By MOHAMMED IQBAL
The revolutions taking place in the Arab world could herald a new international order and change the relations between countries, the sixth Al Jazeera Annual Forum here was told yesterday.
This year’s Forum held in the backdrop of the mass revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and several other Arab countries is aptly themed “The Arab world in transition—Has the future arrived?”.
Several leading thinkers, intellectuals and politicians from the Arab and Islamic world are attending the three-day event, along with experts from the US and Europe.
A major attraction of the Forum is the presence of a number of youth activists from Egypt and Tunisia who played an active role in the successful mass uprising in those countries.
The opening session of the conference featured a prominent Islamist leader from Tunisia, Rachid Al Ghannouchi, president of the Al Nahda Party, who returned to his country last month, after spending decades in exile in Europe.
The session titled “Winds of change in the Arab world” also saw leading writers and intellectuals from the West and the Arab world including Abdel Bari Atwan, Oliver McTernan and John L Esposito. The interactive session was moderated by Dr Abdul Rafeeq Salam.
Ghannouchi said the revolution had changed the image of the entire Arab nation, who had been branded as passive and backward.
“The revolution became a necessity because people had no other option to get rid of their corrupt and dictatorial regimes, who had made the countries the private properties of the ruling families,” said Ghannouchi.
He said the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia underestimated the value of the people and the youth. The conflict was not between Islamists and secularists. It was a struggle between the people and the regimes. The revolution became a success because all the people united under a common goal.
“The revolution has changed the momentum all over the Arab world. Some regimes are now talking about changing to a constitutional monarchy. A change from absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy itself is a revolution. It is not just a reform,” said Ghannouchi.
He said there was no need of worrying about the future of the revolution. The youth who has brought the revolution are also capable of guarding it.
A key element of this revolution is that it had united all segments and ideological groups in the Arab society. New democratic institutions will emerge in these countries based on justice, trust and pluralism. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are also realising the importance of such a political framework, noted Ghannouchi.
McTernan said the depth of the changes in the Arab world was not yet realised.
“This marks the end of the colonial era. The neo-colonial structure in Arab countries is crumbling. This will redefine relationships and bring a new international order,” said McTernan.
He said the revolts represented an innate quest for dignity by people who suffered from decades of grievances.
Atwan was vehemently critical about the western attitude toward the Arab revolts, which he termed hypocritical.
British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Tahrir Square and declared solidarity with the protesters. His next stop was Abu Dhabi, where he visited an arms exhibition and negotiated arms deals with governments in the region. This is ironic, said Atwan.
During the days of the revolution, the US used its veto power to defeat a UN resolution calling for a freeze of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
He said a military intervention by the US or the Nato in Libya would have grave consequences on the region.
He felt that the Libyan people were capable of defeating their regime, if they get support from other Arab countries.
He urged the Arab League to come out with an aid package to support other Arab countries in the same way the Gulf countries announced a $20bn development aid for Oman and Bahrain.
Atwan said the US and Europe were looking at the developments in each Arab country from the perspective of their national interests.
“In Libya, their concern is oil while in Egypt, it is Israel and the Camp David Accord. When it comes to Yemen, their problem is Al Qaeda,” he said, concluding that the policies of the West toward Arab revolutions had not been driven by respect for human rights or democratic values.
Esposito said the changes in the Arab world had stressed the need for a new framework and a new mind set for the US and the Europe. He, however, added that current leaders would not be able to change the paradigms that they had been used to for several decades.
“If a miracle happens in the Arab world, as result of the current developments, it may lead to a miracle in the US policy toward Israel and Palestine,” said Esposito.
In the question and answer session, several participants shared their concern about the future of the revolution and wondered how stable democratic institutions would develop in the Arab world in the absence of a clear political ideology and leadership.
If Gaddafi succeeds in crushing the revolts in Libya, it could have a negative impact on the momentum that the mass protests have been gaining all over the Arab world.
A youth representative called on the Arabs to go and support the Libyans, instead of wasting time on meetings and deliberations.