The Demise of Ideology in the Arab World

Article Summary
In the ashes of the Arab Spring, Islamist parties are declaring victory across the region. Does this mean that religious ideology is really gaining power? According to Abdel Zahrah al-Rekabi, ideological movements in the Arab world have been declining for some time, and the Arab Spring may be the last straw.

The tidal wave of the Arab Spring and its aftermath have dealt a critical blow to all Arab ideologies in the region. Although Islamic movements have had a decisive victory in the elections, subsequent events proved that these newly emerging political currents have authoritarian tendencies similar to the regimes in Iran, Gaza, Sudan and Iraq. Islamic authoritarianism raises deep concerns among the same Arab people who insisted, in the heat of the Arab Spring, to place the reins of power in the hands of Islamists. Maybe the upcoming era will be the coup de grace for these ideologies and their advocates in the region.

The decay of ideologies in the region is a natural extension of the demise of ideologies around the world. This was the case after the collapse of the Soviet Union and following the financial crisis that swept the West. Arguably, the era of ideological conflict between two different global cultures is not over yet. Only one aspect of this major conflict has ended, due massive structural changes on a global scale.

Many of the think tanks and analysts who kept a close eye on the Arab Spring revolutions believe that these uprisings were not triggered by, nor based on, any ideology whatsoever. According to them, this is the time of imminent ideological demise  the end of ideas. Analysts are undecided about what exactly will replace these ideas, but they agreed that the Arab revolutions were only an upsurge against injustice. There was no ideological motivation behind these upheavals.

The rise of ideology in the region was not the result of  void or the outcome of uncertain times. It was the result of geo-political, historical and cultural changes, which led to what is known as the "decisive collapse of the perception of the ancient world." Perhaps this expression reflected the fall the Ottoman Empire, the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate, and the subsequent European invasion of several Arab countries. And perhaps the major events that took place after World War II, notably the Arabs' defeat in Palestine and the Zionist occupation of Palestinian land, deeply shook several Arab countries to the extent that the repercussions of these events still linger in contemporary Arab political thought. As a result, new intellectual methods and approaches emerged, which were adopted by political groups with new visions combined with new interests and values. Since the 1950's, these ideologies have prevailed, though they failed to translate their slogans into action. Many regimes, driven by domination and oppression, took shelter in these ideologies. Perhaps the Arab Spring, with all of its manifestations and implications, is the final chapter for these unjust and worn-out ideologies.

That being said, Islamist ideologies that espouse religious slogans, such as "Islam is the solution," will not remain untouched by these changes. The democratic mechanism through which Islamic movements came to power was the same mechanism that led to the demise of the ideologies adopted by ruling elites.

Those elites, instead of addressing key issues like social justice, economic development and political freedom, as well as the concept of democracy itself, have limited their ideologies to identity and religion. The Islamic movement promote this religious aspect without having to present a strategic or political agenda. They used religion and identity to win over the people.

We hope that the future will raise public awareness [about this problem and that the curtains will be closed on false and unattainable ideological slogans. The Islamic parties' actions on the ground will be the proof of their competence as a ruling power. This test also applies to secular movements, if they come to power. Some analysts believe that ideology was not lost in the revolutions. With the Arab uprisings, ideologies both developed and lost their edge. The central goal of reformists, therefore, must be to fight against ideological extremism, as it promotes tyranny.

Found in: political theory, political isalm, islamic movements, arab spring, arab

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