Youth revolts are back– Lebanon, Iraq shaken by demand for services, end to corruption

By Juan Cole

Informed Comment – The master narrative of much Western journalism is that the youth protests of 2011 have been replaced by civil war and terrorism. But while there is plenty of both in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, in fact here and there in the region youth protests have popped up from time to time–in Turkey, Yemen, and now Beirut and Baghdad– where they have shaken up politics. The common denominator is that people are tired of their governments not providing services or working properly. While the US focuses mainly on Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), for many Arab youth it is a symptom of incompetent, corrupt and sectarian government, not a phenomenon in its own right.

In Beirut on Saturday, thousands gathered on at Martyr’s Square and Riyadh Sulh Square, shouting “You stink!” as a way of protesting the paralyzed Lebanese government’s inability to collect the garbage. (Even where trash is removed, it is often dumped in streams or the ocean or illegal landfills, becoming a threat to public health). The crowds also chanted against the “sectarian” character of the government, which has lacked a president for the past year.

The protesters were viciously attacked by security forces using live ammo, batons and military-grade tear gas. Dozens were injured. The Beirut press was shocked at the brutality of the security forces toward the protesters.

Lebanon barely has a government in the way that most people think of a government. American Libertarians would be very happy with it. But most Lebanese want their government actually to provide them with services, including garbage collection. Some of the paralysis comes from Lebanon’s peculiar “confessional” or religious-sectarian from of democracy, in which people are forced to vote on the basis of religious identity. The protesters critiqued this system and its dysfunction.

This weekend in southern, Shiite cities of Iraq, demonstrators also gathered in the thousands. Some of them are protesting the hold that sectarian parties have over the state. Others are protesting unemployment or lack of electricity (it has been scorching hot in Iraq in the past month, and frequent electricity outages have left people without air conditioning, which there is often a matter of life and death.) The Baghdad demonstrations of this movement have forced Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi to attempt to streamline the Rube Goldberg Iraqi government so as to allow him to attempt to address the problems in a systematic way.

The demonstrations have never really gone away, though in some times and places it is very dangerous to protest publicly. The Houthi tribal militia that staged a coup in Yemen from September of last year, for instance, has acted in brutal and high-handed ways that dismayed the youth activists who had gathered in 2011 at Change Square in Sanaa to demand the resignation of then president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last January when the Houthis forced out the elected president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, some 10,000 youth marched in protest in downtown Sanaa. I thought to myself that it was very brave, using urban crowd protests against a tribal militia. The latter was unlikely to listen, but the crowds showed that they could not be cowed.

In Beirut, the protests are having a political effect. If they go on, perhaps the almost fuedal power-wielders will have to engage in some real politics.

 Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Informed Comment. The author’s views are his own.

500 Most Influential Muslims – 2011

muslim500-cover-2011-web2A new book has been released very recently (available here). 

This is the third edition of the book, which came out for the first time in 2009 and has since been updated annually.

The price of the book is $39.99, and in fact this new edition may be a must-have book for anyone writing about Islam, as it provides snapshots of many key and influential people, not to mention a snapshot of Islam itself.

There are several new qualities in this new edition.  The size and layout have been changed; there is an essay on the Arab Spring; there are quotes from the top 25 and from some others; there are statistics about the top 25 and some others; the bios have been expanded; there is an “Arab Spring box” for the top 50 to show whether the Arab Spring was a plus or a minus for each of the top 50; higher quality photography; expanded honorable mentions section, new obituaries section; updated Muslim population statistics; new maps; expanded glossary.

There is also a companion website ( 

The format is improved and despite some changes in position, mostly the same people are in the book. 

Hamza Yusuf has fallen a few places.  The USA is very well represented as before.  Tariq Ramadan is among the honorable mentions but not in the top 50.

There is an excellent discussion of the major schools of thought in the book.

The book’s Introduction was written by a Muslim convert from Judaism, Prof. Abdallah Schleifer, who teaches at the American University in Cairo.  In his introduction he provides an excellent defense of monarchy based on Qur`an, ahadith, and Islamic scholarship, quoting Ghazi bin Muhammad at length, who in turned argued:  “Traditional, Orthodox Islam has always endorsed monarchy as such.”  

It is “the best – and perhaps only conceivable form of government because it can best deliver justice and adherence to God’s laws.”  Islamic Monarchy, he says, “whilst not democratic as such in the modern sense of ultimate power being derived and delivered through universal suffrage, nevertheless makes participative consultation (shura) of experts, the learned and the wise (16:43; 21:7; 4:83) incumbent on the ruler…”

Moreover, he also gives extensive time to Dr. Yusuf Ibish, who taught political thought at the American University of Beirut and who taught a “rather obscure” course on Islamic Political Thought, meaning traditional Sunni Islamic political thought of Imam Abdul Hamid Al-Ghazali” and others.  “Modern Islamic or Islamist political thought is usually a coupling of any number of 19th and 20th century Western ideologies – be they left-wing Leninist (Marxist) or right-wing Leninist (Fascist—be that hyper-nationalist or racist) or the kinder ideologies of Social Democracy (the welfare state) and Democracy blended with Islamic pieties…”

Schleifer gives these arguments in defense of monarchy into the context of the modern tumult in the Arab world and in turn argues that perhaps the grass roots efforts to topple the leadership in Egypt and Tunisia was actually not responsible for their success, but rather the interference of the armies in those two countries.

The House of Islam.  The book has a brilliantly written 10 page introduction to Islam (reprinted by permission of Vincenzo Oliveti) followed by several charts, which manages in such a brief space to define all or most of the major subsets or alternative (and sometimes complementary) models of Islam that exist until today.

This overview is followed by the “Amman Message” (see more at which is a restatement of the “historical 2005 international Islamic consensus on the three points of the Amman Message,” namely (1) that the four Sunni schools and the two Shi’a schools adherents are Muslim.  Calling any of those people an apostate is impossible and impermissible.  His/her blood, honor and property are inviolable.  Further, it is impossible and impermissible to declare anyone who subscribes to the Ash’ari creed or who practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate.  Further, “it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate.” (2) There exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is difference between them.” (3) Acknowledgment of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas; no one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each school of Islamic jurisprudence determines [for its own adherents]. No one can claim unlimited ijtihad and create a new school of Islamic thought.

After this brief but excellent introduction, the book dives into the top 50 influential Muslims.  The first, again, is His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  The second is the king of Morocco, King Mohammed VI.  Third is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who has gone several steps up since the issue of 500 Muslims from two years ago.  Most of the top 25 are politically powerful people.  Slipping to fifth place was Grand Ayatollah Hajj Syyid Ali Khamenei.

Shaykh Nazim al-Qubrusi, leader of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order, is listed by the book at number 48. Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Ali Cisse, leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi Order, is listed at number 26.

The first scholar listed is Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University and Grand Imam of the Al Azhar mosque.  In fact, of the top 25, eight are scholars from across the world, representing several different schools of thought.  Three are leaders of movements, including Tablighi Jamaat, Ikhwan and Hezbollah.  Sheikha Munira Qubeysi, leader of the Qubeysi movement of scholarship for Muslim women, is among the top 25

The book’s top 25 also includes Dr. Amr Khaled.

Where before (in 2009) the book seemed to sway towards political correctness, by being sure to mention a prominent Shi’a political leader after mentioning the Saudi political leader, now it seems to focus more clearly on those people that the authors consider important—although there seems to be some bias in the still very high status of Hamza Yusuf Hanson (43), disproportionate to his world stature.  While Mr. Hanson is building the Zaytuna Institute, he hardly compares with some of those ranked below him; and also does not compare with those near in proximity but above him.  Does it make sense that the president of Palestine is only seven ranks above Hamza Yusuf? Mahmoud Abbas has the capacity to move newspapers by the ton simply by saying a choice sentence.  By contrast, Hamza Yusuf Hanson’s influence is really confined to an investment in the future of traditional Muslim scholarship in the US.  Certainly his influence is not more powerful than the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, who is ranked at #44, immediately Hanson’s junior.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani is listed among the top 500, as a spiritual guide in North America.

Paging through the book you will notice a huge improvement in the quality of the pictures—this book is one that is suitable to display on a coffee table.