The popularity of the Islamists in all Arab states is unmistakable, and it has been used by various Islamist currents as a tool to reach power through the presidential and legislative elections in the countries of the Arab Spring. In light of this, there is now a deep concern in other Arab states that the Islamists there may achieve similar victories if elections were to be held.
The Gulf governments are capable of curtailing the Islamists’ popularity because this popularity does not stem from the achievements of the Islamists’ political programs. They have yet to be properly tested in this regard, with the exception of Turkey’s successful experience and Sudan’s failed one. Rather, the popularity stems primarily from the failures of autocratic ruling regimes. We saw this in the final rounds of the Egyptian presidential elections, between Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq. A considerable portion of the Egyptian people voted for President Morsi not out of love for the Muslim Brotherhood but out of hatred for the remnants of a corrupt, autocratic and failed regime. Even some of those who voted for President Morsi because of his Islamist orientation have expressed deep concern about the Muslim Brotherhood’s political experience, which in the past was limited to opposition, imprisonment, pursuits and detentions.
Gulf governments can get closer to their people by combating corruption, expanding public participation in the management of state affairs, and by reforming their media institutions to adopt a more conservative orientation. The final point is what I will focus on today: The Gulf states are in dire need of reforming their media policies in a manner that ensures their official or semi-official media outlets become more conservative. I do not mean this in the sense that they should become more Islamic or religiously orientated, but rather I mean they must display the minimum degree of moral and intellectual decency. Is there a relationship between lax media policies and the popularity of the Islamists? The relationship is clear; people detest any indecent media content, whether this is a moral or intellectual breach, and many believe the solution lies in the hands of the Islamist opposition. An initiative launched by Gulf governments to rectify their media policies would be a pre-emptive strike that could lessen the impact of the Islamists’ criticism. This criticism against the Gulf media is often met with a degree of acceptance by the Gulf people, and is also a reason why the Islamists’ programs gain votes.
The Mubarak regime insisted on clashing with the innate religious nature of its people and refused to allow veiled news broadcasters to appear on television, regardless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of women in Cairo are veiled, let alone women in more conservative Egyptian cities. This policy was not only unsuccessful, it produced adverse results. In Turkey, the extremist Turkish army used militant tactics to ban the hijab from government circles and universities for decades. However, the end result is that both the current president and prime minister of Turkey are Islamists, and their wives wear the hijab.