Skip to main content

Arab Spring nations don't yet grasp freedom of dissent

By Ed Husain, Special to CNN
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/11/middleeast/gallery/cairo-embassy/index.html'>View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012.</a> Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012.
HIDE CAPTION
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Husain: Arab uprisings have ousted tyrants, but citizens still don't fully grasp democracy
  • He says intolerance can endure among people reared under dictatorships
  • He says they could learn from Europe's 17th century religious battles
  • Husain: Mohammed taught mildness, forgiveness. Where is that amid Islamists today?

Editor's note: Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Islamist." He can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain

(CNN) -- The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies. There is often a period in which we witness the legacy of tyranny. The Arab uprisings have overthrown tyrants in Egypt and Libya, but the populations and lawmakers have yet to grasp that democracy is not only about free elections but creating free societies.

When sexual harassment of women increases on the streets of Egypt, when centuries-old shrines of Muslim saints are destroyed with explosives in Libya, when screenings of films such as "Persepolis" trigger riots in Tunisia and Christian minorities across the Middle East feel under siege, then we must stop pretending that all is well with the Arab Spring. But all is not lost either.

Arab societies are on a journey. They can easily take the wrong turn. The attacks on the American embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen are examples of the ongoing presence of intolerant, tyrannical actors in Arab societies.

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

These are people who were born and raised in dictatorships. They are accustomed to thinking that a government controls its citizens -- that a film or documentary cannot be produced without government approval. For decades, this has been the reality of their lives, and they strongly believe that the Western world and its citizens have a similarly controlling relationship between individuals and government.

In light of this assumption, they hold the U.S. government responsible for the tacky and distasteful film produced by a right-wing Muslimphobe.

News: Who is responsible for film at the heart of protests?

World destabilized after 'Arab Spring'?
Does U.S. need to up security abroad?
Where is the 'Arab Spring' heading?
Morsy violence response 'four days late'

Little wonder, then, that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has called for the prosecution by the U.S government of the filmmakers, and Egypt's top cleric, Mufti Ali Goma, has called on the United Nations to forbid denigration of faiths. Morsy studied in the United States and Ali Goma regularly visits the West on the interfaith circuit, yet both men don't yet grasp that religious freedom and the freedom of expression are inextricably linked in America.

It is hard for younger Arabs not born into freedom to understand how individual liberty works in real life.

The freedom to proselytize also guarantees the right to apostatize. Heresy and blasphemy are essential parts of free and democratic societies. Arab activists cannot seek to emulate the West's political and social achievements by looking at the United States and Europe today, but must observe and learn from the religious battles of 17th-century Europe, the smashing of the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church, the ending of burning witches and the forbidding of hanging heretics.

It is this history of unbolting the doors of dissent that led to the conditions in which John Locke and John Stuart Mill could write and think freely and then influence Thomas Jefferson and the other U.S. Founding Fathers. There are no shortcuts to freedom, except to learn from the mistakes of the West in the past.

The Arab uprisings are not over yet. They are still unfolding and shaping the future. This culture of shouting and killing those with whom Muslims disagree must end. When the Prophet Mohammed's companions shouted "Allahu Akbar," (meaning "God is Greatest," a popular slogan for those yelling outside embassies today) the prophet reprimanded them saying "Our Lord is not deaf."

Bergen: Extremists and leaders incite violent protests

When a Bedouin Arab entered the most sacred mosque of the prophet in Medina and violated its sanctity by urinating in this place of divinity, the prophet cleansed the mosque himself and forbade anybody from even reprimanding the Bedouin, let alone attacking the man. This is the way of the Prophet Mohammed. Where is this spirit of mildness, forgiveness and compassion amid Islamist activists today?

The millions of protestors last year in Arab capitals that chanted "hurriyah, karamah, adala ijtima'iyya" or "freedom, dignity and social justice" cannot allow for the emotions of bigots to derail their revolution.

Freedom is not only about majority rule, but ensuring that women, religious minorities and intellectual dissenters are able to flourish without fear.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Husain.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT