بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Behind the label that identified the state as “Islamic” lay the desire for reconciliation with their heritage, and the imperative to break free from western domination and to chart an original path leading to independence.
Traditional classics, like al-Mawardi’s al-Ahkâm al-Sultaniyya or Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Siyâsa al-Sharr’iyya, were revisited in the light of the challenges facing modern states. The aim was to gain (or claim) “Islamic” legitimacy for political projects, state models, and structures.
An example is Saudi Arabia, where the idea of democratic elections was–and still is – seen as contrary to Islamic tradition. The issue has been a subject of fierce debate among the various Islamist trends since the 1940s (within the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and between different currents of thought in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia). The early stages of the Iranian revolution were also marked by intense exchanges of ideas over the specific features of the “Islamic Republic,” exchanges and contradictions that still fuel the respective positions of conservatives and reformists within the system itself.
Perspectives and visions have, alas, progressed little; it is difficult to distinguish what identifies the political models of the literalists and the Islamists.
Furthermore, the Islamists continue to insist on the concept of sharî’a being enshrined in the constitution, as they did in Egypt after the mass uprising. But it is difficult to imagine how the term would be understood and implemented: as a general orientation–a path toward justice–or as a closed system restricted to the penal code?
Above and beyond the question of inclusion in the constitution, the source of so much impassioned debate, the issue of the sharî’a reveals little about the programmatic intentions of the conservative and/or Islamist trends. The political choice can be as broad as the gap that separates the Saudi model, where the sharî’a has constitutive force, and the intentions of the current Turkish government, for which sharî’a is understood, as explained by Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an, as a striving for less corruption, and for greater equality and freedom.
Caution is indicated – caution and critical assessment of peoples’ true aspirations.
No one can deny that the movements that have swept the Middle East have demonstrated their ability to evolve rapidly in several fields.
They may be finding it difficult to escape from the constraining references to the nation-state and their own nationalist commitments (with a concomitant failure to consider wider issues such as South–South cooperation), but
their positions on democracy, women’s participation in public life, capitalism, or relations with the West have shifted rapidly.
Opinions may differ on whether the changes have been positive or negative, but the fact remains that these political currents are neither static nor one-dimensional… even though they are clearly finding it difficult to provide pragmatic responses to the challenges of the day.
The Arab awakening has not yet penetrated the petro-monarchies, where kings and governments wield a literalist, conservative version of Islam as their reference, Bahrain–where the uprising was crushed in silent complicity as the West looked on–being an excellent example. An even better example is that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose regimes remain hermetically sealed despite a limited political and media opening (Al Jazeera). But at the end of the day, nothing truly innovative can be expected from their interpretations of Islam and its application to the daily lives of their subjects.
For all their limitless financial capacities, these regimes share a long list of deficiencies, ranging from curtailed freedoms, limited democratization, extremely slow improvement of the status of women, and perennially backward educational models.
A rapid overview of recent history points to the conclusion that the greatest difficulty encountered by Islamist organizations and parties has not been to remain in opposition (where resistance to the regime added to their credibility), but rather to exercise power (which often led to a loss of much of that credibility).
Much the same can be said of Islamist movements in North Africa, the Middle East and, in fact, all Muslim-majority countries. A rapid overview of recent history points to the conclusion that the greatest difficulty encountered by Islamist organizations and parties has not been to remain in opposition (where resistance to the regime added to their credibility), but rather to exercise power (which often led to a loss of much of that credibility).
Whether as the governing party in Iran, Sudan, Somalia, or even Palestine, or when sharing power, as in Algeria or Morocco, Islamist organizations and parties have often given the impression of having compromised themselves or, at minimum, of having been inconsistent with the principles they espoused while opposing the regime.
They may have provided a grassroots presence (in the form of social services, medical and educational assistance for the poor) while in opposition, but once elected (whether as a majority or as a minority participant in a governing coalition) matters quickly grew more complicated
- Islam and the Arab Awakening by Tariq Ramadan
- Oxford University Press USA