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Viva la revolucion? Insha’Allah.

The protests on the streets of Egypt have captivated many for the past few days. Before then it was the scenes that unfolded in Tunisia that captured our imaginations. Protest, rebellion and revolution are in the air; dictators take note. Reporting from Sanaa on January 28th, James Swann and Catrina Stewart noted how, ‘tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets…to demand the end of the three-decade rule of the President in the latest sign of rebellion sweeping the Arab world.’ Indeed the winds of revolt (as the headline on their article reads) seem to be raging.

For so very long the cruel leaders of the Arab world have mocked and humiliated the populations they ruled. They are obvious markers of what is wrong with that part of the world. They are also the symbols which naturally garner most attention when the mood changes, as it has done in Tunisia and Egypt, so that the ire of the people quite naturally and rightly turns on them. ‘We want the regime to fall’ was the cry of crowds in Cairo, according to an article by Fisk published in The Independent today (29th Jan). And so it is the regimes that come to represent what is wrong with much of the Middle East and it is certainly hard to argue otherwise. Hosni Mubarak is an odious figure as was the ex-Prime Minister of Tunisia, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Change then is something which part of the world most rightly deserves.

Change however is a difficult idea to pin down. In its normative sense change signifies an alteration that is different somehow to what preceded it. In times of revolution change connotes not just a move away from the past but also a positive progression from it. This compounded sense of change as occurs under the banner of revolution espouses two distinct modalities. The dominant modality of all revolutions is action, while the proper and necessary mode of progress is ideational. It is only when both are commanded properly that the change that revolution can potentially bring is managed as successfully as is humanly possible.

This of course underplays the spontaneity that is so celebrated as a marker of true revolutions. Indeed, there is something particularly endearing about such impulsive action that involves hundreds and thousands of people. In fact, the way in which the protests across Tunisia and now Egypt seem to have taken place celebrates the potential of ordinary individuals along with the emancipatory potential of social mediums like Twitter and Facebook. With these technological developments there is the possibility of a move away from an earlier emphasis on organisational capacities to instigate and propel mass action, towards networks of communication and information. It is, what Manuel Castelles calls, flows rather than organisations that today perhaps have an important role in prompting (mass) action. ‘The depth and direction of these flows’ – to reframe a point made by Timothy Luke – ‘constitutes a new dimension of thought and action. Partly local, partly global [think of how the protests in Tunisia inspired protesters in Egypt], such glocal [global/local] flows…[make up] a telesphere/cybersphere of artificial spaces…[animated] by streams of data, audio and video.’ This ‘artificial space’ does not imply the fictive nature of the data necessarily; the pictures of protesters in Tunisia that inspired the imagination of so many across the Arab world and beyond, were most certainly ‘real’. But streamed through YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to various recipients across the world, these mediums helped imagine, create and then support a space from which subsequent action was able to be instigated. In this respect, the celebration of these mediums and of ordinary individuals who engaged with such spaces as were opened up by these mediums is most certainly warranted and I too am awe struck by how amorphous and momentous all of this has been. Yet I cannot but return to the binary that is constitutive of change when spoken of in the context of revolution.

Action can be infectious. To march on the street and to call for the overthrow of a government is revolutionary by definition but it is wrong to imagine action as an end in itself. All ends need to be purposeful and all purposes need careful deliberation in order for the actions that lead to them to be both meaningful and truly efficacious. What should Egypt and Tunisia look like once the winds of change blow through them? Who is to take over? How is this process to be managed? The Iranian Revolution is an example in point (in spite of the fact that it was not without its shortcomings). From exile Ayatollah Khomeni wrote and propagated much that shaped the emotions and thoughts of many within Iran. Khomeni also had supporters both in and outside Iran who were at hand when the revolution began and also there when it drew to a close.

In the fervour of revolution, therefore, one ought not to overlook the need for stability. Action needs direction or else like water in a boiling pot, it bubbles over and eventually dies out. Lets hope that all of us who support the people and the need for extensive and meaningful reform do not look back and wonder how and when the chance for progress was lost.



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About Syed Haider

A PhD candidate at SOAS and English teacher.


  1. Good article correcting those who have been saying there is no Islamic state during the last few weeks:


  2. Slave of the ALMIGHTY ONE

    @A. Khan, the phrase ‘Islam is the solution’ is a dangerous one, as espoused by some modernists groups. Nabi SAW never used this phrase. How comes Islamic states have been established in Afghanistan, Saudi, Somalia and yet fitnah has occured? Lets say Islam lays the groundwork for solutions, the reason for the failures is wide and many, one of which is that we have poor decision makers in the Muslim Ummah and thus our downfall…..

    @Joshim, so who will establish this Khilafah? Any group in mind? Every1 knows the alternative method of governance IS Islam, the question is, are we going to get it in Egypt? Its a deifnite ‘NO’ to anyone that understands reality. The question is, how can we make the situation *better* then it has been, one of the ways is to have a representative democracy, a just leader even in a secular system. It is possible to have a democracy without it being a dictatorship, and for the time being, this is should be taking place. Khilafah in Egypt i far fetched….I know some people that are vocal about it, in tongue they are optimists, but in actions they are pessimists themselves, that is why they live in the UK living and benefitting of a democracy

  3. A time for action
    In this past couple of weeks, whilst our hearts may have soared and whilst we may have been glued to our TV sets, the public reaction from those of us who wish for an Islamic solution has been cautious. It has been tempered so that we are not perceived to be hijacking the protests for our own agenda. In the meantime, however, the secular democrats have made full use of the social media referred to in this article, so much so, that they can freely claim that all those on the streets are simply calling for democracy. This is a great disservice to the thousands whose rallying cry has been ‘God is great’. It is now time for us all to join the discourse, before we lose the opportunity. Those who are skilled at creating videos etc should be using images from the protests across the region to inform the world of the uprisings in their wider Islamic context. There is a false perception that those calling for the deen want ‘talibanisation’ or ‘extremism’. Equally ppl are under the impression that representation, equality, and justice are values that can only be provided through a western secular framework. It is unfortunate that we have allowed these lies to be propagated; it is time we redressed this. It is also time we stopped floundering after the crumbling West and instead gained a backbone and had confidence in the deen of Allah(swt). The Muslim world doesn’t need a change of figureheads, it needs real change. Yes to representation of the people, yes to accountability, yes to a fair economic system, yes to a vibrant and thinking society; yes to Islam as the solution!

  4. slms, this is the time to call for real change i.e. the establishment of khilafah, and not call for more reforms. we need the authors of such articles to make it clear what the alternative system of governance is. otherwise we are going to end up with another democratic dictorship.

  5. Excellent article mashAllah

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