IS ISLAM THE SOLUTION?
It is notorious that in North Africa and the Middle East there are currently no forms of participatory democracy with the exception of Israel. Such a statement is true even if we define - possibly erroneously - the concept of democracy according to universal and absolute values, regardless of what the local realities or the histories of each individual country are.
In other words, what happens in those geographical areas, sometimes in positive terms, but mainly in negative terms, is none other but the result of a historical course that has been greatly influenced by a colonial past. Such past has been incapable of creating sufficiently trained cadres that would be capable of developing and/or transmitting the concept of democracy, respect for human rights and civil liberties. Seldom, even among the former colonial powers, authoritarian solutions were favored, thus bartering principles with interests.
For all of these reasons, as previously stated, in North Africa and in the Middle East authoritarian regimes with different degrees of cruelty prevail. They all share responsibility in the permanent violation of those fundamental values that should prevail in any civil society.
The so-called Arab Spring, if we choose to accept the term, should have produced considerable results in the field of democracy. At least in part - if we consider what the starting point was and the presumable end results - this has happened. Yet several social cycles are still not over (as in Egypt or Libya), others still have to develop (Syria), or haven't produced any significant results (as in Yemen). Others yet haven't begun at all (as in Algeria or in the Arabian peninsula). Tunisia instead is still under observation.
Furthermore, if we refer to the term "spring", we etymologically refer to a season of awakening of nature as opposed to a prolonged winter and to a summer whose outcome is uncertain and that may not bear the expected fruits. From the "Arab Spring" we could now face, as the Israeli press states, an "islamic winter".
AT THE CENTER OF SOCIETY
There is an underlying issue: why is it that every time an authoritarian regime falls in that part of the world, the prevailing force is always a political-religious entity?
The are several explanations for this:
First of all, where the previous flourished there was an absolute lack of democracy and of transmission of consensus. The only structure that could compete against the predominance of the single-party system was mosques' network. This is where dissidence began and the origin for its' spread in other countries. It also partly explains why those monarchies legitimized by a religious title (such as the Alawite dynasty in Morocco or the Ibarite sultan in Oman) were spared by this wave of social uprisings. On the other hand, this also clearly explains why the riots in Algeria have been led by Madani's F.I.S. or why in other countries political-religious movements were born.
Among the three monotheistic religions, Islam is the one with the stronger social impact, regulating behaviors (the five daily prayers), rituals (the month of Ramadan) and the administration of justice (Sharia law). Traditionally, Islam does not draw a line between the management of the soul and the politics of the body. Often the term "umma" (the community of all muslims) is confused with that of society;
Even in the presence of cruel dictatorships, muslim religious organizations have played a crucial social and humanitarian role. It is enough to recall what the Muslim Brotherhood has done in the management of hospitals, clinics, schools and in the assistance of the poor and disabled. All this has gained the sympathies and consensus of populations that, with the right timing, has been transformed into political support.
The difference with other parts of the world is that in the Middle East and North Africa marxist ideology - or even capitalism as a matter of fact - has never been particularly popular. The small communist groups in the Middle East were mainly Christian. Without such a cultural background, any social request could not find an ideologic justification if not in the social justice as preached by the Koran. Nasser's Arab nationalism and baathism in Syria and Iraq were nothing but facade pseudo-ideologies (with no content) used to legitimize the taking over of power;
Several times opposition to regimes has come from the religious groups within Arab societies. This was the case with Rashid Gannouchi in Tunisia or with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And this also explains why these forces have prevailed during the last elections. The same could happen in the future in Syria where the Muslim Brothers could be legitimized by the Hama massacres in 1982.
Then there is the issue of the struggle for hegemony among the countries in the region. A war that is fought through the financing of religious organisms and structures in neighboring countries. Saudi and Qatari Wahabisms are considered the major backers of Salafist groups in the region. They preach a radical view of Islam where the precepts of Sharia law prevail over any democratic notion. These factors accentuate the role of religion in the social upheavals running through the region.
Other times the various views of Islam compete against one another: Wahabism against Sufism, Sunnis against Shiites. These divisions are brought down into the political arena, thus making Islam even more central in the political affairs of the Middle East and North Africa.
The above statements explain why every time a dictatorships is divested, political religious entities emerge and prevail within Arab societies. The Muslim Brotherhood's slogan "Islam is the solution" was not ill-conceived.
Western countries tend to consider - at least on first sight - the Islamic presence in the region as dangerous in reference to their hegemonic or economic interests. Every time a country in the region holds free elections - a parameter dear to Western democracies - and political-religious movements prevail, Western imaginary creates a short-circuit on the use of democracy between expectations and assessments. In other words, a low rate of democratic conscience is considered responsible for what is instead the true expression of will for Arab citizens. By doing so, we avoid putting those countries and their societies into context.
A first assessment can be made of what type of Islam such religious-political entities will apply in their respective civil societies. There is the Erdogan and Turkish view of Islam and there is the Saudi or Iranian one. The first one is more respectful of secular civil society, while the latter much less, if not at all. What we do find in every Arab population is the thirst for civil justice and for a peaceful living. This, whether we like it or not, is identified in the Middle East and in North Africa through the predominant religious creed.
Democracy, as viewed in the West, is considered a universal value enfranchised from religious limitations. In Arabic countries it is instead put into a religious context.
These two different concepts of civil society fuel a dormant conflict between two worlds and mainly between two different cultures that lead to radically different societies. It's as if one civilization attempted to prevail over the other. These two worlds apart will re-approach with the spread of mass-media and the internet. Differences will be leveled. Presently, the confirmation of the great influence of mass media in the world comes from the Arab countries. The Arab Spring spread, with a domino effect, thanks to the globalization of world affairs. The only endogenous element in each country was the spark that lit the various revolutions. As a matter of fact, there is no common denominator capable of linking - politically - an uprising with the next one, if not a common search for social justice. In the same way as we are informed of the ruthless behavior of the regime in Syria.
The religious element turning into a political force has infected Israel too, where the structure of the State and the prevailing orthodox parties have led the country to seem more like a theocracy, even though a liberal one.