Political Islam Takes Hold Across North Africa

Article Summary
In the wake of the 2011 revolutions and subsequent elections which have brought Islamist parties to power in several North African countries, Sarkis Naoum investigates how Political Islam is adjusting to its more prominent and mainstream role in government and society. He compares and contrasts the experiences of Islamist parties in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Sudan, noting the pragmatic and conciliatory approach which most major Islamist blocs have chosen to adopt.

The Arab Islamists say most of the Egyptian Salafists belonged originally to the Brotherhood, while they express today their religious extremism in appearance and practice. Prisoners of Egypt’s conservative Islamist group Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya, responsible for the killing of President Anwar Sadat, have been told in prisons: “Don’t go to the Brotherhood; go instead to the Salafists.” In the beginning, they were Sophists who had nothing to do with politics. Later, however, they covered the Egyptian regime, getting involved in politics after its downfall and now beginning to seek a major role in [Egyptian politics]. In Tunisia, the Islamists who have begun to rule will not erase their country’s experience of civil [rule]; they would rather build a new regime, which they have started to do pragmatically. In Morocco, the Islamists want to rule as well. They began to reach power after the last constitutional amendments, followed by legislative elections. In Libya, the Chief of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, could not help but call for a state ruled under Islamic Sharia. And finally, the Brotherhood in Egypt does not for direct rule - at least in the current period, as we read yesterday [4/01/2012] in Al-Mawkef.

What about Libya’s own [Muslim] Brotherhood and Islamist [factions]? The Arab Islamists reply that the departed leader Mu’ammar Qaddafi was not against Islamists; rather, he asked them after many negotiations and meetings to work outside Libya and promised to support them. He even suggested establishing an “Army of Islamist Missionaries” and he offered them varied support outside Libya. In the last decade of the last century, Qaddafi lost hope about leftism and Arab nationalism and he sought to draw up a new Constitution for Libya in collaboration with the Islamists. However, he ended his initiative after a while. Libya’s Brotherhood migrated afterwards after a long endurance under Qaddafi’s regime. They have returned to Libya and started to organize themselves and occupy high-ranking positions within the government since the victory of the revolution. They are continuously trying to stamp out any internal conflict, and they will be successful in this task.

What about Tunisia’s Islamists? Arab Islamists answer that Rached al-Ghannouchi, founder of the largest Brotherhood [affiliated] Islamist party in Tunisia, was exiled in Paris and then London, where he lived formany years following a four-year prison term in his country. He speaks French fluently and he learned English in prison, which has enabled him to use it in both speeches and dialogue. Moreover, he visited Washington a few weeks ago and proved he has no problem with the United States. As for the situation of the Brotherhood in Egypt, it is different. Thus in the early fifties following the success of the 1952 July revolution, the departed leader Gamal Abdel Nasser asked the Brotherhood to forge a dialogue with the English or English-affiliated Suez Canal Company, but later accused them [the Brotherhood] of dealing with England or of treachery on England’s behalf. As a result, [the Brotherhood] was cautious in dealing with all Western and colonial powers and major states.

But what about the Islamist experience in Sudan? Arab Islamists say this experience, which started with the President Omar al-Bashir and Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, leader of a prominent Islamic party in the country, was not encouraging. Bashir failed in establishing an Islamist state or a civil state with an Islamic reference for many reasons, especially the struggle with his allies for power. He is now trying to cooperate with the National Umma party, founded and led by the Al-Mahdi family, and the Democratic Unionist Party lead by the Al-Mirghani family, in order to reach a formula for governance that restores stability to Sudan and establishes a regime with an Islamic character. Undoubtedly, this attempt was not completely successful since he has failed to form a national unity government, but he compensated for this failure when he assigned the sons of the founders of the two parties as his consultants. President Bashir tried to be a mediator in the Syrian crisis which started on March 15, and he sent his Minister of Justice to Damascus to meet President Bashar al-Assad, but this mission was not successful either because the Syrian president told him explicitly that he can do nothing, perhaps as a result of the present circumstances.

Finally, the Arab Islamists admit that the Egyptian Salafists are not present in the cities and that they will not win the two final phases of the legislative elections in the regions. Furthermore, they say that the popularity of Hezbollah in the Arab and Islamic world has begun to decline, whereas once its appeal had been broad and transcended the Shiite community. Thus both [religion-oriented] Muslims and [politically-oriented] Islamists were once blessed by Hezbollah’s participation in their conferences; but they have not invited any member of Hezbollah’s delegation to present speeches at their latest events.

Found in: salafists, sadat, qaddafi, political islam, ntc, muslim brotherhood, muslim, islamists, history, ghannouchi, free officer’s revolt, ennahda, elections, democratic reform, benkirane, al-jamaa al-islamiyya

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