Archive for the ‘speeches worth taking notice’ category

Three years on, is it an Arab Spring or Islamist Fall? – Veeramalla Anjaiah

December 20, 2013

December 20, 2013

Three years ago, a policewoman insulted a small Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, by slapping him in public and seizing his vegetable cart in the town of Sidi Bouzid.

With the humiliation and injustice, the helpless Bouazizi on December 17, 2010, set himself on fire in protest. His self-immolation ignited a much bigger fire in North Africa and the Middle-east, which became popularly known as the “Arab Spring”.

In the beginning, many people were stunned by the rapid spread of the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Yemen, which was unprecedented in the recent history of Arab people.

It could be compared only to the great 1916 Arab revolt against the Ottoman rulers. The unrest turned into bloody battles and sounded a death knell for Arab despots like Zine Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, who were all overthrown.

The early joy and enthusiasm generated from the fall of these Arab dictators didn’t last long and were replaced by bitterness and a sense of impending apocalypse.

According to various estimates, around 180,000 people were killed in the three years since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The United Nations estimates that more than 120,000 people have been killed in the brutal Syrian civil war alone.

Around 30,000 to 50,000 people were killed in the Libyan revolution. The tumult in the Arab world has displaced more than 6 million people, many of whom have lost everything in the conflict.

According to HSBC bank estimates, more than US$800 billion has been lost in the three years of unrest.

The lackadaisical response from both Western countries and progressive and secular forces in the Arab world provided a golden opportunity for Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahada (Renaissance Party) in Tunisia and the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party in Morocco to fill the power vacuum and reap rewards from the Arab Spring. A similar situation has existed in Libya, Yemen and other countries. In many nations, extremist Salafist groups also exploited the situation.

But the outcome has not been uniform. Morocco and Jordan rightly anticipated the power of Arab Spring and acted quickly to fulfill the aspirations of the people by introducing political and economic reforms. Both Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Jordanian  King Abdullah II, who are very popular in their countries and close friends of the US and many European countries, played a key role in creating a model for Arab Spring nations, avoiding bloodshed.

US President Barack Obama praised the Moroccan king for his bold economic and political reforms recently during the latter’s visit to Washington.

The regimes in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and other Arab states also survived the wrath of the masses by doling out cash handouts or repressive crackdowns. The decades-long state of emergency was lifted in Algeria.

Even after three years, the revolution is not yet finished and has brought more misery, death and destruction to millions of people. The Arab world has now transformed into a troubled region with no immediate modus vivendi in the near future. Women’s rights have been suppressed by Islamist-dominated parliaments and governments. New sharia-hued restrictions on tourism destroyed the livelihoods of many Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans.

What went wrong with the Arab Spring? For many, it was either an Islamist Fall or a Salafi Winter, as authoritarian regimes were substituted for theocratic regimes.

But the main demands of the masses caught up in the Arab Spring were freedom of expression, human rights, democracy, enhanced inclusion in both economic and political life, jobs for educated youth, social justice, women’s emancipation and good governance.

Apart from the long accumulated suffering under authoritarian regimes, many people saw the Arab Spring as being driven by Al-Jazeera and other Arab channels as well as social media.

The role of electronic media in creating a full-fledged revolution is also an unprecedented trend. Another factor that contributed to the revolution was unemployment among educated youth.

“It is still a major problem in many Arab countries. The unemployment among educated young people is very high and the governments are not in a position to provide suitable jobs for these people,” Yassin Majdi, a Moroccan journalist said recently in Rabat.

In 1998, Indonesia celebrated its own spring called Reformasi (Reformation). There were similarities between the Arab Spring and Reformasi. Both were intended to topple the existing regimes. Despite all its shortcomings, Indonesia emerged as a stable democracy, the third-largest in the world, proving Islam and democracy are compatible.

Economically, it emerged as one of the 20 top economies in the world. Given this success, what lessons can Indonesian Reformasi offer to the Arab Spring?

It is true that the three-year period of the Arab Spring is a short time to assess a transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy. Indonesia saw four presidents from 1998 to 2004. It took the nation six years to become an icon of democracy and stability.

The only difference between Indonesia’s Reformasi and the Arab Spring is that Indonesia chose secular and nationalistic parties rather than Islamist parties in all the democratic elections it has held since 1998. The new leaders promoted democracy, stability, pluralism, economic development and human rights as their top priorities.

The new Arab leaders, whose parties were long suppressed under dictatorial regimes, tried to impose a religious agenda on people who were demanding more freedom, jobs, democracy and economic development.

Late Bouazizi and millions of people who took to the streets never sought an Islamic regime. What they wanted was very simple: freedom, democracy, jobs, reforms and social justice.

Time will tell whether the Arab Spring will transform into an Islamic Fall or Salafist Winter. – The Jakarta Post, December 20, 2013.

* Veeramalla Anjaiah is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

Speech by Berita Harian editor Guntor Sadali, at the Berita Harian

August 18, 2010

It is a fact known to all that Malays in Singapore is a minority. However this minority is quite different from other minorities in the world.
Similarly, to some, Singapore is just a red dot in this vast Asian region. But it is no ordinary red dot.

It is a grave mistake to equate size with ability, just as it is wrong to assume that being small and in the minority is to be weak and insignificant.

The recent World Cup proved this. While Spain may be the world champion, it was minnow Switzerland that became the only country in the tournament that was able to defeat Spain.

Forty-five years have passed since Singapore left Malaysia, yet every now and then we still hear non-complimentary comments from across the Causeway about the Malay community here.

The latest came from former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who casually reminded Malaysian Malays not to become like Singaporean Malays. He did not make it clear what he actually meant, but the comment was made in the context of the possibility of Malaysian Malays losing their power in Malaysia. Again he did not specify what type of power, but it could safely be interpreted as political power.

Now, what could have happened to the Malays here in the last four decades? What could have driven Dr Mahathir to voice his concern and to caution the Malaysian Malays? I wonder.

The Malay community in Singapore, of course, know what has become of us here. First and foremost, we have become a completely different community from what we were 45 years ago. We have developed our own identity and philosophy of life that are distinct from our relatives across the Causeway.

We may wear the same clothes, eat the same food, speak the same language and practise the same culture. However, the similarities end there.

We are now a society that uphold the philosophy of wanting to stand on our own feet, or what is known in Malay as ‘berdikari’ or ‘berdiri atas kaki sendiri’.

We do not believe in being spoon-fed or being too dependent on government help. In other words, we do not have a crutch mentality.
We definitely do not want to be labelled as a pampered and lazy community. That is why our Malay community here constantly work hard to raise funds to build our own mosques, madrasahs and other buildings in expensive and land-scarce Singapore.

Over the years we have raised millions of dollars to become proud owners of these buildings. Through our own efforts and with the help of other organisations, we have also helped the needy not only financially, but also in equipping them with new skills so that they can earn their living.

For Dr Mahathir, however, all that we have done and achieved so far are not good enough. He takes a negative view of our changed attitudes and different mindset, and has therefore cautioned Malaysian Malays not to be like us.

What about power? For Malays in Singapore, power is not about wielding the keris. For us, knowledge is power. In fact we believe that knowledge is THE real power.

The constant emphasis by the community on the importance of education and acquiring knowledge has led to the formation of institutions such as Mendaki, Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), the Prophet Mohamad Birthday Memorial Scholarship Board (LBKM) and many others. These self-help organisations not only provide financial help to needy students, but also strive to nuture our students to their full potential.

At the same time, these organisations help to tackle various social ills faced by the community. Again, we do these all on our own. Malay children here attend the same schools as other Singaporeans with a shared aim – to obtain a holistic education and, of course, achieve good examination results.

Yes, it is tough. Like all other children, our Malay students have no choice but to work hard. It is a reality of life in Singapore that we have come to accept – that there is certainly no short cut to success.

We do not believe in getting any special treatment, because it would only reduce the value of our achievements and lower our dignity.

The meritocratic system that we practise here is, without doubt, a tough system but it helps us to push ourselves and prevent us from becoming ‘manja’ and ‘malas’. Still, Dr Mahathir and some Malay leaders across the Causeway do not like the way we do things here and have therefore warned Malaysian Malays not to be like us. On our part, there is certainly no turning back.

Meritocracy has proven to be a good and fair system. It pushes us to work hard and makes us proud of our achievements. We can see how it has benefitted us by looking at the growing number of doctors, lawyers, magistrates, engineers, corporate leaders and other professionals among us.

It is the successes and achievements of some of these people that Berita Harian wants to highlight and celebrate when we launched this Achiever Award 12 years ago.

Tonight, we have another role model to present to our community. So, the question is: Shouldn’t our friends and relatives across the Causeway be like us [WINDOWS-1252?]– Malays in Singapore?

It is definitely not for us to suggest or decide. And we too have no intention of asking our own community if we would like to be like them either, because we have already chosen our very own path for the future.

We, the Malays in Singapore, should be proud of our achievements, because we have attained them through hard work.

It is true that what we have achieved so far may not be the best, and that we are still lagging behind the other races. There are large pockets in our community facing various social problems.

We have achieved so much, and yet there is still a long way to go. But we should not despair. We can do a lot more on our own if the community stay united and cohesive. In critical issues, we should speak with one voice.

We need to help and strengthen each other while at the same time reach out to the other communities in multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore. A successful and prosperous Singapore can only mean a successful and prosperous Malay community.