Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Arab revolutions’ painful concessions | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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As I indicated in a previous article, among the numerous outcomes of the Arab revolutions, we cannot discount the influence and strength of Islamic currents. In the same article, I argued that this is not to say that they will single-handedly dominate the political arena, even if they take control of parliament and the government. I stressed that Islamic currents must “offer painful concessions”, until they fully integrate into the political process with all its layers and complexities. In this article, I also pointed out that the same applies for current governments, for they cannot enjoy full stability unless they offer “painful concessions” as well, something that may contradict their liberal trend. The greatest error that compounded the collapse of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, among other reasons, was the state of intense antagonism between the governments and – let us not say the Islamist currents – the conservative category, constituting a significant majority in both countries.

When I use the term “currents”, I do not only mean the well-known conventional Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, al-Tabligh and others, but this term also incorporates the affiliates of formal and informal Islamic institutions such as scholars, sheikhs and jurists. By the very nature of the current state of affairs, Islamic currents remain the most influential, organized, and often the most capable of mobilizing the masses. Hence, Arab governments must endeavour towards full reconciliation with such trends, and integrate them into the new regimes, because – whether they like it or not – the Islamists have become part of the geography of these countries. The new leaderships should handle them in the same manner that they must cope with and incorporate mountains, valleys, deserts and climates.

The existing Arab governments, or those which have emerged as a result of the Arab revolutions, should be conscious that every instance of antagonism with the Islamists will lend more public support to their rival Islamic currents – whether moderate or extremist. We all remember the exclusion policy exercised by the Palestinian Authority against its rival Hamas, a situation that ultimately ended up in favour of the latter, granting it overwhelming popularity. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Jordan, the government somewhat coexisted with the Islamic current there by granting it some concessions, and the Islamists only gained 20 per cent of the vote in the general elections.

The damning characteristic inherent in the collapsed regimes in the Arab world was a state of schizophrenia; separating the top from the bottom, separating the government’s practices from the street’s status. For instance, the media in these countries tended to be excessively open, causing their people to feel that it represented other people. Thus, it was customary when watching the media in some Arab countries to see a female television presenter appearing on screen without a veil, whilst in her news report the overwhelming majority of women in the street would be veiled. In fact, how are veiled women represented in the official media, with all its satellite channels, newspapers and radio programs? This is a very simple example which I intentionally put forth to make the image apparent. Besides this, there are other more significant issues in which people’s views have not been taken into consideration, with regards to several political, educational, economic, social and artistic affairs.

The Gulf States’ experience with Islamic currents is not ideal, but it is somewhat reasonable. Even if it varies from one state to another, there are two common denominators: The first is avoiding violent, ideological clashes with Islamic movements, for there are no dancehalls, bars or nightclubs (despite the unfortunate exceptions which completely contrast with the conservative nature of the local citizens). The second is the Gulf States’ ability, with their various experiences, to incorporate Islamic trends into their government institutions by giving them a free hand in civil work, such as in charitable organizations. As a result of such “integration”, these countries have managed to distinguish a broad and moderate Islamic category from the hardliners, Takfiris and terrorists.