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Film protests express a broader anger

As mass rallies and violent protests continue to sweep the Muslim world over an anti-Islam film made by US-based racists, the widespread reaction raises the question about whether the background to the protests is purely religious.

More than a dozen people have died since last Tuesday in protests sparked by the appearance on YouTube of a trailer for the crude, poorly made film, which is entitled Innocence of Muslims.

Yesterday, the  leader of Lebanon's Shia movement Hezbollah appeared in public for the first time since December 2011 to denounce the film which has sparked worldwide protests.

The scale of unrest is drawing comparisons with the Arab spring of 2011. Heading the list of mass protests, are Tunisia and Egypt, the very countries in which two entrenched and hated dictators were toppled last year.

The furore is prompting the question – is this primarily a religious protest? While some may be enthused – or shocked – by the crude religious sentiments and apparent intolerance of the demonstrators, the truth is more complex – but also, in some respects, more simple.

A global mapping of the protests reveals clearly that the notion that the background causes are purely religious – or indeed anti-Western – must be tempered. The countries with the largest Muslim populations, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, have seen relatively fewer violent protests and some large areas of the Muslim world have not been involved at all.

The fact is that Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia, and president Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen have been unable to satisfy the demands of the vast majority of their people. Indeed, the Egyptian president was in Brussels at the headquarters of the European Commission at the weekend seeking a €1bn loan.

The new rulers of Egypt and Libya, who are moderate Islamists, are under siege from the more fundamentalist Salafist parties and pro-Qaeda groups.  

Meanwhile, in Tunisia opponents of the new regime are being locked up and tortured after protests in the very same town where the self-immolation of a fruit seller sparked the original revolution of 2011 which toppled dictator president Ben Ali. Radhia Nasraoui, president of Tunisia's Organisation Against Torture, says that dozens of people are being tortured in the country’s jails.

But there is another force, much greater, at work. As one US blogger has noted: “Islamism is only the weaker expression of a broader anger against power in its domestic and foreign forms.”

The religious form masks what is a struggle for power by contending classes in the wake of incomplete revolutions. Those in power are deploying anti-imperialist and religious demagogy to trap those who believe, correctly, that their religion has been insulted.

The aspirations of the poor and dispossessed, as well as the lower middle classes, remain unfulfilled. The Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan notes: “What is irreversible in the Arab world is this intellectual revolution, the awakening that we can get rid of dictators. That is here, and the people have this sentiment and this political power. They feel that they can do it, and it’s still there.”

A different kind of secular, revolutionary leadership which can express and take forward the interests of the oppressed of all faiths, those of no faith, and minorities, is needed to ensure this awakening continues to flourish.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
18 September 2012

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Your Say

Joe Taylor says:

MediaLens backs up what you say Corinna.

Rachel says:

Interesting comment I often think I am trying to make sense out of nonsense its so disappointing to hear of torture continuing in Tunisia.

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