Ibn Khaldoun statue 521.
(photo credit: Creative Commons)
How the Arab Spring will conclude, and whether this is just the beginning of a
century-long process, is anyone’s guess. As time passes, and as the harmful
elements of Islam are increasingly allowed entry into the upper echelons of
government, the possibility of freedom and democracy increasingly fades. Will
liberty and justice reign? Or will religious, sectarian or tribal divisions
drive each country to extremism and even possibly splinter countries into
smaller, self-ruled areas? At this point, it is difficult to determine, but
looking at the countries that surround Israel, some worrying signs are beginning
Fourteenth century Muslim philosopher Ibn Khaldoun made the
observation that at their peak of influence, empires are brought down by small
groups of fanatics, leading to a period of decay. The rise and fall of nations
occurs in a constant cycle of eminence and decadence.
Over the centuries,
since the rise of Islam, caliph after caliph rose and fell, each one briefly
reveling in his triumph only to be murdered and replaced by another as tribal
egos flared and ruthlessness held no bounds. Since the time of Muhammad’s
successor Abu Bakr, caliph, sultan and dictator engaged in warfare not only with
foreigners and other religions, but among themselves as well.
AND IN the
last 1,400 or so years, nothing has changed.
Jordan’s King Abdullah I,
Iraq’s King Faisal II and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat were all assassinated.
Farouk of Egypt was forced to abdicate thanks to an ambitious young colonel
named Gamal Abdul Nasser.
Supposedly, according to Robert Payne’s The
History of Islam, during Israel’s War of Independence, one of Nasser’s friends
said to him just before being killed, “The greatest battlefield is in
Today, this dead man’s words appear to ring strikingly true. With
the downfall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, though not by small
groups of radicals, and with the very real possibility of a rise in extremism
and a non-tolerant version of Islam, religious division threatens to tear the
country apart and may impact on what follows in other faltering Arab countries
as well. What once was the leading Arab country to which all other Arab leaders
turned for guidance, has now become a model for what a future Middle East may
In her book Passion for Islam, Caryle Murphy writes, “Perhaps
no other Arab country is as pivotal for the future of Middle-Eastern Christians
as Egypt. Its Christian population, most of whom belong to the indigenous Coptic
Orthodox Church, is the largest in the Arab world.”
Though Murphy, like
many others, excuses Arab fanaticism and anger by blaming perceived “Arab
feelings of powerlessness and humiliation” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
the truth is that Muslims have long engaged in religious, sectarian and tribal
warfare among themselves.
The Arab world’s problems stem from
Today, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain face division along religious
sectarian lines while Yemen and Libya face division across tribal
Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose family belongs to the
minority Alawite sect, continues to brutally murder his own countrymen for the
crime of being Sunni Muslims. According to the latest numbers from the United
Nations, approximately 2,600 innocent civilians have been murdered.
is the case that these countries will prove unable to agree on a central
government under which all groups and tribes will subsist, does the possibility
exist wherein new “tribal states” will form? Will the Shi’ite majority in
Bahrain or the Sunni majority in Syria try to form a separatist state for
themselves? Many of the existing Arab countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia
and Jordan, were created more out of loyalty considerations than any other
reason. There is no actual reason that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan exists
other than the fact that they were favored by the British and thus given a tract
of land to call their own.
After all, in 1916, the Middle East was carved
out by none other than two young negotiators, Mark Sykes and Charles François
Georges- Picot, not only on the basis of the McMahon- Hussein correspondence
that outlined the basic, vague, regions Arabs could declare independent, but by
determining who was loyal to the Allies during WWI.
With no strong
historical connection to the land itself and no real historical basis for the
existing government, what’s to stop separatist groups from attempting to split
from formerly dictatorial cultures and create their own selfgoverned mini-state?
THE PAN-ARAB idea from the early 20th century never took off for the simple
reason that the amount of internal division within the Arab world would never
have allowed it.
Contrary to the belief that Arab grievances stem from
Western imperialism, it is the Arab countries themselves that have never managed
to resolve internal divisions.
Even then, centuries ago, Ibn Khaldoun was
on the mark about the rise and fall of nations.
His emphasis on the
importance of internal consensus and social solidarity leads us to question
whether Egypt, Libya and Syria as well as other countries, including even
possibly Morocco, Iran and Saudi Arabia, will fall into a period of “decay.” And
with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to tout himself as
the new leader of the Muslim world, what ramifications will this have for Israel
and the West? What is obvious is that if the Arab Spring revolutions are to have
any long-lasting, positive effect, the Arab world will need to undergo a change
in mind-set and culture.
True democracies must rise where dictators have
fallen, and liberty and justice must cut across all religious, sectarian and
tribal lines, for any of these revolutions to prove meaningful.
Khaldoun, this process could take decades, if not centuries.