Arab world's near-100% vote for a Presidential candidate
With over 220,000 people dead since 2011 and the country literally reduced to rubble, Syria's dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, has conducted an election in his "re-conquered" territories to anoint him as President for another 7 years. Many called them sham elections, with Britain terming it a "parody of democracy". Assad has won a landslide victory in the poll securing 88.7% of the vote - which could only take place in regime-held areas.
Three years after the spontaneous protest against the Assad regime failed, Syria has become the world leader in forced displacement, with more than 9 million of its people uprooted from their homes. According to the UNHCR, "2,563,434 Syrians have registered as refugees in neighbouring countries or are awaiting registration. With displacement inside Syria having reached more than 6.5 million, the number of people in flight internally and externally exceeds 40 per cent of Syria's pre-conflict population. At least half of the displaced are children."
Between the atrocities from the regime and its brutal enemies who are engaged in a proxy war, ordinary Syrian refugees - both outside and people internally displaced - have been going through a hellish life; the historic land, Bilad al-Sham, has now become a pariah state.
Not far from Syria, the Arab world's most populous country (Egypt) has also recently elected a strong man as its President. The former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who has vowed to destroy his main political rival (the Muslim Brotherhood), won nearly 97% of the vote with a low turnout of just 47%. Cairo's Tahrir Square, once a symbol of a bloodless revolution, is now barren. Egypt's reactionary army, bolstered by financial support from Gulf autocracies, nipped the democratic experiment in the bud. The 'Arab Spring' has ended up with a desert whirlwind, at least for the time being.
The Arab world will never be free unless their near-100% vote gaining tin-pot dictators are replaced by a new breed of leaders who need integrity, political inclusiveness and competence, and can then muster enough popular support to introduce dignity, freedom and human rights to the region.
These are the dark days for the Arab people, but there needs to be a rekindling of a hope that their world will change one day - sooner, rather than later. The Arab awakening that started with the self-immolation of an ordinary grocery-seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, on 17 December 2010 in Tunisia, created a spark of imagination in ordinary people and will never die. The scenes of Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011 will always haunt Arab dictators.
Need for a new breed of leadership
For most of the past 100 years global hegemonic powers have played havoc with the Middle East and its people. The Arabs were encouraged to rise up against the Ottomans with the promise of 'milk and honey'. This, in reality, brought more ignominy for them. The result was the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire with all its destructive consequences, the division of the great Arab people into small fiefdoms with dictators imposed on them and a change of boundaries that furthered the division. The leaders that emerged in this hegemonic experiment had little knowledge of their history or love for their own people. People who do not know their past are doomed.
Lacking a sense of direction, many in the Arab leadership have forgot the spirit, message and teachings of Islam that made Arab people great. With the loss of a moral compass they have become engrossed in new forms of tribalism - Secular, Sectarian and Political. Ordinary people, under a divisive leadership, are being used as pawns in grand games. The fault-lines developed between Sunni-Shia, Secularists-Islamists and Brotherhood-Salafist have sapped the Arab energy and are being used by regional and global players to weaken them further and subjugate them for a longer period. This reminds us of the features of pre-Islamic Arabia. Present day Arabs do not need enemies any more, as they themselves have become their enemies.
The days of dictators and absolute monarchs cannot continue long. Syrian President Assad, Egyptian army chief-turned politician and other corrupt monarchs cannot give anything to their people. Their incompetence, corruption and dislike for human rights will only bring their countries to their knees. One day, we hope not far, people will take these autocrats to task. It is only a matter of time this new awakening is coming and new leaders are emerging.
If only the new breed of leaders prepares the ground and future uprisings are handled with more care, subtlety and political competence - using head before heart and with a genuine love for their people - the Arab people will be great again by being free from its current dark days of tyranny and humiliation.
(Dr) Muhammad Abdul Bari is an author and commentator on social and political issues. He was the former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.