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OPINION: Political Islam: From the Trenches to Parliamentary Benches – By Abdullah Elmaazi
21/09/2012 16:57:00
I believe we are entering a new era where part of political Islam is moving from the trenches to the parliamentary benches in the countries of the "Arab spring," most importantly in Egypt.

In Europe, when the fight against communism was at its peak, centre-left social democratic reformists acted as the best bulwark against revolutionary communism. The Social Democratic parliamentary parties were able to steal the communists’ thunder by subscribing to some of the basic narrative of Marxism, introducing major economic and social reforms; however, these parties also maintained a fundamental commitment to the tenets of liberal parliamentary democracy.

I believe that what we see now in the Arab world is an adaptation of this policy of accommodating the more “benign” strain to fight the implacably hostile strain of the same ideology.

The Muslim Brotherhood are seen as both more able to command popular support than the “secular” parties and simultaneously better placed to stem the rising tide of what is perceived as the implacable enemy- “Jihadist Islam.”

The paradigm shift here is that the veto on parties belonging to political Islam assuming power has gone. Unlike in the case of the Algerian general elections when the military was encouraged by France and other Western powers to abort the elections held in December 1991 which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won, The reaction of the Western powers to the election last July of a President from the ranks of the Muslim brother hood has been diametrically different.
The Egyptian military in 2012 were strongly discouraged by the USA from their attempt at using the constitutional amendment they enacted, to abort the outcome of the elections. The U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo immediately after the Egyptian presidential elections and both in private meetings with the military leadership “SCAF” as well as publicly, made it clear that a military coup will not be welcomed by the USA, that they disapproved of the constitutional amendment and that in fact the military should hand over all power to the newly elected civilian administration as quickly as possible.

There are a number of forces in the region who are concerned at the entrenching of the Muslim Brotherhood as the default party of government. These groups are keen to wreck this experiment with parliamentary Islam in Egypt, secular groups are openly accusing the USA of “betraying" its liberal values and helping propel the Muslim Brotherhood to power without ever producing evidence for their claims. Even their most bitter of enemies cannot deny that the Muslim Brothers won both the parliamentary and presidential elections through their own efforts.

The change in USA policy is that it recognized the legitimacy of the vote and that the Muslim Brothers are the rules that they need to learn to live and work with. As part of this recognition of the shift in the politics in Egypt from sixty years of military rule to what could be a long spell of Muslim Brotherhood rule, the USA government is now working actively to help the new administration in Egypt to succeed in this transition period.

During the recent events in front of the American Embassy in Cairo, President Obama was measured in his criticism of the Morsi administration. One would have thought that given that the presidential election in the USA are only a few weeks away, and a public climate of outrage in the USA as a result of the murder of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and his colleagues, which might have benefited President Obama politically at home to use more strident rhetoric, it is obvious that President Obama ‘s administration views with favour the long term benefit for the USA of having as a regional ally an Egypt governed by a democratically elected Sunni parliamentary Islamic party.

This new “experiment” with parliamentary Islam faces challenges, however. To succeed, the operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood type, will need to operate as parliamentary political parties rather than as part of a religious movement, which is the way they started out to be. Do they have the imagination, talents and political skills to undergo this transformation?

The timing of the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral success might not be to their advantage. To the average voter, government is not about ideology, it’s about delivery of public services. By assuming power during the challenging transitional period, they risk failure to meet the high expectations of the revolutions. If so, a disappointed electorate will most certainly confine them to the political wilderness in the next parliamentary elections.

How tempting will it be for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political opponents to refuse to join them in government so as not to share any blame for potential failure? If this happens, will it lead to further polarization of Egyptian politics at a time when national consensus is imperative for the success in the transitional period?

Will the Muslim Brotherhood not having "Islamic solutions" for the immediate and pressing economic and social problems they face be tempted to placate their power base by introducing "culturally coercive” laws under the banner of Islam? These are the easiest to introduce, requiring neither planning, budgeting nor efficacy in execution and might be popular with their electoral base. (e.g. dress code for women in the work place!?)). Of all the North African countries, I think Egypt is most resistant to such policies, with Libya being the least resistant.

On the positive side, President Morsi appointed a team of assistants which included Samir Marcus: as assistant for the democratic transition. In addition to Marcus who is a Christian thinker and writer of high standing the team also includes Ms. Pakinam El Sharkawy, a political science professor in Cairo university and assistant for political issues and Ayman El Sayyad, a progressive intellectual and the editor in chief of “Waghat Nazar“ a magazine considered one of the most important progressive cultural and political magazines in the Arab world.

The question being asked in Egypt is how much power and authority will this team of advisers have to influence policy and decision making in the Morsi administration. It will be a number of years before a judgement on the success or failure of this “experiment“ with parliamentary Islam can be made.

The final judgment will be made not only on the basis of ability to govern, but more importantly from the perspective of the rest of the world, on the ability of Islamic Democratic Parliamentary parties to reverse the gains of the Wahhabi form of political Islam, which has in recent years made major inroads among the youth in Arab societies.

The advent of Islamic Democratic Parliamentary parties in the countries of the Arab spring has the potential to forever change the face of political Islam as well as the perceived image of Islam as being incompatible with democracy in general and parliamentary democracy in particular?

There are no previous examples to go by and Turkey is far too different to be an example. Turkey however is probably most able than any other country to help guide Egypt during this transitional period and moderate the events now unfolding in Libya by perhaps help steering it towards the Egyptian model.

Thank you Abdullah Elmaazi for a great article once again showing the world we have Libyan Intellectuals and are not a bunch of Bedouins...

@Dirk Vanderloop
Truly enjoyed your last part of your comment and would like to share .."The most aspects of living together as a democratic nation .... " Upon your approval ; I will be sharing your comment with my high school students ....
Many thanks ... Blessings to all
As Turkey is far too different to be an examplle Egypt is also far too different to o different to be an example to be cut and paste by other Arab Spring countries due to social, political and culture development process also the MB as a political islamist group far rooted in the Egyptian society and itq was founded in 1924 compared to the other counries.An other point I would like to make is the Us has a distorted perception of Islamist groups and adupted over years a classification of such groups which is in my view in practical life as shown in the Libyan case has no roots in the culture of ordinary people.At last thank you Abdoulah for the deep analysis you are one of Libya great thinkers an intelctual
Thank you Libya for demonstrating on behalf of the support American People have freely given for your struggles. I for one, and many are glad to help you into the 21st Century. I pray in my own way for your freedom and breaking the shackles placed upon your Nation. I really feel your President has the ability to lift you up and let's just say a wise choice. I like him.
I do accept that the Muslim Brothers in Libya do not have the long history of activism, & political participation, the organisational skills and the ability to mobilise at grass root level which their counterparts in Egypt have. In this respect they Libyan Muslim Brothers are no different from all other political parties , because of the absence of political parties in Libya over the last sixty years .
In the last forty years or so there has been a stifling in Libya of any form of open political discourse. The result has been the focus of discussion on religion and religious issues helped by the abundance of venues exclusive for such discussions ( The mosques )
Among the new generation of Libyans ,religious activism supplanted the political activism of previous generations . This got to the point where opposition and loyal grouping s to the Ghaddafi regime , among the mass of this generation of young activists ,developed as result of differing interpretation of Islam .
With Islam being the exclusive source for the majority of Libyan’s core values , I believe that for the foreseeable future , any political party with a platform which emanates from and resonates with Islam inspired core values is more likely to win acceptance within the population at large in Libya ,be this party the Muslim Brothers or any other
Democracy is not easy. With or without competing religious and cultural values, maintaining a democratic government (let alone initiating one) involves real work and true compromise, not just talk and dissent. To accomplish the work necessary, people must share a vision and see the advantage of their cooperation.

I say that as an American in the midst of a national election. We have over 200 years of experience with discussions and disagreements, including our own horrific Civil War (1860s).

The most important aspects of living together as a democratic nation are embracing similarities AND tolerating differences. This involves a never-ending search for reason and understanding. Competing parties and ideals are unavoidable components of the journey. However, cooperation is the destination.

You are welcomed to share any of my comments far and wide.
Glad to read that it resonated with you and hope it is meaningful to your students.

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