It's an Islamic Spring, Not an Arab Spring

Article Summary
The Arab Spring is beginning to look more like the Islamic Spring, writes Mustafa al-Faqi. He writes that the rise of the Islamists can be explained by Islam’s historical reputation, its longtime links to revolutionary activities against oppressive regimes and financial contributions from regional sympathizers.

The rise of Islamic movements in the Arab Spring countries signals that the Arab revolutions resulted in religious factions now reigning in those countries, whether the uprisings violently toppled former rulers or the protestors settled for peaceful change. The expression "Arab Spring" no longer seems to be the best description of the regional situation.

The advent of both religious and quasi-religious regimes in the region marks the rise of the Islamists. In coming to power, these Islamic groups have taken their first major step in a century. In truth, this has not come as a surprise — dictators breed popular opposition forces. When these forces are able to rise, they change the political climate in their countries, creating a popular response to years of dictatorship. This is reflected in the polls: religious groups now make up the majority of new parliamentary councils.

The fact is that the people are fed up with tyranny and corruption. They are now aware that changing the order of things is a duty, and that turning the page on the past is inevitable. Moreover, the elite in a number of Arab Spring countries — states that may or may not have an Islamic orientation — have repeatedly stated that the time has come to give the Islamic project a chance, and that those who subscribe to it should take on the responsibility of governing in the hopes of achieving positive outcomes for their country. The fact that the national and socialist projects have failed in recent decades also factors into their considerations.

Here, we must investigate what exactly led to the elevation of the Islamists, whether through revolution or elections. The following factors must be taken into account.

First, a quick look back through history reveals that in recent decades, the West's conflict with Islam has witnessed an escalation unprecedented since the days of the "War of Francification,” which is often erroneously referred to as the Crusades. I would even go so far as to say that the Orientalist movement originated from a disguised European admiration for Islamic peoples, their social traditions, their cultural customs and their religious values.

There is no doubt that September 11, 2001, marked a crucial turning point in the relations between Muslims and the West at large. As a result, a remarkable level of doubt and suspicion started to plague this relationship. In addition, this led to an expansion of so-called "international terrorism," and its attribution in large part to Islam and Muslims, however innocent they actually may be.

The reputation of the true religion is untarnished, as its struggle is against intolerance and hatred. Moreover, Muslims have lived with people of all sects and religions, especially the "People of the Book" for nearly five centuries. Certain religiously pluralistic societies have witnessed a high degree of integration and mutual acceptance, apart from a few limited periods, marked by tension between Muslims and other groups, where religion was exploited for political reasons and employed for the benefit of a particular party. We believe that developments in the international arena in recent decades have indirectly led to Islamic groups gaining support, pooling their strengths and maximizing their role.

Secondly, the clergy of the three Abrahamic religions do not disagree with the fact that Islamic law and its subsequent doctrinal interpretations include social justice in the broadest sense of the term, as Islam is a religion of solidarity. It suffices to remember the words of Al Farouk Omar: "If I had a chance, I would have given the remaining wealth of the rich to the poor." These are words which originated in a hadith (tales regarding the life of the Prophet which hold weight in Islamic law) regarding the concept of social justice and the logic of wealth distribution. Therefore, the Prince of Poets Ahmed Shawqi was not mistaken when he described the Prophet, peace be upon him, and called him the "Imam of the socialists.”

Consequently, the Muslims who believe in zakat (giving a fixed portion of one's wealth to charity) as one of the five pillars of Islam are aware that in reality their religion rejects exploitation, condemns tyranny and calls for equality among human beings, as they are born free. Islam sees religion as a way of life, and stipulates that one should display good behavior toward other individuals. There is no doubt that the deep importance and strong momentum Islam gives to social justice motivates Muslims to revolt against corrupt rulers and fight for positive change.

There is no doubt that certain scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Hazm have authorized revolts against dictators based on conditions set out in extensive religious texts. In recent years, the Jama’a al-Islamiyya (an Islamic Group) made use of these scriptural foundations as justification and motivation for revolution. This contributed to the Arab Spring’s largely Islamic nature.

Third, the Arabs who have recently gained power hold the sentiment that Islam justifies their actions, and that it sanctions their movements and their goals. I can still recall how the sheikh of the Omar Makram mosque — located in Tahrir square in Cairo — was known to many as the “Tahrir preacher” and contributed to the recent revolution. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, Abdullah Al-Nadim — an Al-Azhar affiliate — led the Urabi Revolt in the 1880s. Add to this Egypt's 1919 revolts, which also emanated from the pulpits of Al-Azhar. The same goes for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in 1956, and Ismail Haniyeh's statements against the Syrian government in 2012. These all confirm the direct link between religion and revolution against tyranny, aggression and occupation.

This allowed the Arab Spring revolutions to gain religious momentum in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and perhaps in other Arab countries on the waiting list. Moreover, the Islamic outcome, which transpired through modern democratic means and far from any revolution in both Morocco and Kuwait, promps us to posit that the Arab Spring — whether revolutionary or reformist — is primarily Islamic.

The fourth factor concerns the flow of funds from political institutions and development agencies abroad to dozens of organizations, groups and individuals in the Middle East. These foreign funds have sparked and fueled the revolution. Here, we can recall the confrontation which has recently taken place between the Egyptian regime and certain NGOs operating in Egypt. These NGOs had been receiving a substantial amount of illegal money over the course of recent years, and this has led to a significant rift between Cairo and Washington. The Egyptian government has taken a dim view of the latter's support for certain Egyptian “revolutionary" organizations under the pretext of promoting democracy, human rights and other terms from the West's contemporary political lexicon. This has led to the mobilization of other non-liberal and non-Western-oriented groups, which do not agree with the civilization of the Egyptian state and do not acknowledge the imported concepts of development and reform. We are now faced by two different currents, and they both lead to the same place: the burning flame of the revolution.

On the other hand, we must take into account the fifth factor, which is the financial flows from Arab and Islamic countries to certain organizations and associations in support of Islamists in a number of Arab societies. A fatwa has been issued in recent years which authorizes zakat money to be given to associations which serve the Islamic Call and its related missions. This was an important turning point, and tens of millions began to support these associations mentally and financially.

According to business leaders in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf States, "Zakat banks" have become an important source of financing for certain associations. Let us remember that one of these associations has received 130 million euros in one year. This is not to mention other financial institutions, or non-financial associations which are also a destination for these huge cash flows.

We hope to employ these financial capabilities to support the reform process and guide countries toward modernity while maintaining the spirit of development.

This is the Arab Spring from a perspective which has monitored and understands the current developments. This perspective believes that, despite the fact that these revolutions were primarily national and succeeded in mobilizing oppressed people, the Islamic movement was the best prepared to seize the opportunity and benefit from these revolutions

This is why it comes as no surprise to learn that this Arab spring is also an Islamic one. Political Islamic groups, starting with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Ennahda party in Tunisia and the other Islamic organizations which participated in the Arab Spring revolutions, have all come out on top in these revolutions, which are unprecedented our recent history.

Found in: zakat, september 11, ngos in egypt, islamic spring, islamic finance, arab spring, arab