This Is Not an Islamic Awakening
By: Talal Khoujah Translated from An-Nahar (Lebanon).
After the third phase of the Egyptian People's Council elections, and the confirmation that the Islamists, in all their varieties, won two-thirds of the votes, many shouted "We told you so" - especially given that, in all the countries in which free elections were held, the Islamists were the favorites, even if to varying degrees.
About This Article
While Islamists have been elected to power across the region, Talal Koujah maintains that the experience of governing is likely to have a moderating influence on the policies of these parties, notably in Egypt. In Syria, however, sectarian tensions are on the rise, and the conflict threatens to spill across its borders.Publisher: An-Nahar (Lebanon)
We are not Facing an Islamic Awakening, and Certainly not a Jihadist One
Author: Talal Khoujah
First Published: February 14, 2012
Posted on: February 15 2012
Translated by: Erin OHalloran
The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood won 47% of the votes in Egypt was no great surprise; however, the big shock was that the Salafists came in second with a quarter of the votes.
A great deal has been written in an attempt to interpret these results. It is true that the revolution expressed the people’s rejection of tyranny and economic, developmental, social and cultural backwardness. It is also true that the young revolutionaries demanded freedom, namely the individual freedom that leads to liberation of the mind. However, this “free” vote evoked all the vestiges of [Egypt’s] social structures - especially the religious one, which was the form of submission and confrontation for oppressive, tyrannical regimes that failed in development as well as nationally.
It is a fact that repression affected Islamists, liberals and leftists alike. However, the liberals and the leftists suffered from crises of thought and structure that led them to be idle and to political confusion. Large groups of liberals even showed some similarities to the regime, pushing a lot of people to look at them as the regime’s rearguard. In fact, some of them did act as the regime’s rearguard.
Let us start by establishing some points:
First, the tyrannical regimes [established] following the 1948 defeat [of the Arab states in their war with Israel] outlived their era, and were meant to come to an end - [regardless of] who they mobilized, lured or exploited, and no matter how modern they represented themselves to be - mostly as a result of abuse of power and corruption. Some of [these regimes] actually have been ousted.
Second, the revolutions began as popular uprisings without asking permission from anyone. It is clear that they are continuing, even with the intensified difficulties of brutal repression and the complexities of [competing] Arab, regional and international interests.
Third, although there are common denominators between all the Arab revolutions, they each have their own [unique] aspects and methods, which are often peaceful in the face of guns. Despite their individual slogans and difficulties, their goals represent values and hopes for the future against the past, modernity in the face of underdevelopment, and openness in defiance of insularity.
Fourth, elections are the major manifestation of democracy; however, they do not immediately reflect the size and the aspirations of the power of the rebellious youth who are still disorganized. The history of revolutions has witnessed the ups and downs and complexities in the process of structural change. Revolutions are also affected by foreign conflicts, especially in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse.
There are many factors that have contributed to the enlargement of the Islamists’ victory, such as the scattered forces of the liberals and the rush of the youth - leftists and secularists - for a permanent state of confrontation. Meanwhile, the Islamic forces that had been longer-established and which were closer to the people - especially in poorer and rural areas - worked to capitalize on the situation, including [participating] in demonstrations in areas where they have been poorly represented in the past. During the elections, they were able to translate [these activities] into votes. Some believed in the miraculous possibility of an automatic change following the uprisings. Thus, a classic Western approach to running elections was imitated, apparently under the impression that [Egyptian voters] could be dealt with [in a manner totally alien to Egyptian society.] With this in mind, please note the following observations:
1- The election has been free and fair, but it did not reflect the actual support enjoyed by the parties and movements that participated. This is especially the case for the forces associated with the revolutionary youth, who lack experience and organizing skills. It should also be noted that Islamist parties were flooded with funding, and their offices have subsequently cropped up like mushrooms in some countries.
2- The democratic rise of the Islamists - even the Salafists, and even in a big country such as Egypt - is not a problem. Religion and fanaticism have influenced even the oldest democracies. We have examples of religious, ethnic, or class fanatics reaching power in the Zionist state, the United States and some European countries. Conservatives and fanatics have tried for a long time to pass laws hostile to the liberties and rights of certain groups. Thus, it is natural to expect attempts to [revoke] the gains made during the revolutions through "legislative/legal" means - namely for women, culture, and some freedoms - including the freedom of belief. This is so although women, Copts and many artists and intellectuals have made up the very foundation of the revolutions, which could still bring them to power. This would require preparing for a battle for the abolition of all forms of discrimination, as the second pillar of democracy is drafting a constitution that protects individual and public liberties.
3- We are not facing an Islamic awakening and certainly not a jihadist one, as the two aspects of extremism, brutal tyranny and Al-Qaeda terrorism are coming to an end. The splendor of the Islamists’ victory will soon vanish when they find themselves faced with fundamental issues, primarily related to domestic policy and [whose sources and solutions] are interrelated and interdependent. [In facing these challenges,] resort to a higher power may be helpful; but a large degree of progress is also required, especially in light of economic globalization. [In these domains,] there is no Islamic treatise to resort to; instead, overlapping and consecutive steps [should be taken,] based on experience, knowledge and scientific research. It is in this way that Islamists - who tend to be reserved by nature - [will find common ground with liberals], and will find that they are not easily able to resort to repression when they hit a dead end. [Should they attempt repression,] they will be faced by rebels with various sets of ideologies and beliefs who do not fear the military, the security forces or [regime-sponsored] thugs.
We do not underestimate the disturbing signals and statements made by some extremists. However, we clearly see a moderate trend that tends towards reassuring alliances [i.e. with moderate/secular parties] for most Muslim Brotherhood leaders. We also note with interest the statement of Al-Azhar, which is almost a constitution and a comprehensive working plan for a liberal, civil society. This is the main reason that we are optimistic about the results of the next stage, where [political movements], ideas and experiences will be shaped in preparation for the upcoming elections. There will be interactions, confrontations and conflicts that may be violent. Despite the importance of the Palestinian issue, no one will benefit from hiding behind it during times of failure, especially as the dictatorial regimes have already exhausted this matter. It is to be noted that the conflict with Israel has Arab, Muslim and national aspects that cannot be ignored, and that partly explain the pattern in the US approach to dealing with the Arab Spring.
As we go East, we see that the Syrian regime is still in denial, using blatant tyranny and contributing to the concerns of some groups that it has turned into minorities. The regime has enshrined fanaticism and factional interests and brought the country to the brink of civil war, while taking advantage of the political geography that puts Syria in an important regional and strategic location. Syria has presented itself as a pawn of Russia, in the belief that we are headed towards a new Cold War. It also subscribes to the regional ambitions of Iran, which needs Syria as a passage to Hezbollah, Iran’s window on the Mediterranean. Finally, we cannot forget the hints of war on the [Syrian] border with Israel, which until now has remained as cold as the snow of Jabal al-Sheikh [the Arabic name for Mount Hermon, which lies on the Syrian-Israeli frontier].
We must note that, although the repression of Syria’s security regime and its ruling family is the most monstrous yet committed, the Syrian people’s resistance is the most courageous, and a source of pride - especially for intellectuals and ex-leftists who want to reverse their frustrations and their view of young people’s standards of freedom and dignity. It is best for the opposition - which is dominated by a liberal civil component - to pay more attention to the pulse of the street, which initially defined the path of the political movement, though at an exorbitant price, made more complicated by regional and international interests.
Finally, we must point out the problem of the Lebanese reality. Lebanon was the only semi-democratic Arab country, whose freedoms and way of life is attractive to the revolutionaries - especially because it has resisted Israel and began its own Lebanese Spring during the Cedar Revolution [in 2005]. This revolution resulted in the ousting of the Syrian army of occupation, following the earth-shaking assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. Although we disagree with Hariri, we have to admit that he contributed to putting Lebanon back on the map following the devastating destruction wrought by numerous wars. However, the Cedar Revolution was not complete, and ended up in sectarian and factional divisions - especially due to conflicts and foreign interventions, and the insistence of the Iranian and Syrian regimes on making Lebanon a primary battlefield [in their struggle] against the West.
In the near future, the Syrian regime will collapse - and the costly and deeply significant consequences will leave the Lebanese people faced with a very critical and dangerous transition, before they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their faltering spring. This time, however, the issues, goals and methods [for realizing the Lebanese Spring] will be significantly different [than they were in 2005]. Perhaps then, it will be the role of the youth to catch up on the process of tremendous change now occurring in the Arab world, which is bound to affect every aspect of society - including sectarian divisions. Lebanon cannot go against the current. This is why we say that the current review of electoral laws resembles a discussion of the sex of angels - in the presence of demons [i.e. a pointless debate while grave threats loom on the horizon].
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