Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Is this the time of the Islamists? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In some Gulf states, as well as many other Arab states, Islamists are endeavouring to play a larger political role, believing that this is the time of the Islamists, or rather the time of “political Islam.” At this point, we must clarify that when we use the term “Islam” in this instance, we are not talking about Islam as a religion or Muslims in general, but rather the political groups that use Islam as a name, in the same manner that some people incorporate the term “nationalism” or “liberalism” in the name of their political parties. However this is nothing more than a name being used by political groups, and does not mean that others are infidels, traitors or slaves. The name is just an attractive slogan whose objective is to garner popularity, legitimacy, immunity and power for the political groups in question.

The problem is not the Islamists’ right to the presidency should they win the elections, as has happened in Egypt and prior to this Tunisia. The real problem lies in the present interpretation of history. When Muhammad Mursi won the presidency of Egypt and took the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court, this victory was echoed throughout our region not because he had won the elections but rather because he had taken power! Some people were confused about what this moment actually meant. Some Islamists, as well as their opponents, considered it to be the beginning of a rule that is no different than the military rule. They believe that Mursi and his companions will remain in power for another 60 years until they too are forcibly removed. Whilst the Islamists considered this to be their crowning moment in history, and senior Muslim Brotherhood member, Safwat Hijazi, joyously proclaimed: “This is the time of the United Islamist States.”

Some people believe that the new system regarding the transition of power will be precisely the same as the old, namely that rule is to be plundered. This is also the opinion of those who are angry over the victory of the Islamists and want to deny them the right to rule.

I have an opinion on this matter, and this is not a new one. I believe that contemporary Islamists are important for the development of the concept of the state. They can contribute to the building of a system of rule that will achieve stability and progress. The reason behind the failure of Egypt was that the revolution of 1952 – which brought the military to power – annulled all other powers including the Al-Wafd Party and the Islamists. This is also because some of the Islamists understanding of the concept of the state emanated from their conflict with Mubarak and the presidents that came before him. They have therefore been unable to absorb the concept of the civil state, namely a state not based on religion or the military. If the Islamists learn to understand and appreciate the civil state, they will have better luck in government than their opponents, particularly as Mursi came to power via the ballot boxes. However if they turn their back on the civil state like Hamas did in Gaza, they will lose all the gains they have made and Egypt will enter an endless state of conflict.

I do not imagine that the Egyptians, who got rid of totalitarian military rule, will succumb to a similar form of religious rule. It is not true that people will accept anybody who raises the slogan of Islam. The Al Qaeda organization has attempted to use the motto of Islam and failed. The rulers in Sudan raised the banner of Islam and also failed. Iran is the best example of a country that uses Islam as a cover, and it also has failed. The Iranian rule is using the name of Islam, whilst in reality it possess all the shortcomings of Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, in terms of corruption, oppression and administrative failure.

We must also not forget that what is happening in Egypt is a liberal democratic change, not the imposition of an Islamic caliphate. After much deliberation, the Islamists of Egypt named themselves the Freedom and Justice Party. This is a liberal name, expressing the Islamists understanding of the new political culture. It also demonstrates the Islamists awareness that the majority of those who risked their lives and got rid of Mubarak were university students, studying at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, rather than al-Azhar University. These students, who were among the first to take to the streets against Mubarak, did not vote for Mursi during the recently-concluded presidential elections. Whilst it is true that their candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, did not win, they nevertheless remain a large proportion of Egyptian society, just less than half of all eligible voters. As for the current political system in Tunisia, this is a liberal one, just like the political system in Egypt, despite the fact that the rulers in both countries are Islamists.