The other face of the Islamists (by Yeghig Tashjian)

9 Dec

The other face of the Islamists

Islamist parties in Arab countries that have chosen to participate in local elections, acknowledging the legitimacy of the constitutional institutions raises two major questions. Are they truly committed to democracy, and will participation have a positive influence pushing them to focus on public policy rather than ideology?

Who are those Islamists and what do they believe in? Originally Islamists want to turn a society into an Islamic society thus to impose the Islamic law, sharia, on the people.  Muslim brotherhood’s, a pan Islamic movement founded in 1928 in Egypt, credo was and is, “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal, as stated by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna was to reclaim Islam’s manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia. It preaches that Islam enjoins man to strive for social justice, the eradication of poverty and corruption, and political freedom but to the extent allowed by the laws of Islam, therefore any freedom outside the Islamic law is forbidden.  But this organization has undergone ideological transformation that justifies their participation in legal politics. First, they have accepted the legitimacy of the regimes, such as participating in parliamentary and municipal elections and in governments. Second, they have accepted that participation in politics is a mean to fight for their goals, gradually introduce Islamic policies. Third, they have accepted, with hesitation, that they have to accept the right to participation of parties with different ideologies, such as in Egypt where Muslim Brotherhood allied with secular parties and formed opposition against Mubarak’s regime. While majority of Salafist parties (for exception of Egypt) refuse to participate in elections, since they believe that democracy is western tool to destroy Islamic values.

During 1980s Islamic movements rejected the idea of pluralism, democracy and individual rights, instead they emphasized on communal rights. But during 1990s they allied with non-Islamic opposition parties. Hence by participating in elections they will have a political influence and will advance their cause.

In addition,Islamic movements have also religious and charitable organizations which provide social services, hence by the absence of a economically strong government these organization s will replace the later and attract more supporters. So why we must fear from them? The electoral victories of these parties such as in Tunisia and lately in Egypt, may be seen by seculars as dangerous, because once in power they could abolish the democratic system and impose a theocracy since they believe that  the Islamic law must be a basic law. If we go back to modern history, we may conclude that the fear of the seculars is somehow justified, during 1979 Iranian revolution which overthrew the secular shah, Iranians from different political backgrounds, Socialists, Liberals, Islamists participated in their historical revolution and overthrew the Shah, but Islamists took power stole the revolution and arrested the non-Islamic leaders of the country and imposed a theocracy. So why such thing can’t happen in the Arab world, after the Arab Spring? In some Arab countries Islamists came to power as a result of corruption by the secular nationalist ruling classes, such as in Palestine, where due to PLO’s corruption Hamas came to power. The ruling classes imposed secularism on the society, something where Arabs weren’t familiar with it,and Islamists opposed this idea and  they were suppressed. Hence when regimes worked to prevent Islamic movement from successes these movements used violence and armed struggle against the regime.

A clear example was in Syria, where Baathists tried their best to destroy the Islamist elements in Syria. In August, September and November 1981, the Brotherhood carried out three car-bomb attacks against government and military targets in Aleppo and Damascus, killing hundreds of people, according to the official press. On 2 February 1982, the Brotherhood led a major insurrection in Hama, rapidly taking control of the city; the military responded by bombing Hama (whose population was about 250,000) throughout the rest of the month, killing between 10,000 and 30,000 people. The tragedy of Hama marked the defeat of the Brotherhood, and the militant Islamic movement in general, as a political force in Syria.

Arab Spring, lead to the rise of the Islamists in their countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Islamists participated in revolutions  but they were behind the scenes they never took extreme steps, while the youth were fighting the security forces, Islamists used to organize themselves and make secret deals with the military elite such as in Tunisia and Egypt. The defeat of the seculars marked as a new beginning in Tunisia and Egypt, while minorities such as Christians felt that these electoral results will lead to their “departure” from their ancient homelands. Rights activists on Monday, December 5, condemned the election victory of Egypt’s “anti-Christian” “radical Islamists” in round one of the country’s first parliamentary elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February.”Sadly, Egyptian Christians are entering into a time of intense persecution,” said Aidan Clay, regional manager for the Middle East of advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC). “The worst fears of many Egyptian Christians and secularists are now becoming a reality,” he told BosNewsLife. While on the other hand political activist, Wael Ghonim, described the fear of Islamists coming to power as ‘exaggerated’. The real significance lies not in which party reaches parliament, Ghonim said, but its performance once it reaches it. He added that the upcoming parliament should focus on eliminating unemployment and poverty. Speaking Tuesday night on “Masr El Gedeeda with Moe’tez” program Ghoneim added, “It makes no difference to me whether Egypt is a civil or religious state so long as it is correctly run politically and economically. The most important thing is to improve Egypt’s economy”. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership appears more willing to adopt certain “AKPisms” like a secular state and a market economy, while its political base is far more ideological and less open to these kinds of reforms. Moving forward, it’s far from certain that the AKP model will be “Islamic” enough for certain strains of the Egyptian Islamist movement.

On the other side, Egyptian liberals share many of the same fears as some of their Turkish counterparts. There is the irrational fear that the import of Turkey’s “Islamist” model will pave the way for the erosion of the state’s civil legal code in favor of Shariah. Far from being a minor political influence, the conglomerate of “secular” groups will certainly be a major factor in determining Egypt’s political future moving forward. Hence the seculars will reorganize themselves to try their best to monitor the Islamists and this may happen only when seculars make a deal with the nationalist military elites. While the former leader of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood said he wanted a “democratic” Syria, not an Islamic state to replace the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, Agence France-Presse reported. “We support the establishment of a modern, civil, democratic state,” Ali al-Bayanouni told a conference organized by the Brookings Doha center in the Qatari capital.

Generally within these Islamic movements there are tensions and disagreements; some want democracy and work with non-Islamic parties, while others such as the Jihadist salafists believe that Islamic law must be imposed and support the establishment of a theocratic state. Hence minorities and seculars can use these tensions as a tool so that they can participate in coalition governments with moderate Islamist and monitor them from within. Another tension is whether Muslims and non-Muslims, men and woman are equal under Islamic law, and do they accept a non-Muslim president?

In conclusion, there are facts we can’t change it, Islamists are taking control, like pan-Arabists took control in 1950s, it’s a new era people must deal with it, try their best to prevent a 1979 Iranian like scenario but accept the reality, organize themselves and monitor the new ruling elites. This is called a democracy, a test for the seculars and Islamists.

Yeghig Tashjian


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