EGYPT, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrein, Jordan, Sudan and Algeria have in recent weeks been in non-violent turmoil. There are, incidentally, as many as forty six Muslim-majority countries in the world where anything can happen in the coming months. Tunisia is where the trouble originally started, but there is no knowing where it will end. For that matter one does not know the nature of government even Egypt will be heir to. What the demonstrators were demanding was not the downfall of the government but the ousting of Mubarak.
Turkey has a democratic government but behind the government is the ubiquitous Army. Who will ultimately come to power in Egypt? Jordan or Libya? According to a Middle East expert, Michael Scheur, thousands of Islamists have been released from prison in Egypt and fears are expressed that with Mubarak’s departure, every stripe of Islamism may exert their influence to put fundamentalists in power. Many have been expressing their fears that the Islamic Brotherhood, though officially banned in Egypt and has formally declared its stance against violence may make a bid to capture power through popular mandate. Some consider it improbable.
In a country of eight million, the Muslim Brotherhood has a membership of no more than 100,000 and perhaps an equal number of supporters. But it is not numbers that matter but the Brotherhood’s influence among the people at this juncture. The general view is that those who crowded the Tahrir Square were largely the young, more concerned with (a) unemployment, (b) rampant corruption and a rotten administration (c) crony capitalism and high level of social inequality (d) inflation and rising prices and (e) mindless repression than with religious fundamentalism. Nobel Laureate EI Baradei recently told the BBC that he has proposed a transitional government obviously run by the Armed Forces for a year followed by general elections. The protestors are on record as saying that they have trust in the Egyptian Army. But power is a strong aphrodisiac and who knows how the Armed Forces will ultimately react? Much, one suspects, will depend upon the US Government which has a big stake in Egypt in addition to other North African states. The US has always treated Egypt as a tool. Cairo has been recipient of an annual grant of $ two billion. Most of Egyptian top-ranking soldiers have their training in the US. It is doubtful, under the circumstances, whether Egypt will take an independent stand.
Right now the US has no rivals. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the US has nothing to be afraid of from external sources. China cannot be expected to have an ideological foothold in any Muslim country. There is no Non-Aligned Movement to reckon with. The task before Washington is simply to find alternative leadership to replace the Mubaraks and the Gaddafis. America’s hypocrisy is well-known. It may theoretically want democracy to flourish in Islamic States but it will be more than satisfied if it can enthrone more liberal dictators in the seats of power.
What the US wants is not the rule of democracy but the installation of certified puppets who will do America’s bidding and keep the oil barrels in safe hands. Libya, for example, is a major supplier of oil to Europe, especially Italy. Any disruption in Libyan oil supplies to Europe can do great damage to the economic recovery of the European Union. So far as India is concerned, politically speaking, it has no stake in any of the Muslim countries, except that a social upturn may result in Indians serving in north African and Middle East countries being forced to return home.
As many as 5,000 Indians resident in Libya have been evacuated and should matters turn equally vicious say in the middle East countries, more Indians may feel compelled to quit leading to a loss of over $ 20 billion to India in Foreign Exchange remittances. It is no consolation to realise that China, too, has been forced to recall its nationals, numbering 29,000. When can one expect the situation to return to normalcy? Can things ever again be the same as they were at the beginning of 2011? Does India have any role to play in settling the on-going turmoil in the Islamic world? Hardly. India has to accept the grim reality of a changing socio-economic scenario now prevalent in North African states with patience if not equanimity.
Military interference, such as allegedly NATO countries are reportedly planning, is not for India to accept. As in our dealing with Myanmar, so in our dealings with the widespread Muslim world, we have to accept the inevitable in good grace, and refuse to be party to any kind of military interference whether in Tunisia, Libya or anywhere else. As in Afghanistan, all we can volunteer to do is to help in any developmental activities. Strict neutrality should be our present – and ultimate – stand. We can’t change the world and we don’t need to be hypocritical in such matters. It is for the people anywhere to make their own choices as to who should be their rulers. Should the situation in countries presently under great stress ease and Indian labour and expertise is once again sought, we should be ready to oblige without being suspected of being a party to a NATO-led aggression.
We don’t need to be labelled as pro-West. Being described as a strategic partner of the US does not mean that we have to play second fiddle to US aggressiveness. We are not living in colonial times when the British, for instance, used Indian forces to fight wars as in Iraq and elsewhere. If Britain, under its present Prime Minister wishes to lend its forces to the US as his predecessor, Tony Blair did, let it. We should keep our hands clean. What is happening in Egypt as elsewhere is the dawning of the Information Age. For all, we know it may be the dawning of a new concept of Islam itself and the ushering of a social revolution.
According to Stuart Scheur, writing in Economic & Political Weekly (February 5) the young rebels are demanding, among other things “a social order built on human rights” as the emancipation of women, thus contesting Islamist dominance. That surely should be a welcome development but, again, not calling for Indian interference. It is clear that certain tectonic changes are taking place in Islamic societies that should be welcome but India best serves its own interests by leaving well alone. All that India can now do is to wait and see. Surely it will pay in the long run.