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Iran: Has Political Fundamentalism been Defeated? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Are the latest developments in Iran evidence that political Islam is weakening?

This is the question that comes to mind after having read some published articles in support of this conclusion, such as the article written by the well-known Kuwaiti journalist Abdul Latif al Duaij in the Kuwaiti Al Qabas newspaper on June 21 entitled, ‘Has the Civil Awakening Begun?’

In Lebanon, parliamentary elections were held recently and the opposition, led by the Khomeinist fundamentalist party, suffered an overwhelming defeat to the March 14 Alliance, which presents itself (in its own words) as a guardian of the concept of the state and an enemy to fundamentalist radicalism represented by Hezbollah as well as some Christian allies.

In Kuwait, after the dissolving of parliament in March 2009 as a result of the escalating attacks launched by Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood MPs against the government, another round of parliamentary elections was held. Four women were voted to parliament for the first time much to the disappointment of fundamentalist currents that campaigned against women’s political rights. Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood currents suffered heavy losses in those elections.

In Iraq, provincial elections were held and fundamentalist parties lost to other currents, some of which had simply changed their names such as the party that Nouri al Maliki belongs to (but that’s another story altogether!) In Karbala, an independent candidate, who does not belong to any fundamentalist party, managed to win and defy all the odds.

Are these examples enough to confirm that fundamentalist parties are losing ground?

It is important to state that each case has its own individual circumstances. What is happening in Iran is complicated. What we are seeing is the bigger picture, the details of which are not yet clear. These details are related to the social, political, religious, psychological and economic dimensions in Iran, all against a backdrop of cultural individuality and the pride of civilization embedded in the Iranian consciousness. Iran’s current predicament is a far cry from what happened in the battle between the March 14 Alliance and March 8 Coalition in Lebanon where there is manifold sectarian fanaticism as well as the sudden frostiness of the Syrian ally! Moreover, in Lebanon the vigilance of Sunni fanaticism is offset by its Shia counterpart, and the close proximity of Israel and the historic European role in Mount Lebanon are strongly felt.

We could say the same about Kuwait, where battles are being fought between those trapped behind the wall and those on the other side of it, those who have increased in wealth and status and those who have not based on what they believe in, and where Salafist excessiveness faces Shia extremism and where other developments are taking place outside of the parliament in other institutions.

With regards to Iraq, the issue is much more complex as Maliki’s iron fist has begun to tighten, conflict between coalition leaders has begun to surface, and elimination of old friends and the battle for power can now be seen as the political structure of Iraq has started to take shape. Everybody wants to remain within this developing structure so as not to be expelled from the circle of power and influence. The coalition was formed on this basis and this is what will break it up. This is what created the Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) Councils and pushed them to fight the Islamist party. But this is also another issue altogether.

Let us go back to what’s happening in Iran; we all know that Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezaee are legitimate products of the Khomeini womb. They have never spoken out against the constitution of the Islamic Republic, which was blessed by the author of the ‘Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist,’ Ayatollah Ali Khomeini.

So how can anyone say that Mousavi represents a revolution against the Islamic Revolution? What are the features of this counter-revolution on the conceptual level? Does Mousavi use a language that is based on an ideology that differs to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, not to mention of course Mehdi Karroubi or former AGIR Chief Commander Mohsen Rezaee? In fact, Mousavi repeatedly states that he is a staunch supporter of Khomeini legitimacy. Perhaps this is the way to understand the latest developments in Iran through the characters of the protest leaders, most prominently Mousavi, or perhaps not. The Iranian masses, the men, the women and the youth, are driven by much stronger motives than those of Mousavi and his associates. Mousavi is merely a symbol around which the masses can unite.

Generally speaking, in Iran or any other country, at present or at any other time, some political demands form over time.

It is difficult to say that we are facing a new phase of ideology and political climate on the Arab and Islamic streets based on these facts. It would be easier and safer to conclude that we are encountering a new “situation” and surprises from the Arab and Islamic masses. Who would’ve believed that Kuwaiti voters who had once elected strict, fundamentalist, isolated MPs would turn on them in a matter of months and for the first time elect far more moderate MPs, four of whom are women, as well as two liberals. Did this change in consciousness take place within a matter of months?

Fundamentalist currents and political Islamist groups still enjoy a vast majority amongst Arab and Muslim masses. But the public protests staged against them at times are merely protests against particular policies adopted by those parties or movements, or in the case of the Iranian regime, against its policies rather than its “base”. It is likely that these protests stemmed from the fact that the Iranian public has had enough of increasing tensions and confrontations, and their demand for better living conditions. For example, if the contention was between an Islamist who had conflicting policies and another Islamist with agreeable policies and a third who is a not a fundamentalist, but all three shared the same philosophy and ideological beliefs, the winner, in my opinion, would be the Islamist with agreeable policies.

Professor of Political Sciences at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran, Dr. Qayos Sayyid Imami’s analysis supports this idea. In an interview with the New York Times he spoke about the nature of the current political conflict in Iran and said, “One party seeks gradual development of democratic institutions and a more democratic interpretation of Islamic institutions, whereas the other party (Ahmadinejad’s supporters and Khamenei) seek a populist and totalitarian interpretation of Islam,” as quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The profound awareness of the importance of the concept of the civil state and the neutralization of religious slogans in political disputes is a kind of awareness that requires more experience and ongoing education in raising societies. But this has never happened in our Arab and Islamic world for many complicated reasons. So how can some of us assume that such a highly-aware movement exists when the awareness is yet to be formed?

Societies and the vigour of history have taught us that our social development goes through phases of continuous creation. Some elements and intertwined interests might combine to spark a Darwinist consciousness in a way that would make everybody’s jaws drop at the beauty of the surprise and the absolute capability of human beings to evolve.

The Iranian masses, especially the youth, has demonstrated a level of bravery and determination that has embarrassed the political leaders of Iran. This is true, and we are witnessing a spectacular moment in the history of our region. However, we must not be too optimistic or jump to conclusions.

In my own view, all the latest developments in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and most importantly Iran, indicate that there are less conflicting policies adopted by fundamentalist groups and states but this is not the case with their bases, ideologies and concepts. The story has only just begun with respect to this level of action.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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