Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Dominoes Start Falling in The Middle East......

The current uprising in Egypt, coming in the aftermath of the popular revolution in Tunisia, is a monumental event that is altering all of the political calculations currently governing how we think about Middle Eastern politics. The emerging popular movements in the region have led to a swift reshuffling of the mental furniture governing the way Tunisians, Egyptians, and likely, other people in the region see themselves and their relationship to those who have been ruling them with repression, fear and intimidation.

The new thinking shows that the people are no longer afraid of their rulers and their dreaded security apparatuses. Now that that reshuffling has occurred, as one of the most popular Tunisian protest posters declared, “Game Over.” No matter what happens in Egypt going forward, the old game is indeed over....."


Saudara Nadzru ,

As an Arabist and lover of every thing Arabic, is the above summation by Shaykh Zaid Shakir indeed true from your esteemed perspective ? You are very familiar with their scenes and psyche, probably more so than this Nusantara. You know them like the back of your hands....

That we are witnessing a new kind of thinking sweeping the Arab world and things will never be the same again or are we just looking at a familiar mirage, seeing yet another form of turmoil replacing the old, vis a vis the fact that there is a vacuum of credible institutions and people beyond the present collection of despots and Western supported monarchs does give to me a bleak picture.....?

That after this wave of cartharsis and purges , the game will be the same ? We know for instance that Islam's 'enemies' in the Pentagon and White House and elsewhere near Champ Ellyses and White Hall and No 10....that they are capable of thinking 4 or 5 steps ahead ...and they would be damned if they are not doing it now.

Your insight please....

Nik Howk
[ The First Gulf War Revisited ]


Nik Howk,

I wish I can be as blissfully positive as Zaid Shakir. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as it appears in geo-political affairs, and certainly not in the Middle East, where for every thrashing chicken with a slit throat stands a half dozen men watching intently with bloodied knives in their pockets. There is yet another viewpoint expressed here:

One last entry – a very depressing piece of analysis by Robert Springborg in Foreign Policy, who argues the upshot will be "back to business as usual with a repressive, US-backed military regime":

TS Wan


TS ,

I thought the same as well TS.

The present group of despots and monarchs at least have all their pocket full of marbles and things, all bursting to the seams wanting and screaming to come out, even at the point of swelling out thru all their orifices.

The new 'despots' would need new filling up to that same level.......If I am an Obama , that is what I would be asking my advisers to think about in the days and weeks that follow to how to fill up the 'new pockets'. That is of course the skeptic in me thinking.

But we have to be a wee bit of a romantic in things like these....we can hope that things will change and does change for the better..but when I see Al Baradei standing out like a sore thumb in that Egyptian crowd crying for change, On Day One, Washington is already there...The power of thinking 4 to 5 steps ahead!...We have to lift our hats to these guys..they are very bright. Tha is why they are in control of the world right now. Why even Putin is still licking their fingers and feeling good about it.

Was it not Al Baradei and the Swiss fellow who were instrumental for the 1st Invasion of Iraq by giving all kind of blurred picture on the nuclear issue?

Nik Howk


Dear Nik Hawk,

The beauty of dictatorship, oppression and tyranny in the Middle East, the arab states in particular is that they have a mundane and even pedestrian human face. The ' closest' I got to the Mubarak family was when I was invited to their niece's wedding at the Four Seasons hotel ballroom, Garden City , Cairo, last november 2010, within walking distance from Midan Tahrir the epicentre of the popular protest demonstration today. The wedding function was as ordinary and as familial as you can get in Kuala Lumpur these days. No alcohol was served at all, the du'a was recited, the mariarchi band played, ladies in chic chiffons, caftans and many were in head covers and pashminas were de rigeur. Suzanne Mubarak's sister herself could pass off as a PAS muslimat leader and many of the mensfolk could be YB Husam's staffers from PAS training centre at Taman Melewar or PUTIK in Pengkalan Chepa. The younger girls look like Datin Seri Wan Zah's entourage of young supporters from ABIM in PKR or Puteri UMNO in their demure pink kurongs in PWTC, when she was in UMNO earlier. The surgeons who were there looked portly, wealthy, horseriding mu'mineen and men of piety like Dr Nik Hawk. The equestrian club in the Gezira has an excellent musalla and ' ceramahs' are held regularly to suit the horse riding times of the club members . If you choose not to venture too far out of the 'preferred precincts' Cairo is the cosmopolitan capital of a ' Baldatun tayyibatun wa rabbun ghafoor'. One could safely salute, ' Mabrouk ya Mubarak '.

The bookshops in Cairo like those in Zamalek and Talaat harb are choc a bloc full of books, some of the best collection comparable to what I have seen any where . Cairo's bistros and cafes are second to none, if not among the very best in the world. As I said, the kind that the built environment of marshland Sinapo never had. The universities thrive with brilliant Professors and world class faculties. Just to weeks ago, I despatched my wife (and second daughter) to Cairo for her post graduate studies and in spite of what is happening I refuse to allow them to come home, being in touch with me daily and they are very happy to remain in their arrondissement in Medinat Nasr.

Meet members of the recent Hosni Mubarak's cabinet members and they are as clever and as ordinary as our ministers. Their former minister of oil , Ir Sameh Fahmi is as handsome and as welcoming as Datuk Shamsul Azhar, so is former PM Ahmad Nazif, he looks as handsome and as cultured as our own Brother Anwar Ibrahim. I had the occassion of knowing both of them at working level. Sameh more so, he is an engineering graduate of Alexandria University and he signed the protocol of putting 20 Egyptian students in UTP Tronoh annually and many of them are interns in Ranhill worleyparsons, meeting me in the lifts ever so often. Ahmad Nazif has a DPhil in Economics from the presitigous Cairo University. I once translated for him in December 2008 when he was with our sleepy former PM Pak Lah and our former ambassador to Egypt Datuk Zainal Abidin ( a defeated UMNO YB, an Al-Azhar alumnus and my eldest uncle). He spoke excellent english but cruelly chose to speak in arabic to test me! None of them have the face of the ' mustakbareen'. In 3 Abduls they would have appeared as the good guys of Isketamboula together with almarhoum Ahmad Nesfu.

Now then, why is the Regime so despicable, like ALL arab country regimes wthout exception? If it is not so repressive as to allow so many sectors of the society to be so vibrant then why are the regimes so abominable? Because abomination do have a human face unfortunately!

Sorry, I have to hop off to a meeting. I will continue later.


In Jakarta


TS Wan And Nadzru,

Just finished reading Robert Springborg's analysis. He is a typical American democrat who thinks what works well for America should work for the rest of the world : Democracy. The formullae may not be right for everyone, everywhere and all the time. Just look at Iraq now. During Saddam's time at least the Iraqis have their daily bread, does not live within their own excrement and garbage uncollected, did not have their heads blown off on their way to the market, the Kurds Shiites and Sunnis were not at each other's throats. Now they have democracy implanted direct thanks to America with zero institutions. No thank you ! Iraq dont need democracy if this is the price they have to pay.

Correct me if I am wrong in my assessment Nadzru. Egypt is poor to start with . They only have cotton, the Suez canal and too many doctors , lawyers, engineers and PHD holders who have to double up as taxi drivers in the evening. Their problem is getting enough food on the plate for their citizen. If you get by well with an authoritarian government that is efficient , so be it.If by democracy, people will be at each other's throat than might as well say good bye to democracy. Egypt though may just prosper with democracy. They do not have the shiite-sunni dichotomy which are a great mix for 'automatic combustion'. The Copts and the Muslims sunni have lived for centuries without problem.

The dominoes that are worth watching would be Jordan and Saudi Arabia. At the end of the day, Tan Sri and Nadzru, the good shaykh may just be right : The Arab landscape may be better in the long run. I suspect what is good for the Arabs may not mean well for the West. Look at FIS and Algeria some 15 years back. Look at Hamas in Palestine. Is America sincere about democracy in the oil rich Arab hinterland or they are just interested in cheap oil and preserving Zionist domination of the region ?

We can anticipate a lot of 'brainstorming' sessions in Whitehall, The White House and the Pentagon. They have the 'brains' as well as the 'storms'.

Nik Howk


[ To Nik Isahak Abdullah, Nadzru Azhari,from TS Wan ]

Nik Howk,

No, I don't think Elbaradei is a part of the Western plot (perhaps to make Muslims think he is part of their plot is the REAL plot!) Elbaradei and his then boss, Blix, were considered ' very inconvenient' for continuing to demand more time to prove that Iraq had no WMD. and Elbaradei, after the Iraq war, was a stumbling pain in the arse as far as the Americans were concerned over Iran's nuclear program. Not to mention his asides on Israeli possession of the N bomb. But I don't think El Baradei is going to play a significant long term role in Egypt's post Mubarak future, either.

Let's not give America and the West too much credit. Instead, citizens of the Muslim world would do better to address and own up to our self-inflicted sins - corrupt governments, grasping klepto politicians, incompetent dead-from-the-neck-up bureaucracies, disdain for intellectual curiousity and honesty, dishonest reading of history including Islamic history, and a propensity to escapism through an inflated sense of victimhood and overplaying the blame game. The West and the rest owe us nothing. Therefore expect no favours other than kicks in the arse or knives in the back. But there is much that we as the ummah can do and must do to better our societies for ourselves and our children's future.

The chaos on the Arab streets offer some glimmer of hope after several centuries of decay amd hopelessness. Of course it may yet prove to be a false dawn, but the faint glimmer of light is embolding and liberating . Wither the Malaysian dawn?



[ from Nadzru Azahari in Jakarta ]

Dearest Tan Sri and Nik Hawk,

Unfortunately dictatorship and political tyranny has a very human face, even a pedestrian face for the people. More so if one comes from the class that needs to be cultivated and kept in abeyance.

I spoke in the most endearing terms to both of you of the Egypt that I love. However, that does not mean that I and the Egyptians love the Regime and Hosni Mubarek.The hatre has been intense for a very long time, the people of all categories and sectors of the society have been suffocated by the Regime, even the wealthiest and the most privileged among them. That said, the political suffocation and the humiliation of being a client state of the US and under their tutelage has not stopped Egypt from producing brilliant works of arts, culture and the sciences. They are a well read society, a world size library in Alexandria, universities and faculties that produced Nobel laureates. While poverty is pervasive, that is still tolerated but the indignity and humiliation of political muffling is too much for the proud people to bear. So they erupted.

If you put together the production indices of Egypt it is not a poor country, au contraire, it is a rich country. It has 600k bpd oil production, a huge LNG export capacity, a thriving tourism industry, a remittance economy of intellectual workforce, a rentier economy of the Suez Canal and a year round agriculture production that can airfreight tomatoes from the farms in the Delta in the morning to reach Carrefour Paris by early evening. Their cotton quality is like gold thread. Their manpower is all over the EU. 17,000 specialists in EU hospitals in 2010! They are ever since the 1900s the publishing and university capital of the Arab world.

If it is just about food on the table, like Tan Sri said, the Regime could pile that on the table and can lavish on them like Mubarak does on his Goon Squads. There are more Carrefours and megamalls in Cairo than there are in the Klang Valley and they are stocked to the brim, all the cheeses and olives that we will ever want.

As a hypchondriac, I have been treated in Cairo hospitals and they have many in the class of SJMC. Their Clubs, bistros and boulevard Cafes are second to none, even in the very down to earth arrondissements. The pavements in Zamalek and Talaat Harb district are choc full of book exchanges of the kind that we don't see in KL. They have poem recital, debates and book reviews in Cafes!

Talk about affordability, by just reducing his ill-gotten wealth by 10% , Hosni Mubarek and his goons could subsidise bread, cheese , beans abd mutton for all the poor Egyptians. Even if he does that, the people will still revolt. The issue is dignity and removing political suffocation.


Nadzru in Jakarta


Tan Sri and Nadzru,

"... The West and the rest owe us nothing. Therefore expect no favours other than kicks in the arse or knives in the back. But there is much that we as the ummah can do and must do to better our societies for ourselves and our children's future." Well said TS.

This somehow reminded me of Prof Tariq Ramadan now rather famous assertion that in this century, 14 centuries beyond The Prophet[ pbuh], "it is no longer a question of Darul Harb or Darul Islam in this time of global and localised diverse plurality of colour and beliefs ,but more importantly that of Darul Daawah and Darul Shahada". Unrelated to the present issue you might say, but to my simple mind very related. East , West, South and North ; Them, us, you and me ; all these are man made superficial boundaries. It is for all of us to open our boundaries via Darul Daawah.

Which brings to mind an ayat in Surah Al Baqarah :

"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty." Ch. 2:177

Tan Sri and Nadzru, you guys may think I am too much of a chronic romantic, a 'gone case', but I do believe that the actual battle lines would not be between East or West, North or South. The battle lines will be within ourselves , does not matter we are from the East or West. The dominoes in the Arab world may continue to fall, or may not continue to fall, but this would not be of much consequence to the present world because given adequate time, dominoes elsewhere will continue to fall while others will remain.

East will be East, and insyaallah, west of East will also be East. We cannot underrate the universal appeal of the message of The Quran and His last messenger.Truth is more powerful than all the nuclear arsenals and military hard wares all combined.

Just give time.

Chronic romantic, this Nik Howk!!

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The One That Started It All
Trinity : Surah An Nisa, 4 : 171
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