In some Arab countries that have witnessed popular uprisings launched by the angry Arab youths against the tyrannical and oppressive regimes, political Islamist parties and movements have risen to power. As a result, civil society is facing some tough challenges.
While democratic elections have brought Islamist parties to power in a number of Arab countries, the hubris that has accompanied these electoral victories has given rise to justified concern among religious minorities, the artistic community and advocates of women’s rights, argues Mohammed al-Sayyed.
March 9, 2012
March 9 2012
In Egypt, for example, there are concerns over the possible cancellation of the present divorce law and the parliamentary quota system for women. These are two important and qualitative legislative and social reforms that won some justice and rights for women, guaranteed by international conventions and treaties. There is fear in the show-business community that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al-Nour party to power would have a negative impact on cinema, the theater and all other forms of artistic and cultural production in Egypt. This fear was reflected in the visit made by the head of the artists’ union to Comptroller General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Badee’.
In Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Ennahda Party heads the new government after the revolution that overthrew the regime of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. They hold most ministerial positions after their sweeping victory in the first free and fair elections to take place in Tunisia since independence. However, there are similar concerns that the rule of Islamists would lead to a decline in freedoms and liberties, including social, cultural and personal freedoms. Particularly at threat are the freedoms of Tunisian women, who are considered to enjoy the most “gender,” social and political rights among Arab women.
Such is also the case in Morocco, where the Islamists represented by the Justice and Development Party have formed and headed a government for the first time, after winning the first elections to be held in the country following the constitutional amendments made by the Moroccan king and which were put up for a referendum. The same applies to the rest of the Arab countries, which are set to enter the “constitutional reformist arena" under the pressure of domestic and international factors.
Are these concerns and fears justified and credible? Some of the practices employed by the Islamic parties, ecstatic over their resounding victory, and some hasty remarks made by a few figures from these parties have undoubtedly nurtured these fears and served as sufficient reason to doubt the intentions of the new leadership.
Perhaps the most striking sign of the new rulers’ intentions is the fierce Islamist campaign against the well-known Egyptian businessman Najib Sawarios, against whom they filed a lawsuit on charges of ridiculing Muslims. Their charges are based on a caricature shared by Sawarios on his Twitter account from other websites depicting a Mickey Mouse in Salafi attire with his burqa-clad wife. 20 lawyers filed a civil lawsuit against Sawarios. On the day the lawsuit was brought before Boulaq Abu-al-Ala Court, they insulted the defendant. One lawyer even called Sawarios a “criminal.”
Moreover, fears have grown about the involvement of unidentified parties following the assassination of a member of the Coalition of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution activist Mohammed Jamal, who was slaughtered at four am behind the High Court headquarters, not far from Tahrir Square. A few minutes earlier, Jamal was with a group of judges staging a sit-in coordinated with a march scheduled for Monday, January 23 2012 in solidarity with the protesting judges, to discuss their possible participation in the January 25 demonstrations. The protestors were surprised to see him return to the sit-in venue a few minutes after having left, bleeding profusely from his neck. He pointed toward the back of the High Court building before dropping dead. The killing of Mohammed Jamal was preceded two days earlier by the death of political activist Kareem Abu-Zeid, member of the revolutionary coalition in Al-Gharbiyah Governorate, in a mysterious car accident.
In Jordan, various communities have expressed their fears and resentment of the Islamic opposition movement, hinting at the possibility of starting a militant group following their organization of a military parade by a group of youths blindfolded with green cloths reading "Enough is enough."
In Libya, where armed militias with Islamic jihadist orientations have risen to power, thousands of Libyans are being held in unofficial prisons (estimated by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at more than 60) while the number of detainees known by the UNHCR is estimated at about 8,500 people held on charges of suspected affiliation with the Qaddafi regime. According to the UNHCR, the militias are using various kinds of torture against the detainees, and the commission knows nothing about their fate.
There is no doubt that the Islamists who are now ecstatic over their "triumphant victories" — whether through the ballot box or through NATO-backed armed rebellion — are now in a position that allows them to claim a mandate from the majority of the people, and thus do not need the support of the remaining components of society, which is true to some extent. We can add that, despite these generally justified fears, it is necessary to respect the will of the people with regard to the quality, content and direction of change they seek. Everything is subject to social mobilization, which has broken the political stalemate and stagnation that had extended across over six decades. Furthermore, running the state is almost entirely different from running a party, or the budget of a party or group. Leading the state makes those in power fully and directly responsible before the whole of society and all the country’s resources, rather than just a group or party.
It is a transitional phase, and its circumstantial realities and results must be accepted — that is, if the fledgling Arab democracy is to see the light and breathe fresh air for the first time, and evolve by virtue of the mobilization of society as a whole.