One of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on the Middle East says the Arab Spring is “no more.”
“It was in the beginning a ‘springtime’ because really it was a free movement, (an) independent, unorganized movement for freedom,” Father Samir Khalil Samir told CNA.
But the movement slowly became “organized by other groups, especially by Islamic groups, in Egypt, also in Libya, in Bahrain, so that now the situation is no more a spring,” he said.
Fr. Samir is an Egyptian Jesuit who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute, as well as in Beirut and Paris. Last year he cautiously welcomed the rise of the “Arab Spring,” a series of popular uprisings that dislodged several Middle Eastern dictators.
While some observers were hopeful that more democratic forms of government would take root in the wake of the protests, many countries instead saw Islamist movements rise to political prominence.
Fr. Samir said this has been particularly true in his homeland of Egypt, where the 30-year military dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year, and in other states such as Tunisia and Libya.
He described the situation in Libya since the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 as “not wonderful” due to “an Islamization after the secular system of Gaddafi.” He also believes that the present civil uprisings in Bahrain and Syria are being fueled by Islamist forces.
Fr. Samir said he still prays for “an open society for all people” in the Arab world but believes there are two road blocks – a lack of experience with democracy and a lack of education particularly for Arab women.
“We are aspiring to democracy but a problem is, if I take the case of Egypt for instance, which is not an exception, since 1952 and the Abdel Nasser revolution we don’t have a democracy,” he explained. Instead Egypt experienced having militant leaders – Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak – “so we don’t know what a democracy is and how to make it.”
He believes that democracy could develop in the region but that it may take another generation to achieve it.
The Egyptian Jesuit also thinks that education, especially for women, is a key factor in achieving a stable democratic society. He explained that it is Arab women who “build the family, not the fathers” and that females are also “those who are more for peace and not for war” which, he believes, gives them a greater affinity with minorities such as Christians.
“Unfortunately, some sentences of the Koran could support their suppression because it’s a document from the 7th century and there is no new reading of the Koran to reinterpret for today,” he said.
His advice to people in the West is to pray for the Arab world and to support education in the region through non-governmental organizations, which he says are traditionally less corrupt than Arab governments.