By Rashika Fazali
One hundred years ago, the Middle East had a different shape and form, said former Director General of the Al Jazeera Network and Sharq Forum President Wadah Khanfar, delivering a lecture titled ‘Arab Awakening: The New Political Paradigm’.
He was delivering the 15th commemorative lecture of former Speaker of the Sri Lanka Parliament Deshamanya M.A. Bakeer Markar, held at the Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Auditorium by the Board of Governors of the Bakeer Markar Centre for National Unity (BMCNU).
BMCNU as an organisation promotes the vision of the late Markar, and every year this organisation takes the initiative of promoting what Markar stood for: National unity.
Markar was the former Deputy Speaker and Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka. He was also the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Kalutara District branch, the founder President of the All Ceylon Union of Muslim League Youth Fronts, Vice President of the All Ceylon Muslim League, Chairman of the Beruwala Mardana Mosque Jaamath, and founder President of the Iraq-Sri Lanka Friendship Association and even acted as the Head of State at one point when the President and Prime Minster was out of the country.
Addressing on the lecture on what happened 100 years ago in the Arab world, Khanfar mentioned that the French and British conspired to breakdown the Arab world, which forced them into a bubble, destroying the Arab Nation. “It was fake and fabricated,” asserted Khanfar. For 100 years, the Arab world closed up and let the world walk on them. The trust they had once was lost.
“Look at Tunisia. It is the most educated Arab country, but it had a leader who was uneducated. An alien! Hosni Mubarak was also an alien to Egypt. And so was Gadafi,” said Khanfar.
Speaking on what the Arab world had seen, he stressed: “We have seen treachery and hypocrisy.”
The Arab world endured a lot of hardship and humiliation. Speaking on this he mentioned that in 1948 the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine clashed on territorial claims. Dividing the land through majority populations, the UN Partition Plan granted more land to the Jews. This left the Arabs opposing the plan as being unfair, claiming that the land should be reverted to its inhabitants.
What happened next? The UN approved the Partition Plan. The Jews were overjoyed. The Arabs were discontent. Soon after, violence broke out, which led to many Arabs migrating to other countries. That was the beginning of conflict.
Months later, the Arab-Israeli war began, which saw many Arab continents intervening in Palestine and fighting with the Israelis. In 1956, the second war commenced and saw Israel and Egypt fighting for control of the Suez Canal. From that time onwards, the Arab world saw conflict after conflict.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq known as the Iraq war saw the capture and destruction of Baghdad and witnessed many deaths and the takeover of the Saddam Hussain regime. Later, the Arab world witnessed the Gaza War. “The Arab world witnessed many wars, which led to anger and frustration in the people,” explained Khanfar, on why the history of the Arab world is important to ‘Arab Spring’.
‘Arab Spring’ is a revolution that is currently occurring in the Arab world. It first began on 18 December 2010. Ever since then, governments were overthrown. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Ben Ali were ousted and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed after a civil war with foreign military intervention.
Khanfar also mentioned about the influence of the internet: “These ageing dictators do not understand the internet. They assume that the kids use this medium to play games. They do not see the power of the internet.”
As for media and social networking, he said: “The young community used social networking to communicate with each other. This could be utilised for much more than entertainment. The virtual society can use this to create something more, and that too without any identity. They have already utilised these networks to create democratic environments.”
Khanfar further elaborated on the challenges the Arab world has to take up. He said: “We have to establish new rules and shift our focus to the centre. Most people have experienced time in jail or in exile. One Tunisian President’s kin was sentenced in jail for 18 years.”
However, he asserted that people being at the centre is not good for international peace. “We should claim unity over forces despite our nationalities or religion. We should live like everyone else and we do not have anything against the Americans or the British,” said Khanfar.
“If you can’t support the peace of the people, don’t do anything else,” was his advice to the people. He further spoke about political Islamism: “Political Islamism is a rising Islamism. Islam has nothing to do with extremism.”
Commenting on religion in general, he said: “Religion can be destructive if used in the wrong way. It can lead to blood wars. We have witnessed blood wars.”
He then spoke about the 1 January 2011 church bombing in Alexandria that killed 23 people. He said: “One of our reporters asked a woman there who she thought was behind the bombing. She replied saying, ‘Who apart from the State will do such a thing?’ Now she did not mean the Muslims, but what she did mean was that the Government was behind this, hence Hosni Mubarak. She was right.”
This new ‘Arab Spring’ revolution aims to fight for unity and justice.