Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Myth of Islamic Fundamentalism

In a February 2011 post, "Who's afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?," I posed the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood would take power in Egypt.  I argued that this scenario was unlikely but that, if it did come to pass, the Brotherhood would be unable to effectively rule Egypt, much less impose an Islamic state.  While I was wrong on my prediction, the votes on Muslim Brotherhood rule Egypt are now in. Clearly, it has been disastrous.  With opposition to Brotherhood rule on the rise, (see the analysis of a recent Zogby poll below), what can we predict about the future of Islamism in Egypt?

The first conclusion we can draw is that most Egyptians didn't vote for the Brotherhood because of its Islamist ideology.  Survey data indicate that Egyptians expected the Brotherhood to accomplish three main goals once it came to power.  First, they expected the dreaded security apparatus that characterized the Mubarak regime to be curtailed if not dismantled.  Second, they expected the Brotherhood to staunch Egypt's deteriorating economic condition, both by providing jobs and improving access to necessary services, such as electricity, gasoline and diesal fuel, and other basic commodities in short supply.

Finally, many who voted for the Brotherhood - especially those who were not members - wanted it to pursue a politics of national reconciliation, if only to transcend the chaos and violence that surrounded the ouster of former president Husni Mubarak.  In their view, this process would bring Egypt's conflicting ideological tendencies together and bridge the Muslim-Coptic Christian divide, and build a truly democratic state, based on tolerance  and political pluralism.

Clearly the Brotherhood has failed on all 3 accounts.  It has done virtually nothing to reign in the security forces.  The economy is considerably worse than when the Brotherhood won parliamentary elections and Dr. Muhammad Mursi won the presidency by a small margin (51.7%).  Electric power, gasoline and diesel fuel are in short supply, inflation is on the rise, the tourism sector has largely collapsed, and the Brotherhood has not been able to augment its dwindling currency reserves.  Fearful of curtailing government services, the Brotherhood has been unable to conclude negotiations for a loan offered by the International Monetary Fund.

As research I conducted years ago demonstrated, most of the Brotherhood's leadership comes from upwardly mobile professionals and, more recently, businessmen (Mursi himself is an engineer in materials science who graduated with a Ph.D from the University of Southern California)) 

Turning to the more conservative "Party of Light" (hizb al-nur), we find a similar pattern of rural to urban migration.  However, since the Egyptian economy has worsened from the time when many of the Brotherhood's leadership came of age educationally and professionally, al-Nur members are not as well situated financially and professionally as their counterparts in the Brotherhood.

The official clergy, especially those associated with al-Azhar Mosque, has always opposed the Brotherhood as interlopers who have no right to enter the realm of Islamic theological and theological exegesis.  Indeed, the clergy has often looked favorably upon the state's efforts to curtail the Brotherhood's efforts at proselytizing.

The Brotherhood is a no way a representative of "Islamic fundamentalism."  The term fundamentalism, whose currency extends back to the discussion of Protestant fundamentalism in the US during the early part of the 20th century, is not a term used by Islamists nor is it prevalent in the Arab media, print or visual. While Baptist and Presbyterian churches in particular tried to prevent clergy from introducing theological and and cultural modernism into the church, much of what Western analysts refer to as Islamic fundamentalism is actually a form of "politicized" and "invented" religion.

A phenomenon that has still not been adequately covered is the prevalence of lay members of many powerful Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its offshoots throughout the Arab world, the Islamic Call Party in Iraq (hiz al-Da'wa al-Islamiya), the Renaissance Party (hizb al-Nahda) in Tunisia, and the Justice and Development Party (hizb al-'Adala wa-l-Tanmiya) in Morocco. 

These parties all seek to provide an alternative to what they see as the inaction of the clergy in confronting social problems as well as the clergy's often implicit support for authoritarian rule.  None of these parties has made any significant contributions to Islamic theology.  The often cited case of Muslim Brotherhood supporter Sayyid Qutb ( a teacher and one time Ministry of Education functionary) is highly problematic.  Qutb's accusation, in his Milestones Along the Path (Mu'allim ala-l-Tariq), that Muslim society suffers from al-Jahiliya, i.e,  having returned to the so-called "period of ignorance" which is used to describe the period prior to founding of Islam, is based on reasoning rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

The efforts of Islamist parties to impose their definition of Islamic norms and values on society are not the result of a careful and inclusive debate over the meaning of such norms and values, but rather an attempt to impose a new form of hegemonic thinking on society.  Islamist discourse is about control, by invoking limits on the functioning of a wide variety of social institutions, including the family, women's role in society, the press, cultural and artistic expression, entertainment, as well as the political process and institutions, especially the judiciary.

What gives leaders like Muhammad Mursi and the Brotherhood's Guidance Council the right to tell Egyptians how to think, act or envision the future of their personal, political and social lives?. What right so wealthy businessmen such as Muhammad Khayrat al-Shatir or engineers such as Muhammad Mursi to make these decisions in the name of Islam, especially when they have little or no formal training in Islamic theology?

This point about who makes the decisions that affect Egyptians' daily lives is especially relevant when considering that the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, claims to be democratic.  Certainly democracy should reflect the the will of the people.  However, a June 2013 poll by Zogby Research Services:  - "After Tahrir: Egyptians Assess Their Government, Their Institutions, and Their Future" - underscores the unpopularity of Muslim Brotherhood rule.

When the 5029 Egyptians sampled were asked about their reaction to Mursi's electoral  victory, 22% viewed it as positive a year ago while 16% see it as positive now; 35% respected his victory a year ago, while only 12% respect it now; and while 33% were concerned that Mursi had won a year ago, now that number has risen to 50%.

In terms of the level of satisfaction with Mursi's performance, only 27% said they felt he "guaranteed their rights and freedoms," while 72% said he did not.  These results were replicated when voters were asked about "creating economic opportunity" (25% satisfied vs. 74% unsatisfied); "keeping me safe and maintaining order "(satisfied 26% vs. 74% not satisfied); and "supporting services that provide for my family's health care, education and other needs" (26% satisfied vs. 74% not satisfied).

Among Egypt's institutions, 94% of respondents were confident in the army as opposed to only 6 % who were not.  Respondents were likewise very confident in the judiciary, whose powers  Mursi is trying to curtail, viewing it favorably by 67% to 31%.  Egyptians have little confidence in the presidency (27% vs. 71%) and the Freedom and Justice Party (26% vs. 74%).  Indeed all political parties attracted little confidence, from the very conservative Islamist al-Nur Party to the secular National Salvation Front and the April 26th Movement.

Of Egypt's past and current leaders, only 3 were viewed as credible: Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir (Gamal Abdel Nasser) - 73% to 27% - Anwar al-Sadat - 93% to 7% - and the television comedian, Bassem Yousif - 60% to 39%.  That a politically minded satirist - whose program, "al-Barnamig," is frequently referred to as Egypt's "The Daily Show "- is telling about how little respect is enjoyed by Egypt's political elite.

But perhaps most significant are the attitudes towards Muslim Brotherhood rule and the desire for a policy of national reconciliation. Only 25% of respondents thought "the current government is able to lead our nation out of our economic crisis;" only 28% feel "the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to democracy;" and only 26% feel that "the Muslim Brotherhood is capable of administering the state."  A whopping 87% of Egyptian respondents said they wanted a "real national dialogue."

On the other hand, 72% agreed that "the Egyptian opposition is able to offer a better political alternative than
the current government:" 71% agreed that "the Muslim Brotherhood intends to ‘Islamize’ the State and control its executive powers;" and only 29% felt that "the upcoming parliamentary elections will be fair and transparent."

Overall, only 30% of voters trusted the 2 main Islamist parties, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the conservative al-Nur Party.  The secular National Salvation Front and April 6th Movement were trusted by 34%.  However almost 39% felt that both the Islamist and secular parties are ineffective and will not be able to solve Egypt's problems.  Despite its high rating, 56% of respondents opposed the military assuming temporary control of the state.

What this analysis should make clear is that Egyptians are very pragmatic in their political choices (as are citizens in most countries who are allowed to express their political views).  As the only "official opposition" under the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood always had a head start in political organization and mobilizing supporters for the post-Mubarak parliamentary and presidential elections.  Now that the Brotherhood has shown its true colors, most Egyptians don't like what they see.

The notion of Islamic fundamentalism - and the implied uniformity of political beliefs, intentions and behavior across the Muslim majority countries of the Middle East implied by that term - belies the reality of the region's politics.  As the dismal showing of the hardliner, Saeed Jalili, in Iran's recent presidential elections, and his trouncing by the moderate cleric, Hassan Rowhani, demonstrate, few Muslims seek to live under autocratic rule, whether secular or Islamist..

Political scientists (including myself) have a bad track record in predicting important political change in the Middle East, whether the fall of the regime of Mohammed Reza Shah in 1978-79, the handshake of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat on the White House lawn in September 1993, or the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010.  It is time to scrap the notion of Islamic fundamentalism in favor of a more insightful and nuanced approach to Middle East politics.

Egyptians, like citizens in other countries of the region, seek economic and physical security, democratic and accountable governance, predictability in their lives, and state policies that bring people together rather than divide them.  The peoples of the Middle East deserve more respect than being reduced to the types of stereotypes implied by the notion of "Islamic fundamentalism."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

دلالات هامة وراء انسحاب الجنرال عمار 3

Guest contributor, Dr. Alaya Allani, is Professor of Contemporary History at Manouba University in Tunisia. His article, "Three Important Reasons behind the Resignation of General  Rashid Ammar" appeared in the Tunisian "al-Sabah News," on June 25, 2013.
أعلن أمس  الفريق الأول وقائد أركان الجيوش الثلاثة، رشيد عمار، أنه تقدّم بطلب كتابي إلى رئيس 
الجمهورية المنصف المرزوقي لإعفائه من الخدمة
وأضاف ،رشيد عمار ، أن رئيس الجمهورية المؤقت المنصف المرزوقي قبل الاستقالة.
وتعليقا على الموضوع ولقراءة مختلف جوانب ودلالات استقالة رشيد عمار وتصريحاته التي أدلى بها أمس على قناة التونسية، أوضح للـ"الصباح نيوز" علية العلاني  المحلل السياسي والخبير في التنظيمات الإسلامية أن إعلان رشيد عمار انسحابه من الحياة العسكرية كقائد للأركان له 3 دلالات  تتمثل الدلالة الأولى لاستقالة رشيد عمار في أنه ينوي التفرغ للحياة الخاصة بعد أن تجاوز سن التقاعد منذ 2006 كما جاء في تصريحه لكن في الكثير من الحالات نجد بعض الجنرالات ممن تجاوزوا سن التقاعد يواصلون  الخدمة العسكرية  إذا كانت أوضاع بلادهم تقتضي ذلك.
أماّ الدلالة الثانية فتتمثل في أن إصرار رشيد عمّار على التقاعد فيه رسالتان: الأولى أمنيّة عسكرية والثانية سياسية. فبالنسبة للرسالة  الأمنية العسكرية، أراد من خلالها رشيد عمار أن يُعبر عن تخوفه من "صوملة" تونس بعد أن أصبح للجهاديين قدم راسخة في البلاد في فترة معينة من خلال تخزينهم للأسلحة وتنظيمهم للتدريبات وتخطيطهم للانقضاض على الحكم ، ولكن الأمر المسكوت عنه في حوار رشيد عمار ليلة أمس على قناة التونسية هو،

 هل هناك أطراف ساهمت بسياستها الخاطئة في أن يصبح الجهاديون يشكلون خطرا على تونس؟ ومن كان يغض الطرف عن هؤلاء الجهاديين؟
وبالنسبة للرسالة السياسية، للاستقالة قال محدثنا أنها تتمثل في أن رشيد عمار ربما كان ينتظر تنحّيه إلى ما بعد الانتخابات القادمة إذ كان يتصور أن الأحزاب  التي أمضت على بيان بقائها في الحكم وفي المجلس الوطني التأسيسي  لمدة سنة واحدة ستلتزم بهذا الموقف ويصبح تنحّيه من أجل التقاعد تتويجا لحلمه في وضع تونس على سكة  الدول الديمقراطية بعد أن حماها من خطر السقوط في المجهول.
وفيما يتعلق بالدلالة الثالثة فتتمثل في أن رشيد عمار - وهو ما يُفهم من حواره-  أنه بدأ يفقد ثقته في الطبقة السياسية الحالية التي عجزت لحد الآن عن وضع خارطة طريق نهائية لتاريخ الانتخابات والدستور خاصة في ظل أخبار تتحدث عن مرحلة انتقالية  ثالثة ب3 سنوات ستُمدد من عمر الطبقة الحاكمة الحالية ذات المردود الضعيف والعاجزة عن لمّ شمل التونسيين حول مجتمع الديمقراطية والرفاه الاقتصادي والاجتماعي.
وقد عبر رئيس الأركان الثلاثة عن مرارته من عدم الأخذ بمقترحه في إنشاء حكومة تكنوقراط إثر اغتيال شكري بلعيد والتي رفضها الغنوشي بقوة.
كما أن إصراره على التقاعد يُفهم منه كذلك أن مشوار الإصلاحات السياسية الحقيقة مازال طويلا وفي مقدمته دستور مدني لا يفتح مسالك للعودة إلى الاستبداد ويسعى إلى سن قوانين للوئام الوطني لا للعزل السياسي مما يجعل من الانتخابات القادمة حلما كالسراب ومن مؤسسات ديمقراطية مدنية ثابتة مطلبا صعب التحقيق في الفترة الحالية والأشهر القادمة.
ويرى العلاني من خلال تصريحه للـ"الصباح نيوز" أن إصرار رشيد عمار على التقاعد هو احتجاج على وجود انسدادات خطيرة تضع البلاد واقتصادها وديمقراطيتها الناشئة على حافة الخطر مؤكدا في نفس السياق أن رسالته موجهة بالأساس إلى الترويكا الحاكمة وفي مقدمتها حركة النهضة وكذلك إلى بعض الأحزاب التي بدأت تساوم على بعض المناصب قبل الانتخابات القادمة عوض الدفاع عن مشروع مجتمعي يقطع مع ما يُحضّر له من طرف بعض الأحزاب والتيارات الدينية لفرض نمط مجتمعي معين.
وذهب محدثنا إلى أبعد من ذلك حيث اعتبر تقدّم عمار باستقالته ربما يكون كذلك نتيجة فهمه لغياب التناغم بين مؤسسة الرئاسة ومؤسسة الحكومة حيث انطلق المشكل بينهما منذ تسليم البغدادي المحمودي  آخر رئيس وزراء في عهد القذافي إلى ليبيا وتواصل المشكل بين المؤسستين  حول مسألة  الدستور  وإبداء المنصف المرزوقي لرأيه حوله.
وإجمالا شدد العلاني على أن رشيد عمار نجح في إبلاغ تحذيره وأن المسألة  الآن  ليست في تنحّيه  أو تقلد شخص آخر للمسؤولية بدله بل في فهم الطبيعة السياسية للتحذير البليغ  الذي أطلقه رشيد  عمار
كما أفاد محدثنا أنه يمكن للشعب التونسي أن يطمئن لأن القيادات العسكرية السامية في تونس بعيدة إلى حد الآن عن التجاذبات السياسية والحزبية وهو ما يجب أن يقع التمسك به بقوة،
وذلك احتراما  لتقاليد المؤسسة العسكرية التونسية منذ ما يزيد عن نصف قرن وأكد العلاني أن القيادات العسكرية ستنجح في الاقتراح ثم الالتفاف حول خلف جديد لمنصب رشيد عمّار وأن التاريخ سيذكر لهؤلاء الرموز أياديهم البيضاء على الثورة التونسية .
وفيما يتعلق بإدلاء رشيد عمار لتصريح تلفزي باعتباره رئيسا لأركان الجيوش الثلاثة وكان من المفروض احترام واجب التحفظ، أوضح علية العلاني أن إدلاء رشيد عمار بجملة من المعلومات المفصلة تتجاوز المسؤولية العسكرية في التحفظ.
وأضاف أن تصريحه دليل على أنه مصّر على  التقاعد وعلى عدم الرجوع إلى المسؤولية العسكرية وقال محدثنا: أعتقد أن هناك الكثير الذي  لم يقله رشيد عمار وربما سيطّلع الناس عليه  من خلال مذكراته القادمة ويعتقد محدثنا أن رشيد عمار يصعب أن يدخل النشاط السياسي مستقبلا.
أميرة الدريدي
الصباح نيوز 25 جوان 2013
رابط المقال

Friday, June 21, 2013

Where will peace talks in Afghanistan lead us?

Taliban office in Doha, Qatar

Guest author, Archiwal Ahmadullah, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, is a prominent activist in the Afghan peace movement.

The inauguration of the Taliban’s new office in Doha dominated the front-page of all the major international newspapers, and caused enormous diplomatic debates in Kabul, Washington, and the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The office, which was named the Office of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, and was decorated with the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan's flag, has caused great controversy. The Afghan government suspended all the efforts aimed at engaging the Taliban, and suspended the talks on the security agreement with the United States as well.

The over-night talks of US Secretary of State, John Kerry, with Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the matter seem to have been an effort to reduce diplomatic tensions, although in the meantime the Taliban removed the plaque and flag of the Islamic Emirate from their Doha office. However, the effort seems not to have been fruitful.  Instead, the Afghan government feels pushed into a corner, and opposes the peace talks. 

Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the High Peace Council, a government sponsored body that has been tasked to negotiate with the Taliban, has expressed his discomfort over the talks with the Taliban and said that the removal of the flag is not enough.

Initially, it was the Afghan government that advocated the establishment of an office for the Taliban.l President Karzai personally visited Doha to hold talks to expedite the process of establishing the office. The move was aimed at reducing Pakistani influence over the Taliban and engaging them directly. However, it seems that the Afghan government is discontented with its not having a role in the peace talks, and  also with the Pakistani involvement in the peace process to such a critical degree.

The media reports suggest that the current political developments are the results of secret diplomacy among a number of stakeholders, including the US, Pakistan, the Taliban and the political opposition to the Afghan government, which has only been minimally reported on by the Western media.

While there has always been support for a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem among various quarters of Afghan society - a process that represents the only way forward - starting the entireprocess from zero has caused concern for the populace. It took the Afghans and the international community a long time and cost enormous amounts of human and monetary resources to put an institutional nexus, though hectic and corrupt, in place. Ignoring the current Afghan role in any sort of peace talks will only cause the peace talks to face additional challenges.

The current Afghan government is beset with widespread corruption, and is too weak to shoulder the enormous burden of bringing peace to the country on its own. However, its complete marginalization in any sort of peace talks that affect Afghanistan will have long term negative consequences.

After Afghanistan was ignored by the international community and was left to the mercy of its neighbors in 1992, it became home to anarchy and a spawning ground for the terrorists from all over the world. I think leaving Afghanistan  in haste can lead to a1992 type situation again, when the country was in chaos, 60000 people were killed by the warring factions in Kabul, and thousands of people were forced to migrate to Iran and Pakistan.

The complex political and security situation in Afghanistan cries out for regional involvement.  All the national, regional, and international stakeholders, particularly Afghans, should be made part of the solution. Failure to ignore the interests of Afghans in any solution will only  exacerbate the situation not only for Afghans but also in the region and for the broader global community.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Taksim Square and the Fight for Turkish Identity

Guest contributor Caitlin Scuderi, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, New  Brunswick, NJ, USA, is a former Boren Fellow who has conducted extensive research in Turkey.

Banners of demonstrators in Taksim Square
On Tuesday, May 28, builders and construction crews moved into Gezi Park, a small public park on the north east side of the Taksim Square in Istanbul.  The redevelopment of the park, as designed and implemented by the current ruling government, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), includes plans for cultural centers, an opera house, and a mosque. In addition to this, the plan also entails that an Ottoman-era military barracks be rebuilt on the site. In order to implement these plans, the current park must be razed, including its historical sycamore trees, and the historic Ataturk Cultural Center must be demolished.[1]

The same morning construction crews moved into the park, environmental activists from around the city converged on Gezi Park – some of the last green space in a quickly developing city.  On Thursday, May 30, police raided the protestors at dawn and two days later, protests erupted in major cities across Turkey in solidarity. Police have responded with teargas and water cannons.

Protests against environmental degradation, urbanization, and pedestrianization are a hallmark of developing and growing cities throughout the world. The question then is, what makes the protests that began in Gezi Park and spread throughout Turkey different?

A wounded demonstrator
The answer is that these protests have little to do with the symptoms of development and everything to do with growing discontent about the ruling AKP in general and with Prime Minister Erdogan specifically.

The AKP has been in power since 2002 and in the 11 years that have passed, the party under the leadership of Erdogan has become increasingly more overt in its prescription of adherence to Islamic mores and directives. In early 2011, the AKP government placed controversial restrictions on alcohol and alcohol-related advertising.[2] This move was promptly labeled as a nod to Islam by secularists in Turkey.

While the AKP has fervently denied any hidden agendas relating to the implementation of Sharia Law throughout the country, secularists have pointed to the details of the party’s plans as evidence of their ‘real’ agenda. For instance, just prior to the 2011 round of alcohol restrictions, the government increased a special tax on alcohol by 30 percent – making Turkey one of the world’s most expensive countries for alcohol. Importantly, this increased the price of raki, an anise-flavored drink widely consumed throughout Turkey, to about 35 USD per liter.[3] Raki is associated with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and it is a widely held belief that he enjoyed the drink frequently. In this way, an attack on alcohol – and specifically on raki – is considered an attack on Ataturk, the man attributed with the founding of the cosmopolitan and secular Turkish state.

Barricades in Taksim Square
In the same vane, the government’s plans to raze Gezi Park have hit a nerve with Turkish secularists. The first problem is with the erection of the Ottoman-era military barracks. Turkey values its military and has honored it with parks and museums throughout the country. These specific barracks, however, represent something more. The barracks being reconstructed were the sight of a failed mutiny attempt by Islamic-minded soldiers intent on incorporating Sharia law into the fabric of society.[4]  Again, secularists see the choice of rebuilding this specific barracks as an affront to the country’s secular foundation.

In order to even build the military barracks, the historic Ataturk Cultural Center must be demolished. In the same way that levying a tax on raki and rebuilding the barracks reaffirms some secularists’ ideas that the AKP government has a hidden agenda, demolishing a center with Ataturk’s name sends a message that the AKP government envisions an identity for Turkey different from that of its founders.

Last, secularists and Turks concerned with the state of democracy in general have voiced their discontent with the government’s choice of Kalyon Group as the project’s main contractor.[5] Kalyon Group’s close ties with the AKP government raise questions of transparency and corruption within the government (this isn’t the only time the AKP’s transparency has been question, however. The 2008 1.1 billion USD acquisition of Turkuvas Media Group by Calik Group raised eyebrows: Calik’s chairman and CEO is Erdogan’s son-in-law).[6] 

Makeshift hospital for wounded demonstrators
The protests that have erupted in Turkey are not about Gezi Park or the environment in general.  Rather, they are about Turkey's identity. Protestors are concerned about what Turkey has become and where it is heading; they are concerned about the reality that the AKP has been in power for 11 years and will be in power for at least another two more; and they are concerned about the state of democracy under a government that on occasion lacks transparency and practices in-group bidding, if not corruption. How these protests play out will leave a definitive mark on Turkey’s identity. If the protestors elicit concessions from Erdogan and his AKP government, the country could move forward toward more collective decision making and increased compromise in the political arena. If, however, the protests continue without evoking political change, Erdogan and the AKP’s days will be numbered.