One of the enduring perceptions of Arabs and Muslims in the West is that of a people who fall easy victim to conspiracy theories. Books are written on how the worldview of Muslims is influenced by conspiracy theories and we are often caricatured in fiction and folktales in the West as paranoid reactionaries. As a consequence of this, whenever a Muslim mentions the word "conspiracy", eyes roll even before he is able to finish his sentence and you can almost hear the collective groan of "oh-no-not-that again" echo around the room. This reaction has become so insidious that one can even find Muslims reacting in a similar manner, as I saw among the responses we received to last week's JumahPulse.
My analysis of the unfolding events in the Arab world was dismissed by some as mere "conspiracy theory" and a suggestion was made that I might be belittling the sacrifices made by those who have died in the Egyptian protests.
So for those of you who would have glanced at the title of this article and had your groan, I ask you to bear with me so that I can set the record straight and explain my reasoning, which I did not do last week for fear of the piece becoming too lengthy.
First of all, the innocent Muslims who died in Egypt at the hands of the brutality of the Mubarak regime are undoubtedly martyrs and we pray that Allah accepts their sacrifices and grants their relatives sabran jamilan. The courage and sincerity of their actions cannot be questioned. Hosni Mubarak was a notorious dictator who plundered the country's wealth and oppressed the Egyptian people for decades. Protesting (i.e. speaking the truth) against Egypt's brutal regime (sultanun ja'ir) was, in the words of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), afdal al-jihad (one of the best forms of jihad). However, the response from the regime and the apparent outcome of the protests was not, as those who celebrate seem to think, a revolution. Instead, it was a conspiracy and trickery of the most wretched kind.
As for the Muslim world, apart the from the long list of intrigues and "great games" played out against the Arab and Muslim nations during the last two centuries, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration are conspiracies of such magnitude that they continue to cause pain, suffering and anger in the Muslim world even today.
Every day, day after day, these two conspiracies present the consciousness of Muslims with new tragedies and frustrations. These were such notorious conspiracies that the Christian historian George Antonius described them in the following words:
"The Sykes-Picot Agreement is a shocking document. It is not only the product of greed allied to suspicion and so leading to stupidity: it also stands out as a startling piece of double-dealing." (George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, p.248, 1939).
The effect of the Balfour Declaration was no less devastating, as the same author explained: "In those parts of the Arab world which were in direct touch with the Allies, the Balfour Declaration created bewilderment and dismay, even among those who were not aware of the exact nature of the British pledges to the Arabs... The news reached Egypt first, where it soon provoked a wave of protest on the part of the Arab leaders congregated in Cairo." (George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, p.267).
The latest result of these conspiracies is that Israel, just a few days ago, used the upheaval in the Arab world to fortify its stranglehold on al-Quds al-Sharif (Jerusalem). While the news bulletins are cluttered with reports of events in Libya and elsewhere, Israel has chosen to announce the relocation of three army colleges to East Jerusalem in the hope that it would go unnoticed. Pesky Orientalists often tell Muslims to "get over it" and to stop talking about the Sykes-Picot and Balfour conspiracies but when we have to live with their consequences day after day, decade after decade, it's easier said than done. The scheming and conspiracy-mongering of these "Balfour children" are not contained within the borders of Israel.
Israel and US Planned for Egypt's "Revolution"
In September 2008, the then Minister of Internal Security, Avi Dichter, gave a lecture in Tel Aviv in which he outlined the three scenarios within which Israel and the US were preparing for the transition of power in Egypt.
The first scenario was that the Muslim Brotherhood would take advantage of the deteriorating social and economic situation and install itself into government when strikes and popular uprisings brought the country to a standstill.
The second scenario was that the military would take control and the third was that either of the successors of Mubarak, Omar Suleiman or Jamal Mubarak would take over. However, it was envisaged that the situation would continue to deteriorate and it would be necessary to hold free elections to bring new players to the fore.
Dichter also said that Israel and the US were using all of their assets to monitor, and prepare to manage, these situations. As for scenario one, we now know that someone has convinced the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood not to field a candidate for the presidency and, more astonishingly, they now say that they "would not attempt to gain a majority in parliamentary elections."
With the Muslim Brotherhood placing themselves in a political straitjacket, scenario one is effectively neutralised, which leaves scenarios two and three in play, i.e. Omar Suleiman, the Military and the New Unknowns.
We know that Omar Suleiman was closer to the Israelis than Mubarak himself and a personal torturer for the US. While Mubarak was left on his own to deal with the pressure of the protests, the top-brass of the Egyptian military were out of the country. The people who are now in charge of running Egypt and have just ratified a draft of a new constitution were having discussions in Washington for three days during the protests. A high ranking military delegation, including the Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Sami Anna, left Cairo for Washington on 24 January 2011. The protests began a day later and the military chiefs did not return to Egypt until 28 January. We do not know what instructions they received in Washington, but it would be hard to believe that the Pentagon officials neglected to mention what had just erupted in Cairo to the Egyptian Chief of Staff sitting across the table.
In Egypt today, while the masses celebrate, the declared state of emergency is still in force. The jails are still filled with political prisoners and the constitution has been rewritten and ratified under the auspices of a military junta that is still providing Mubarak with security as he continues to live in the luxury of the country's premier holiday resort, Sharm Al-Sheikh, while the masses are fed scraps of information about him and his family being prevented from leaving the country. Why would he want to leave such luxury? What kind of a revolution is this when, apart from a few figureheads, the entire regime remains intact and controls the country in a state of emergency?
The Constitution Trap
If one studies the history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, one will notice that its institutions did not crumble overnight, nor did Kamal Ataturk single-handedly transform Turkish society into an anti-Islam, secular extremist polity. Although Ataturk is responsible for the manifestation of the worst that secularism had to offer in terms of enmity towards Islam, the groundwork for his project was laid well in advance by a network of activists with strong Masonic links. There was a mixture of "races and creed in which Turks predominated and Jews came second, with Ottoman nationals of other races in tow."[i]
These were known as the "Young Turks" and later the Committee for Unity and Progress (CUP). The military revolution on 24 July 1908 was their handiwork. "Constitution drafting" and "constitution defence" was a primary weapon in their arsenal. After forcing the Sultan to accept a constitution, it was easy to discredit him in the eyes of the masses with the charge of being against the constitution. If the Sultan is against the constitution then he has to be wrong because the constitution is always right.
Although he was critical of the failures of CUP's Young Turks, had it not been for the foundations they had laid, Kamal Ataturk could not have gotten away with declaring:
"In the face of knowledge, science, and of the whole extent of radiant civilization, I cannot accept the presence in Turkey's civilized community of people primitive enough to seek material and spiritual benefits in the guidance of sheiks. The Turkish republic cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples. The best, the truest order is the order of civilization. To be a man it is enough to carry out the requirements of civilization. The leaders of dervish orders will understand the truth of my words, and will themselves close down their lodges [tekke] and admit that their disciples have grown up." (Andrew Mango, Ataturk, p.367, 1991)
In Egypt, several groups have begun calling for the constitution to be rewritten and for the abolition of Article 2, which states that "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." [ii]
A top judicial official, Hisham al-Bastawisy, is arguing that, "The current constitution is dead and nothing should be used from it."
The first party to be given official recognition after the resignation of Mubarak was the al-Wasat party, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. This party has been arguing for a constitution that allows a Christian to become head of state.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, al-Wasat "seeks to interpret Islamic sharia principles in a manner consistent with the values of a liberal democratic system. Although al-Wasat advocates a political system that is firmly anchored in Islamic law, it also views sharia principles as flexible and wholly compatible with the principles of pluralism and equal citizenship rights." The party's manifesto accepts the right of a Christian to become head of state in a Muslim-majority country. (Courtesy of Wikipedia).
In June 2007, President Bush, speaking at a conference of dissidents in the Czech Republic said: "There are many dissidents who couldn't join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest. I look forward to the day when a conference like this one could include Alexander Kozulin of Belarus, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Oscar Elias Biscet of Cuba, Father Nguyen Van Ly of Vietnam, Ayman Nour of Egypt. (Applause.) The daughter of one of these political prisoners is in this room. I would like to say to her, and all the families: I thank you for your courage. I pray for your comfort and strength. And I call for the immediate and unconditional release of your loved ones... I have asked Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador in an un-free nation: Seek out and meet with activists for democracy. Seek out those who demand human rights." Nour was released on health grounds on 18 February 2009. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Ayman Nour has special status not only because he has a project to rewrite the constitution but also because he wants to turn Egypt into a fully Westernised society, where religion will be pushed to the margins in favour of Western liberalism. However, he may have to be replaced as he suffered a severe injury to the head from a stone thrown by one of Mubarak's supporters in Tahrir Square.
Amidst calls for the abolition of Article 2, there have been protests by some groups in Egypt to retain Article 2 and the Islamic identity of the country.
The committee appointed by the military seems to have avoided confrontation on this issue by largely ignoring it. However, the liberal Westernised civil society groups are producing their own drafts of an entirely new constitution. Hafez Abou Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said he already had his own draft ready.
Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood has just announced that its political party will be called the "Freedom and Justice Party", which bears more than a passing resemblance to the current Turkish "Justice and Development Party".
I do not know who exactly is influencing the Muslim Brotherhood but one indication comes from an article for the Huffington Post published on 8 February 2011. It is entitled “Democratic Turkey is the Template for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood” and its author, Tariq Ramadan, argues that:
"Today's Muslim Brotherhood draws these diverse visions together. But the leadership of the movement - those who belong to the founding generation are now very old - no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example." (Tariq Ramadan, Huffington Post, 08.02.11)
Perhaps in choosing such a name for its political party, the Muslim Brotherhood is strategically trying to send a signal to the West that it, as Tayyip Erdogan does, will maintain the peace treaty with Israel or that it will also endeavour to become a secular Muslim state like Turkey.
What people seem to forget when thinking about Turkey is the direction, the trajectory. It is a country slowly working its way out of Ataturk’s anti-Islam minefields with the millstone of entry into to the European Union hanging around its neck and tugging it in the other direction. The progress is slow and painful as we have seen with the hijab issue. Though tolerated, it is still illegal to wear hijab in universities and because the decision was made in 2008 by the Constitutional Court to annul the proposal to lift the ban, there is now no possibility to appeal against that verdict. This is just one example of the deeply embedded hatred for Islam that persists from the legacy of Ataturk and the Young Turks.
Indeed, we can see why there have been many Western politicians (e.g. Jack Straw) who are keen to see all Arab countries, especially those bordering Israel, to copy the Turkish model. However, that advice should not be heeded without a full appreciation of the history of conspiracies in Turkish lands and the trajectory of today’s Turkey, which is pointing in a direction away from the Ataturk model and towards Islam. Turkey's trajectory even in foreign policy is slowly moving towards a more pro-Islam position. Egypt and other Arab countries should not be trying to move in the opposite direction, especially since the importance of Islam is still high in the consciousness of the populace of these countries. Listening to Egyptian politicians muse about Turkey as some par excellence model to emulate suggests that there is a big disconnect between their fascination with the West and the reality that surrounds them.
Leadership-less "revolutions", regularly characterised as "the revolution of the youth", coupled with an ardent focus on constitutions and calls for Westernisation have worrying echoes of a tragic era in Ottoman history. Incidentally, Israel has been in existence for 63 years: it still has neither a constitution nor stated borders and no one seems to be asking why.
There is more to it than meets the eye in respect of the events currently unfolding in the Arab world. As the Libyans demonstrate in the streets of Benghazi, believing they are following in the footsteps of an Egyptian revolution, little do they realise that it is they - the Libyan people - who may be having the first real revolution of the century, which the Egyptians and Tunisians may have to follow if they are to free themselves from the shackles of the powers that be.
Conspiracies aimed at those who believe in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and in the perfection of the words of the Quran will continue until the greatest of conspiracies envelops them all.
[i] George Antonius, (1939),The Arab Awakening. p.101
[ii] An interesting twist to a similar Article 2 is found in the new Iraqi constitution, which says, "Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation: A. No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy." (Emphasis added)