Islamism will be but one of many forces shaping the revolutionary processes in the Arab world as they continue into their third year, writes Jamie Allinson. Part of our series of short contributions from writers and activists looking to the year ahead.
If there is one thing to be hoped from the continuation of the revolutionary processes in the Arab world into their third year, it is that the notion of an ‘Arab spring’ as a discreet single event be jettisoned. This view sees the uprisings of 2011 as the work of disaffected middle-class youth aspiring to liberal modernity and the persistent crises of 2012 as a betrayal of that aspiration—as one commentator put it, ‘the year the Arab spring went bad’.
A useful, although sadly unlikely development, in understanding of the Arab revolutions in 2013 would be for Western commentators to shed their Islamoneurosis—the conviction that everything that happens in the region is a consequence of the dominant religion within it. The Islamists will of course continue to be significant players but in a context composed of class interest, economic collapse and hierarchies of gender and identity just as in the rest of the world. For the first time in decades, however, the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer the only effective opposition force but the managers of states, and continuing disillusionment with their performance, notably in Egypt, is likely to increase in 2013. The trend is clear: the initial referendum on post-Mubarak constitutional amendments in March 2011, supported by the MB, passed with 77%. Morsi’s rushed new constitution passed with 64% on a turnout of one-third, and that after provoking the most serious revolutionary upsurge since November 2011. The massed cadres of the Brotherhood turned out not to be so massive: during the clashes of late November, the MB had to bus supporters in to Cairo from the provinces. The referendum was lost not only in Cairo but also in Alexandria, until recently regarded as the Salafists’ stronghold. The industrial town of Mahalla briefly declared autonomy from the ‘Ikhwan (Brotherhood) state’. This is no basis on which to secure legitimacy for a new regime. The looming collapse of the currency may hasten what Egyptian commentators refer to as the ‘revolution of hunger’.
It is difficult to see Bashar Al-Assad celebrating New Year 2014 in Damascus, or anywhere else for that matter. The regime still mounts counter-attacks against the revolutionary forces, but its supply lines are cut and its bases are increasingly falling. Russia has been hinting it may be prepared to drop Bashar. The collapse, when it comes, may be swift but it is impossible to know how long that will take—and each day brings further scores displaced, killed or hungry. The obsession of outside reporters with the Islamist group Jabhat Al-Nusra is an instance both of the Islam complex I mentioned above, and of attempts by rival commanders to leverage support out of the threat of Al-Qa’ida. Nusra are certainly attracting more and more recruits because they have weapons, money and training: but they are not the only story in Syria. In liberated areas such as Kafr Nabeel, Yabroud and Saraqeb, organs of revolutionary self-governance operate, consciously combating sectarian currents. A repetition of these experiments on a national scale may be too much to hope for—but it is a corrective to the predominant narrative of all-out sectarian civil war.
Jamie Allinson is a researcher specialising in Middle East politics