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After many years of suspecting and even branding any ideas coming from the West as treason or blasphemy, the entire world is now watching in shock as political Islamist groups take part in the democratic process, which is a concept they once considered a heresy and a means of westernizing and secularizing Arab society. These Islamists have mastered the tactics of the political game as required by the democratic process, in the same manner as their peers in the West, establishing political parties, coining slogans, and using the media in an effective and professional manner. These Islamist political parties are utilizing traditional media, as well as taking advantage of new digital media, via their official spokespersons and charismatic figures. They are also holding seminars and debates, launching their political campaigns in cities as well as villages, in order to contact and communicate with all generations and social segments of the electorate.

The superficiality and weakness in the heritage of this political doctrine [political Islam], not to mention the intellectual deficiency regarding the involvement of religion in politics and politics in religion – which can be summed up by the shortened slogan “Islam is the solution” – has forced these political parties to adopt slogans, principles and targets that they previously criticized and rejected. Here, we are talking about principles like human rights, women’s rights, equal citizenship and labour rights, not to mention other principles accepted and agreed upon by the international community. These principles and slogans had previously been objected to and opposed by extremist Islamists, being viewed as a “dangerous trap” which aims to “corrupt the Islamic ummah and its youth, destroying their future”, amongst other warnings and cautions.

Analysis of this phenomenon, namely the change which can be seen in political Islamist movements’ views towards the concept of democracy and their adoption of a “foreign” concept, utilizing this to fulfil “religious” objectives is something that can be split between two camps. One camp believes that political parties such as this are utilizing democracy on the grounds that “the end justified the means”, and therefore they can use democracy in a deceptive and cunning manner to gain power, and this does not contravene Islamic Sharia law. Whilst the other camp is of the view that a significant portion of the new generation of political Islamists strongly believes in the importance of changing and transforming their old views and stances, and that they must adopt the new concepts that are present internationally, in all societies and nations.

The forthcoming days will reveal the true reasons why religious trends, mostly Islamist movements, including the hard-line Salafist movement, took this route, even though they previously viewed democracy with suspicion. However despite this, they are now completely absorbed in this, following the same democratic approach that they once distained. Supporters of these political trends are attempting to explain this transformation as being part of a comprehensive review of their initial ideas, principles and objectives. I recall meeting somebody who was deeply fascinated by such discourse, in the presence of an adherent of a religious political trend. During the meeting, he advocated his “new” ideas, stressing that ides such as this can shift and develop in line with the requirements of the time. When asked about my opinion, I said “in this case, who is responsible for what was said previously regarding the calls for ‘jihad’ against unbelievers, not to mention labelling different societies as infidels, as well as the large number of youth who were killed as a result of such ideas and views?”

Islamist groups that are seeking to enter the political arena, raising the banner of religion, must listen carefully to what Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, particularly as he is one of the best examples of good governance with an Islamic flavour. He said that such organizations must adopt the concept of the civil state as the solution. It is clear that this is the best solution, and those who are rational should listen to this and learn their lesson, rather than argue stubbornly based on ignorance and arrogance.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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