Protests in the Arab world came like a ripple, one after another, and gets in the news. From Tunisia, the world’s attention was moved to Egypt, then to Libya, to Bahrain, to Yemen and now Saudi Arabia. Peace is disrupted and democracy is being challenged. However, in the grand political scenario, there are legitimate people’s uprising to call our attention, while others have to be questioned.
There is no template to a people’s revolution. Each one is unique in its own, and has to be understood in its minute and wider contexts. When Marx said that religion is an opium to the people, he was agitating the revolutionary spirit which he believed is pacified or blinded by the power of religion among people.
In the Arab world, power relations is distributed in terms of number, between the minority and the majority; in terms of political roles, between authorities and the general population; in terms of economic wealth, between the rich and the poor; in terms of social acknolwedgement, between the recognized and the isolated. Gender of politics in the Arab world is predominantly masculine – relatively just but hypocritically brutal. Their religions contributes in all these.
Islam, unlike Christianity or Hinduism, has two strains. One is of the Sunnis’ and the other is of the Shiites’. The Arab world, its culture, society and politics are dichotomized by religious schism, but they have a common belief in Allah and the teaching of the Quo’ran. As they come from two religious school’s of thoughts, their practices of faith differ as to the interpretations of their beliefs, and the oral traditions they have of the earlier days of Islam.
Lesley Hazleton, author of After the Prophet, in a interview for the Times Magazine (Fetini, Sept. 16, 2009), relates the divide among the Muslim faithful in the original power-struggle of who should lead Islam after the death of Prophet Muhammad who had no child to take after his religious domain. From here begins the internal issue in the Arab’s cultural, social, economic and political situation.
The Muslim world is predominantly Sunni (CIA World Factbook, cited in WNET.org, 2011) . The Sunni’s outnumber the Shiites generally, but this is not the same case in all countries, as some of them are Shiite’s dominated. However, the power structure held by Sunni’s in both political and religious aspects. The royal families, composed of sheikhs, sultans and emirs are mostly Sunnis. With this power relations, the Shiite’s are left to labor for their well-being and contend to their social status.
Now the world is witnessing the conscious and more aggressive disposition of the Shiite’s to assert their rights. But these protests is merely the surface of the ensuing conflict from the beginnings of Islam. With prudence, Islam was never a conflict after as preached by their Prophet Muhammad. Conflict was an aftermath, but until now the conflict is unresolved.
As the Arab world is rich in oil, the country leaders cannot just give away the power held in their authority. Hence, some see this as needing upgrades in authoritarianism (Heydemann, Nov. 7, 2007). Authoritarinism may have a premium in the governance of the oil rich states, and this is best practiced under the cloak of religious piety and the attribution of divine providence to political power.
Opium or not, religion is now in the big picture of the Midlle East uprisings. Islam, which the Muslim clergy preach to be religion of peace, is being rocked by protests stemming from the cultural orientation of its early faithfuls. What is challenged now is the power relations between two groups of faithfuls in the Islam world.