It seems that everyday newspaper brings news of a new uprising as masses are rising up against their autocratic rulers in the Muslim world. First it was Tunisia and now Egypt . The next in line are Yemen , Jordan and Morocco . Syria and Saudi Arabia seems stable right now but no one knows for sure what storms are breeding under the calm surface of the sea. The question we need to ask is what will be the outcome of these uprisings? How will it affect the Muslim Ummah? And what is the historical perspective for it.
Independence of any nation is an interaction of three factors freedom of thought, vibrant economy and military strength. Freedom of thought is present when there is a freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right to choose leaders without interference from domestic and foreign interests. Economic freedom is manifested through equal opportunity for all, equitable imposition of taxes, efficient government and containment of corruption. Military strength results from the indigenous development of weapons technology that provides a competitive advantage against adversaries. From this perspective United States is independent in two of the three but relies on foreign money to finance its budget deficit which considerably weakens its national strength. China on the other hand lacks freedom of speech which can become a reason for uncertainty and anxiety among the masses but has attained military and economic independence. South Korea , Japan and Germany lost their freedoms of maintaining armies but retained freedom of speech and economies. None of the Muslim country is fully independent based on this formulation except Malaysia and Turkey which enjoy a degree of freedom in thought and economy.
The present situation in the Muslim societies has to be understood in the perspective of history. By the end of 19th century most of the Muslim world was colonized by European powers i.e. British, French, Italian and Dutch. Britain controlled Egypt, current day Pakistan, Malaysia, Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq and Arabia (which included Saudi Arabia, Yemen, & UAE). French controlled Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Syria, and parts of Libya. Ironically the methodology to control these colonies was derived in large part from the systems of government of Moghal Empire in India and Ottoman Empire in Middle East. The system contained division of community on ethnic & linguistic lines, development of an elite class that was loyal to the Empire and introduction of a police force that was utilized to squash an uprising before it becomes a major problem. To dampen the spirit and initiative of the local populations the Colonial powers destroyed the freedom of thought by forcefully imposing their cultures on these countries.
At the end of Second World War, these European powers were totally destroyed economically and militarily. It was not possible for them to hold on to their colonies when resources were needed to rebuild infrastructure in their own countries. Instead of withdrawing altogether they devised a mechanism to retain strategic and economic interest through the support of their loyal elites to the position of power. To ensure control these autocratic proxy rulers were provided safe heavens from prosecution by local populations in the form of citizenship, their sons/daughters were educated in Western universities and their wealth was invested in foreign countries and their banks. This created a system of mutual interests where the decisions of these rulers were inclined to provide economic benefits to their benefactors in the form of mining concessions, preferential treatment in government procurements and oil drilling rights. The national wealth earned from the export of oil & other commodities were spent in arming armies with foreign weapons subjecting them to foreign dependence on spare parts and ammunition in times of war. The economies were mismanaged by rewarding cronies that produced corruption resulting in bad governments which were unable to meet fiscal deficits. Economic independence were lost when these deficits were financed through foreign aid and sovereign debt from multilateral banks controlled by the West. To ensure longevity of their rule the freedom of thought was curtailed through censorship and right of assembly thereby damaging the social fabric of their nations. This meant that for the masses the independence was never achieved.
Muslim world is rich in natural resources that are important ingredients for any industrialized nation. But none of the Muslim country developed their own technology to exploit these natural resources which would have created technological independence, added value to the exports and created jobs for local populations. The cars we drive, the computers we use, the TVs we watch, and internet and cell phone we so much crave for is all developed and sold to us by the foreign countries. Most Muslim countries rank low in literacy rates, higher in poverty rates, low on women rights and ripe in sectarian and ethnic divisions. These problems are prevalent despite billions of dollars stacked in the foreign accounts of the ruling elites.
The current turmoil in Muslim world is the first round of revolution. It will hardly change the status quo since there is an absence of ideology and indigenous leadership to steer the leadership on the path of progress. The most likely scenario to emerging from this is the rise of another Hosni Mubarak who will rule the country for another thirty years. The real change we need is to empower each individual by providing them access to education, provide everyone an equal opportunity to succeed and treat everyone as equal in the eyes of the law. We have to better manage our natural resources to be self-reliant and develop indigenous technology through local innovation and scientific research. We have to spend on the military technology to reduce reliance on foreign weapons that provide a competitive advantage against our adversaries. This requires an ideological uprising which has been lacking in the current struggles in Tunisia and Egypt.
About the Author:
Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi is the Chairman Council of Past Presidents, Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org