From the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi to the immolation of Syria. From the euphoric scenes of Tahrir Square to the ungodly sight of a sword-wielding 12-year-old kid beheading bound captives. One must ask: how did we get here?
From the brave protesters storming the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and taking down its flag, to Mossad agents and Israeli TV reporters infiltrating Syria with the help of FSA insurgents, freely roaming "liberated" areas to their hearts' content. From Christian protesters forming a human shield to protect fellow Muslim demonstrators performing Friday prayers at Tahrir Square to Syrian "revolutionaries" burning down a Shia Mosque in Idlib province, systematically witch hunting Alawites in Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, and threatening to use chemical weapons against the "Infidel Nusayris" and "Shabiha", how did it come to this?
It would be a fool's hope to think that what's transpiring now in Syria, which has become a total incubator for wars-by-proxy, is just the natural progression from that moment in Sidi Bouzeid that sparked this volatile season of Arab uprisings. It was quite a beautiful show indeed; we've finally managed to move away from the tyranny of autocratic regimes into the waiting arms of the tyranny of the Muslim Brotherhood at best, and into civil wars and endless internal bloodletting at worst (if not a toxic combination of both), and now the true reality of it all is solemnly bared for all to see on the streets of Tripoli and Sirte, and in the burning alleyways of Cairo and Alexandria where the great Egyptian revolution is bleeding out on its own pavements.
Of course in Sana'a; America's drone warfare grinds ever onward, nonchalantly bombing the living daylights out of entire civilian populations on a daily basis with the blessings (and guidance) of the Saudi military and under the watchful eye of Yemen's first "freely-elected president" who, by the way, actually won in a weird Saudi-concocted mockery of presidential elections in which the former tyrant's vice president was the only candidate on the ballot; you could not make this nonsense up even if you tried, and this is just the tip of the absurdity iceberg.
In an ironic albeit tragic twist of fate, war-torn Iraq--of all places--became a safe haven for Syrian refugees seeking a semblance of shelter from an even more war-torn Syria where death has become so compelling that being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the "wrong" religious/political affiliation might considerably shorten your life expectancy, and in a violent way that would often involve decapitations, summary executions, sniper-shots, booby-trapped microvans, and random mass-bombardments of entire neighborhoods.
Aleppo, the commercial heart of Syria, became a place where no one runs out of bullets but a loaf of bread is nowhere to be found, the city's entire industrial sector has been dismantled, packed and sold as spare parts in Turkey, and the city's streets transformed into a miniature replica of Saudi Arabia with "vice police" running rampant and enforcing Sharia law on the hapless population in what can only be described as a true time capsule from the dark ages.
Living in the Arab World nowadays sure feels a lot like living in some sort of alternative warped universe where everything seems upside down and backwards, a place where the carcass of this once great Arab nation is practically itching for yet another Sykes-Picot moment, a place where further divisions and partitioning of our resource-rich region along ethnic and sectarian lines seem so inevitable and imminent that the only thing we can do about it is just pray that it would be bloodless this time, a place where the trend of "administratively autonomous regions" (which is nothing but a bleak euphemism for the complete dismemberment of entire countries into bickering colonies and mini-statelets a la South Sudan and to a certain extent Iraqi Kurdistan) is becoming appealing and virtually sought after in Libya, Yemen, Algeria, and Syria.
A place where the sorry, herky jerky entity that is the Arab League has--on its ever-constant downward spiral--mutated into a mere vehicle for the Gulf Cooperation Council, which in turn is essentially nothing more than a monthly club of illiterate dictators (with "honorary doctorates" nonetheless) whose sole purpose is to settle personal scores amongst each other while simultaneously prolonging the dark ages in their own countries one brutal rule at a time, and a place where personalities like Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim can pose as a paragon of virtue and altruism working overtime to bring about democracy and human rights for the rest of us (that's of course when he's not busy cruising in his $250 million yacht --Al Miqrab--or pondering which British football club he's going to buy next) without eliciting a wave of mad laughter in response.
Only in the Arab world we get enraged by a low-budget, hateful anti-Islam internet video while we're not even the slightest bit bothered anymore by the continuing silent siege of Gaza and Jerusalem or this cancerous growth of Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank; only in the Arab world Lebanese Salafist lunatic Ahmad Al Asir gets more media coverage than Palestinian hunger striker Samer Al-Issawi; only in the Arab world overzealous Islamic preachers and religious nutjobs have no qualms preaching "holy Jihad" in Syria on a semi-daily basis but when it comes to Israel raining death and destruction on Gaza they hastily swallow their own words and choke on their hypocrisy; and only in the Arab World you wake up to find that the criminal/colonial collective that is the United States, France, and Britain is boasting of its "friendship" to the Syrian people and that Turkey, apparently bitten by the Ottoman nostalgia bug, has appointed a Turkish "Guardian" on Syrian refugees as well as "liberated" Syrian territories. There is an almost "Alice in Wonderland' feel to all of this really; and the cavernous rabbit hole goes even deeper.
Did you know that Samir Gaegae (a bona-fide killer who cut his teeth butchering Palestinian refugees and Syrian workers during the years of civil war in Lebanon) is now a big-time humanist and a champion of the Syrian people? Or that the Bahraini King is hailed as the top "humanitarian personality" in the Arab World (according to a poll conducted and published by Kuwait's Al Sharq newspaper)? Well that's what you get when labeling "dictators" becomes a matter of mere opportunistic convenience and nothing else.
Trying to wrap your head around any of this may prove to be an exercise in both futility and befuddlement; it's as though the beleaguered Arab World is helplessly locked into a twilight zone where bizarre role-reversals, irreconcilable contradictions, sheer hypocrisy, and double standards abound in heaping portions, a world where Iran is the undisputed "existential" threat and "Israel" is a dependable ally, a world where our priorities have been gravely reconfigured and re-aligned to best suit America's needs and imperial interests in our region, a world where our collective moral authority seems to be attached only to the barrel of oil and the diktats of its producers, a world where the compass of global "Jihad" has been set on Syria (and before it Libya and way before both of them Afghanistan) while not even once has it found its way towards occupied Palestine, and, most lamentably, a world where Saleh Al Machnouk, a young sleazy Lebanese politician and also son of Hariri advisor Nouhad Al Machnouk, threatens (on his Facebook page of course) to "go after" Hizbollah Leader Hassan Nasserallah after "finishing off" Bashar Al Assad, but then again one might excuse the guy his newly-found revolutionary "macho" rhetoric"--he has just gotten back from a brief visit to Syria where he presumably helped deliver some of those shipments of "blankets" and "infants' milk" his fellow March 14th alliance mate Uqab Saqr helped score for the rebels there.
Indeed, nothing makes sense in the Arab World anymore unless put in a sectarian bracket; only then you can reconcile yourself with the alarming fact that the torture-loving, backward tyrannies of the gulf are spearheading a democracy-spreading crusade in Syria (and now in Iraq?) while comfortably sitting on silenced revolutions in their own feudalistic sheikhdoms. Only then you begin to understand why the vulgar Saudi-financed media would go into throes of rapture over the latest speech by Izzat Al Douri (former Iraqi vice president of the late Saddam Hussein, House of Saud's former arch enemy) for the sole reason that it carried--in typical Iraqi Baath Party fashion--heavy criticisms of "Farsi" Iran; only then you'll be able to decipher the intricacies of this warped unholy alliance between Al Qaeda fighters, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Qatari and Saudi ruling monarchies, the clumsy politicians of the March 14th bloc in Lebanon and a host of western intelligence agencies including the CIA seeking violent regime change in Syria. Only then you'll know why the Bahraini revolution has barely been a blip on the radar of mainstream media outlets, and only then you begin to fathom why renowned Islamic TV preacher Yusuf Al Qaradawi would trade in his stature as an acclaimed Muslim scholar for a mere stooge of the Qatari royal family; customizing specific Fatwas from his platform on Al Jazeera channel to lend a religious cover for his deep-pocketed employers' acrid policies in the region, the last of which was when he bizarrely urged Muslims to wish ill upon the people of Iran during last year's Hajj season.
Unfortunately, this sectarian logic has become so pervasive that it's no longer confined within the walls of Gulf-funded mainstream-media outlets or among the ranks of their hired yes-men posing as intellectual elites and opinion-shapers; this divisive rhetoric have already seeped through into the public discourse of everyday life. The collective consciousness of our society is quickly becoming what it's feeding upon; what with this unrelenting cavalcade of blatant indoctrination and steadfast sectarian incitement we get every time we turn on the T.V. or surf the internet; in that sense; it's hardly surprising anymore when you hear political arguments among common people veer instantly towards an irrelevant, Aljazeera-influenced tirade against Shiism and the sinister threat of Iran, not to mention internet forums and Facebook pages where a full-fledged virtual war--oozing all manner of vile, bigoted language from both sides of the Sunni/Shiite divide--is raging on, especially when it comes to the Syrian conflict. Going through these forums is quite disheartening and exhaustible, but mostly it's just plain disgusting, and you come away with the conclusion that nothing matches the level of sectarianism and vulgarity of some of those online activists and supporters of the Syrian revolution except the level of utter idiocy and disconnection from reality that many of the Syrian regime's supporters suffer from.
The Arab Spring did bring us a fleeting glimpse of hope but now the revolutionary spirit is fading, lost and stampeded on; this dream utopian of change and ridding our region of every single dictator is stuck halfway into this quicksand of raging religious fundamentalism springing up in every nook and cranny of the Middle East along with the parasitic West's inglorious exploitation of the legitimate aspirations of the people. The short-lived days of civic movements, mass protests, and non violence seem like a distant fragmentary memory, now; we're only stuck with this hideous orgy of sectarianism and our daily dose of "Reality Television" of atrocities and counter-atrocities from both sides of the conflict in Syria. Apparently we should've read the fine print of it all.
Ahmad Barqawi, a Jordanian freelance columnist & writer based in Amman. He has done several studies, statistical analysis and researches on economic and social development in Jordan.