We are not so different

protester_timeEquality, dignity, freedom, justice … and bread. As many understand the Arab Spring, these are the defining elements of it. These proclamations, heard in various demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other countries by young and not so young people, are not very different from those we heard in our own countries today.
But this preliminary analysis lacks a central element of the Arab Spring that has become the real “Gordian knot” of this spontaneous mass movement: religion.
The basic question to be asked is what the role of religion is in this whole process. First, we must understand that, despite the multiplicity of faiths, churches and sects of the Middle East, the Muslim religion is the main one in the region. The others are collaterally affected according to the place Islam occupies and the prominence granted to it.
Let’s face this matter the right way, methodologically speaking, and I will try to avoid “a priori” evaluations in this field, which is so cumbersome. Allow me to list three positions on this issue applicable to the area of the Middle East and, to avoid readers accusing me of being partial, I shall call them 1, 2 and 3.
The # 1 stance is the one that advocates a clear separation between “church and state”, understanding the concept of “church” in the broadest sense possible and not confined solely to the Christian one. Some European countries were able to refine this model and are purely civil societies occupying the positions of the various “churches” with respect to public affairs a morally important but legislatively residual place with respect to policy and legislation. No clear examples of this model in the Arab world today (although many intellectuals and policymakers advocate it) and constant conflicts arising in Europe challenging this model also.MarketingRevolution
Stance # 2 is the one that advocates a civil society with liberties secured around the concept of citizenship, but in which sacred texts (especially sharia, the body of Islamic law) plays a major role as a guiding force and inspiration on constitutional, legal and even judicial sphere. It ensures compliance with the other monotheistic religions and is a “hybrid” between tradition and modernity that some Arab countries have established where a civil and secular society with a large body of religious adherents desires to lead his life according to the precepts of the Koran.
Stance # 3 takes the precepts of Islam contained in its legal corpus not only as a moral category but as “single orientation” of Arab society. Sharia is formally instituted as law. The enumeration of civil liberties is subject to consistency with sharia which stands as the supreme law from which all others emanate, in any event. Society is no longer advocated civil but islamic.
As in any academic exercise, in this case there is no perfect models or examples and categories intersect constantly, influencing and “polluting” others but, broadly speaking, these are the situations and stances we face nowadays.
The Arab democratic revolution, which we called “Arab Spring”, is one of those political processes societies undergo at times of history. It is not the first or the last revolution and if we have learned anything from history is that they are far from being linear, perfect or even successful processes.
This one is taking the first steps in its evolution. For some it will be the right direction while the opposite for others. Some believe this revolution is being betrayed (how many times have we heard this throughout history) and others, the process has just begun and only need to be guided correctly.
The Arab world plunged after the discredit of Nasser and Pan-Arabism after the defeat against Israel in a nebulous policy from where political Islam emerged as an alternative. This development was cut short with the staying in power of dictatorships (or soft dictators, to some) that did not allow their “life cycle” (birth, growth, reproduction, maturity and death) so what we have today is, quite simply, the arrival of this “vital political cycle” through which many movements have already passed. The Islamists have spent many years preparing for this opportunity but is this what Arab societies are craving for? Is Arab Spring a faith-based movement?
xxx_cracyMy answer is NO. The Arab Spring, as well be inferred from the words and slogans chanted in the demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and others, is a civil and democratic movement, understanding this as a movement of citizens, not religions. But societies giving birth to it are deeply religious, so the question should not be if Arab Spring is a religious movement but how is it possible to adapt the democratic demands of the movement to deeply religious societies? This is my understanding of the challenge.
The two major social forces in the Arab world right now are political Islam (with a variety of forms and lack of internal cohesion that should be the subject of another article or even a thesis) and secular movements (in a minority position but key players in the recent revolutions). Alternatives are clear: fight or coexistence, confrontation or agreement.
I would like to bring up the case of the Spanish civil war that confronted the two “halves” of my country and ended after bleeding Spain for more than 3 long years in 1936. Thanks to the Pact of 1978, a balance point was found under thise particular circumstances on which to build a prosperous society in peace and become an example of the fact that negotiation and consensus can the best “weapons” which modern societies can develop when conducting their internal differences.
Spain must accompany Arab societies in their development and ensure Mediterranean neighbors are prosperous and in peace because nothing is more “productive and competitive” than that. We can offer our cooperation but we can also learn much from the other side and its “spring”. Europe needs to avoid mistakes of the past in order to help build societies facing each other and accepting mutual respect through understanding, which requires consideration of the “other” as ourselves. The historical moment is crucial for Europe, cause it is aware of its past mistakes and recognized them, as well as for the Arab world which can wake up to a new era where individuals might finally be free citizens. Each side must find its own model taking into account its own characteristics as well as the regional and global environment in which we exist but I’m sure of something that allows me to be optimistic: we are not so different.


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