Cross-posted from Al Ahram:
The Arab Spring winds of change face obstacles. History is testament to the fact that many revolutions that overthrew the then-existing ruling class ultimately failed to bring about governments “of the people”. One set of oligarchs merely got replaced by another, with the people remaining as victims. Toppling a tyrant is not the end of a struggle: it is just the beginning of another more enduring pursuit to establish good governance and a progressive society.
Being the oil centre of the world, the Middle Eastern and North Africa (MENA) revolutions have a high degree of probability that they will be hijacked. Too many counterproductive forces, both within and outside the region, have too many vested interests in resisting true change. The West invested heavily in elites of this region that repress their respective people to serve their own interests and of those outside powers that support them.
However, in spite of these powerful transnational collusions of elites, this is also the most inspiring time to pursue change. A volcanic force of collective will is brewing and pervading the globe to establish justice, good governance and human dignity. Initial glimpses are now being seen by simultaneous demonstrations in 84 cities around the world.
In order to bring about success through these movements, effective leadership and connectivity are imperatives. The MENA leadership requires making alliances with this enormous global force to achieve mutual reinforcements and to bring about a countervailing power to compel governmental accountability. This people-to- people movement is the vehicle of change in our time.
The MENA leadership should not underestimate the indispensability of the involvement of the West in helping to bring about a transformation in the region. A speedy change is essential to overcome the approaching gigantic economic, social and governmental problems. However, in order to harness Western governments to serve the interests and welfare of the region, the leadership must connect with the Western people and civil societies.
If constructive engagements of détente and diplomacy helped transform archenemies like the US, the Soviets and China into world partners, then the Arab leadership could engage the West constructively but forcefully to become a partner in the success of the region.
In the absence of visionary leadership in the Muslim world many opportunities often turned into a lose-lose outcome of violence, destruction, and pessimistic public opinion. Hundreds of billions of Western taxpayer dollars could have been spent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in a more effective manner, thus enabling tremendous economic development and social progress.
As one 20th century example, post- World War II Japan and Germany generated a stupendous rate of economic development and social progress by utilising the governing systems and social infrastructures left behind by America. These two countries and their neighbours fully utilised the help of Western countries in order to help transform their societies. Even though that was a different time and different situation we need the same vision and spirit to help uplift human conditions in the MENA region using outside help via effective channels.
The effective channels entail involving powerful catalysts and intermediaries sympathetic to the cause of the region. Western civil societies and Western Muslims are such catalysts. Particularly Western Muslims — the common denominators — could play a vital role to help create effective alliances and bridges between the MENA region and Western societies.
One indispensable tool of success is the content of a constitution: the rules of law that would govern a society. Therefore drafting a constitution is of extreme importance that cannot be left only to the newly elected representatives who are often inexperienced and gripped with power struggles and conflicts of interest. These representatives should work with a team of international scholars and experts selected by another team of civil society leaders from around the world and endorsed by the UN to work as a watchdog in the country. If this group is legitimised and empowered by the presence and support of the international community there is a good chance the draft and the subsequent referendum would help establish healthy checks and balances in governance and help create a healthy political culture and civil society.
Furthermore, the region should focus on creating better societies, better governments and better future by integrating societies, rather than becoming consumed by quick justice and wholesale chastisement of all layers of people who were supporters and sympathisers of the old regimes.
There should be a way out for many people and groups in the region, if the way out is offered many would leave power and the battlefields sooner rather than later. They still have the power; they could make the struggles prolonged, costly, depleting and bloody and eventually could cause societies to polarise again.
This counterproductive scenario could be avoided following the wisdom and vision of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in giving general amnesty after the great success of “the fall of Mecca”. Through amnesty — as happened in countless places in history — he helped integrate society instantly and made it a glaring success.
The most unfortunate reality is that the Arab leadership lacks the vision, unity and political will. The rebel leaders, on the other hand, lack the experience and expertise needed to deal with transitional regimes and global powers, while the Western powers lack the legitimacy and credibility to be forceful and effective. There must be powerful catalysts that could help bring these indispensable players together into the fold of a winning agenda. The experience and expertise of Western civil societies and the Western Muslims fit the task.
* The writer, Ruby Amatulla, is executive director of the US-based Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress, an organisation dedicated to promoting constructive engagement between the Muslim world and the West. *