The great poet Jarir Ibn Atiyah – metaphorically representing the liberal current here – had a famous encounter with Caliph Umar II, which is useful in considering the meteoric rise of the Islamists following the Arab Spring revolutions. Jarir was used to calling upon the caliphs and sultans, where he would attend their councils and meetings and earn his livelihood by reciting flattering poetry about them. However, after Umar II – who was known for his piousness – assumed the caliphate, Jarir attempted to pay him a similar visit and found the doors of the palace closed to him. On his way out, Jarir noticed a man wearing the turban and cloak of an Islamic cleric – metaphorically representing the Islamic current here – being led to meet the Caliph. Jarir told him “this is your era, my time has passed”. I must give honorable mention to the source of this story, my colleague Mshari al-Zaydi, who [like Jarir] also does not wear a turban!
So now it is the time of the Islamists, and they are leading the electoral scenes in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, and before that in Turkey, Palestine and Algeria, although the latter two examples were not the product of the Arab Spring and were later thwarted with the blessing of the Arab and Western world. As for Libya, it is a foregone conclusion [that the Islamists will win the elections], and I can tell you that this is not a short in the dark! As for those amongst the irreconcilably foolish who doubt the credibility of the electoral results highlighting the popularity of the Islamists, it would be impossible for the results of all the aforementioned countries to be rigged or forged.
Another mistake is when some intellectuals attribute these large electoral victories to the Islamists’ dominance over mosques, adopting them as informal headquarters for their election campaigns, as well as to slander their liberal opponents. This is a mistake because if we were to accept the validity of this hypothesis, then what about the previous deliberate and systematic slander of the Islamists on satellite television channels and in newspapers which were controlled by the ruling dictatorships, which have since been overthrown? What about the powerful and prevalent liberal elite? If this were the case, how could a small number of worshippers compete with all this? This is not to mention the movies, soap operas, dramas and plays that have tarnished the Islamists with descriptions of terrorism, extremism and backwardness. In fact, every possible means and outlet was utilized in the quest to discredit the Islamists. However, alongside this condemnation we are now witnessing the election polls, and the results of the free elections have proved the weakness of the roots of the liberal elite in the depth of the Arab masses.
It is important to note here that the dictatorships of liberal rulers, who were ousted, alongside their band of liberal intelligentsia, were one of the reasons behind the meteoric rise of the Islamists. Executions, destroyed livelihoods, detention centers, exile, expulsions, harassment, unfair dismissals, electoral fraud, a general lack of recognition for the Islamists, their parties and their charitable institutions only entrenched the Islamists’ popularity. All of the above made the Islamists appear – in front of the Arab masses – as the oppressed victims, in comparison to the corruption of their dictatorial leaders, their violence and looting of public funds. The Arab masses opted for the Islamic alternative that at the very least will respond to their conservative aspirations, which were ravaged by these dictatorships.
As for the argument that the Islamists are hijacking the current revolutions, this is unconvincing. It is true that the Islamists did not spark the revolutions; rather they joined them later like all other segments of society. However, the revolts in the Arab squares and streets were leaderless, so if the revolution has been hijacked, who has it been hijacked from? No one has a clear answer. If the Islamists truly believed the story that they hijacked the revolution, in a religious context, and decided to return the revolution back to its rightful owners, who should they return it to? Again no one can provide an adequate answer. The revolutionary masses who took to the streets and squares are different to the masses at the ballot boxes, because the revolutionaries in the squares merely demanded changes, whilst the ballot boxes actually elect people to implement these changes. There is a difference between demanding change and electing someone to enact it. The revolutions in the squares, despite their mass participation, now lack the masses to participate at the ballot boxes.