the demand in the Gulf is incorporated in the establishment of a constitutional monarchy?.
It seems that this is the demand recently. The people do not have a problem with whether the ruler is a king or a president. What is important is that they have a share in the financial revenues and in the decision-making.
What about the protests in Bahrain?.
Bahrain has some constitutional demands. Bahrain has the oldest political movement in the Gulf and Arab members of opposition and leftists used Bahrain as a focal point. In addition to that, many of those who brought political thought to the Gulf were from Bahrain. Therefore, they have a sense of political maturity, civil society, and constitutional demands. I don’t think that the Bahrain issue will be easily overcome; there need to be solutions. It is an issue that spreads concern throughout the region and is spreading its effects to other regions as well…responding violently will not solve the issue; in the contrary, it will only bring about new demands.
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