Really at stake during the Arab Spring was Islam. The word means subjugation to the will of the One God, Allah in Muslims’ holy book – the Quran. The Western World has been flabbergasted as the people have toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. I remain astonished.
Mouamar al-Gadhafi was killed last Thursday. Last October nobody would have guessed that he would join Tunis’ Zine al-Abidine bin Ali and Cairo’s Hosni Mubarak in being ousted from power. Furthermore, Tripoli’s dictator was killed in the manner of Mussolini, who also once ruled Libya. You may not have seen the photos: the booted, shaved-head Fascist hanging upside down, next to his mistress, Clara Petacci — in a Lake Como gas station.
In Islam, everything that happens is the will of Allah. As long as people stuck to the Quran, rulers were safe, protected by the One God, who is the source of all power; but then secular education reared its head. Tunisia is noted as the most Western, socially progressive nation in North Africa — rivaled only by modern Turkey, as the result of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s heroic effort to shed the Ottoman Empire.
Gamal Abdul Nasser shoved off from Alexandria the royal yacht with King Farouk aboard; immediately the colonel began a system that would make the country’s greatest export to its fellow Arab nations proficient and educated Egyptians. President Nasser’s efforts produced so many college degrees – on the promises of government jobs – that Cairo official offices were litter with so many that not every graduate had a desk or telephone — when I lived there.
As my eldest son delights in pointing out, revolutions are started by the middle class. Even though the Gadhafi family was stealing literally billions, the oil deposits were so immense that young Libyans studied abroad, including Great Britain and the United States, and other places not ruled absolutely by a sadistic tyrant. When they returned home, as many did, they didn’t appreciate the behavior and rantings of a man termed rarely by name but by the nickname al-Magnun (the crazy man). In throwing the English out, Gamal Abdul Nasser generated a great fan in Mouamar Gadhafi. After Anwar Sadat visited Israel, the Libyan dispatched several assassin teams to kill Nasser’s successor. You know about tumbling the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Gadhafi was held responsible for bombing a Berlin nightclub frequented by Americans.
When I visited Istanbul I was shown the famous Blue Mosque; the most important fact I remember was how the guide pointed out imams were not permitted to ascend the winding steps to the designated pulpit. Instead they were ordered to deliver sermons from half-way up. The top position was reserved for Allah and his earthly deputy. The caliph was deposed by Atatürk, shaking the pillars of Islam. The faith revealed by the recitations of the Messenger of the One God, Muhammad, grows faster than ever, spreading to the corners of the earth.
But as Christianity and Judaism, it has been strongly affected by the growth of science and education. The Arab Spring offers the proof, confirmed by the Islamic Autumn, when women voted for the very first election Sunday.