No sooner had Egypt’s military moved to depose President Morsi in July 2013 than an onslaught of articles came predicting the impending demise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, indeed, of Islamism as whole. Such prophecies of the looming “end of Islamism” are hardly new. Long before the Arab Spring, various scholars and journalists had contended that Islamism had failed, or was on its way to failure, and that we were moving into a new, “post-Islamist” world. While events over the past three years have cast serious doubts on those theories, Egypt’s military coup and the accompanying mass protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule has simultaneously provided them ample ammunition.
While scholars debate what the events in Egypt and elsewhere mean for Islamism’s future trajectory, an important voice has been missing from the discussion—that of the Islamists themselves.
Given the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s important contribution to the ideological evolution and organizational spread of Islamism, it is no surprise that Islamists from Indonesia to Morocco have followed developments in Egypt with great interest. They have debated among themselves and also sought to respond directly to their critics and interlocutors in the West about what the fall of the Brotherhood from power means for their overall movement and ideology.
Given their ties to the Egyptian mother organization, Brotherhood sister organizations have been at the forefront of those attempting to interpret and react to developments in Egypt.
While they offered moral support for their Egyptian brethren and criticized the Egyptian military, these organizations have reacted largely in accordance with their local conditions. Such is evident in the case of the Jordanian Brotherhood; fearful that they would meet the same fate as the Egyptian Brotherhood, they were quick to dismiss the possibility that Amman would ban and repress the organization, and insisted that “each organization has its own circumstances.” Moreover, they have emphatically pointed out that Jordan’s monarchy has never dealt with their organization in such a manner, all the while praising the King’s outreach to all political groups, Islamists and non-Islamists alike.1 In Syria, the Brotherhood faces a dual threat from al-Qaeda and the Assad regime. In response, it has echoed the language of its Egyptian counterpart in calling for constitutional legitimacy, demanding that the government commit to the ballot box and in criticizing the military coup.2 Historical fears and experiences of military coups have shaped Islamist reactions in Tunisia and Turkey,3 while Morocco’s two main Islamist groups, the Justice and Development Party and the Justice and Benevolence Organization, have each used the Egyptian case to reinforce their own positions and criticize the other group’s approach.4
The Brotherhood’s affiliate groups were not the only Islamists to react to Morsi’s ouster, however. Indeed, many groups from across the whole spectrum of the Islamist universe have pointed out that the disaster that befell the Brotherhood in Egypt was the result of the Brotherhood’s “political” approach. The jihadists have been especially critical, arguing that the Islamist dream can only ever be achieved through armed struggle. As al-Qaeda stated: “Anyone who calls to resist falsehood with peacefulness is swimming in a sea of illusions, and perhaps in a sea of blood, in vain.” Moreover, the jihadists added that “falsehood will not be removed and will not go away except with force and with power.”5 Similar calls to arms were echoed by al-Shabab in Somalia6 and by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).7 In a powerful statement, ISIS quickly declared:
The Islamic State had known that Right cannot be restored except by force, so it chose the ammunition boxes and not the ballot boxes and that the lifting of injustice and change cannot happen except by the sword, so it insisted on negotiating in the trenches and not in hotels, and abandoned the lights of conferences.8
ISIS further indicted the Brotherhood as “a secular party with an Islamic garb,” saying that the Brothers “are more evil and cunning than the secularists.”9 Egyptian jihadists echoed the criticism, accusing the Brotherhood of not striving to establish an Islamic State.10
The prominent jihadist Shaykh Abu Mohamed Al Maqdisi has rejected much of the jihadist criticism and cursing of the Brotherhood from his prison cell. In a long and important letter to fellow jihadists,11 Maqdisi seemed to revise longstanding jihadist arguments against Islamist movements that accept the democratic process. He wrote that it was unfair to equate the Brotherhood with secularists, and he rejected criticism of the Brotherhood while they face a crackdown. He declared: “Let the whole world know we do not call the Brotherhood apostates. They are Muslims even though we disagree on many issues.”
The Islamist critique of the Brotherhood was not, however, limited to those who disagree with its acceptance of the ballot box as a means of transforming society. In fact, many Islamists who agree with the Brotherhood’s general worldview have highlighted its numerous mistakes while it held power. Even before the coup, Zuheir Salem, one of the Syrian Brotherhood’s top leaders, criticized the Egyptian mother organization for its decision to ﬁeld a presidential candidate and thus in- herit “a sinking ship.”12 Abdel Fattah Mourou offered a lengthy critical assessment of the Brotherhood and Islamists in general in which he highlighted their lack of experience in politics as well as actual governance, their preference for loyal instead of qualiﬁed members, their lack of speciﬁc plans to address modern problems, their inclination towards majoritarian rule instead of consensus, and most importantly, their obsession with change through the political process when ruling should not be its sole goal of the Islamist project.13
Other prominent Islamists have echoed similar criticisms, highlighting the Brotherhood’s grab for power, their pursuit of “societal hegemony,”14 and their misguided attitude towards the state as if it was a “prize.”15 Others blamed the Brotherhood’s complete lack of knowledge of how the state operates16 and, more profoundly, what one described as “a terrible absence of intellectual and cultural ijtihad and a fatal laziness17 in providing new perspectives of the state of the da’wah, the State, and society, until the January revolution surprised everyone.”18 Many condemned the Brotherhood’s failure to distinguish their rigid ideological da’wah from politics,19 a failure that in practice meant they appointed loyal but unqualiﬁed members to government positions.20 Others argued that the Brotherhood’s conservative and staid approach was unsuitable for a revolutionary moment that required radical change.21
Islamists analyzing events in Egypt were not all critical of the Brotherhood, however. Many blamed a conspiracy22 against Islamism for the failure of the Brotherhood’s experiment in power.23 Zuheir Salem suggested that “outside powers want to see the Muslim Brotherhood fail. They don’t want to see something like Turkey.”24 Moreover, it was argued that the Brotherhood should have recognized that it could not transform society “in a domestic, regional and international environment that is at least not welcoming, if not hostile to it.”25 Abdel Fattah Mourou argued that “talk of the assessment of the experience of the rule of Islamists is highly excessive, because the one posing that question gives us the impression that Islamists are ruling, or that they are about to rule, and this is not true. The Islamists today are not ruling.”26 Khaled Mostafa offered a similar defense.27Meanwhile, Abdel Rahman Farhana argued that “Islamists did not have ample time in power to be judged,”28 whereas others thought the people’s expectations of the Brotherhood when they came to power were too unrealistic, especially given the diﬃculties of ruling post-revolutionary Egypt.29
Lastly, many Islamists began to debate what the impact of the Brotherhood’s fall would be on the future of the overall Islamist project. Traditionalists sought to assuage Islamist fears by arguing that victory was inevitable: the history of Islam had proven that believers, no matter the obstacles, prevailed in the end.30 Increasing internal schisms and an overall return to da’wah work instead of politics were both presented as possible outcomes, as were an escalation and continued confrontation with Islamism’s adversaries, maintenance of the status quo, and a thorough-going reexamination of the Brotherhood’s political approach.31 Mohamed Kamal suggested a “migration to society by focusing on the problems of society without looking for close or distant political gain.”32 Anas Hassan made an entirely different argument that had interesting implications for Islamism’s future. He claimed that in the past, “Islamists have been forced to acknowledge the reality of geographical divisions and the nation state while rejecting them in theory,” but that events in Egypt and Syria would drive Islamists to rethink the nation state for the ﬁrst time.33
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Are Islamists concerned that events in Egypt may indicate an end to the Islamist resurgence? Not really—many, in fact, rightfully ridicule the rumors of Islamism’s demise as a “childish reaction,”34 and as wishful thinking on the part of Islamism’s opponents. For years, some Islamists have been deeply aware of such predictions by Western analysts and journalists—and they have sought to refute them. In fact, two of the articles translated below offer their answer to such claims. Ghannouchi’s piece is obviously a rebuttal to Olivier Roy’s ideas about the failure of Islamism.
In addition to the translated articles, other Islamists have also weighed in, offering their counter arguments to such predictions. El Sayed Haydar Reda argued that the Brotherhood’s failure in Egypt was theirs alone (or more narrowly Morsi’s), and therefore that it will not affect the future of the overall Islamist movement.35 Yasser El Zaarta argued that Islamism did not begin with Mohamed Morsi, and it will not evaporate due to his failures.36 Abdel Rahman Farhana claimed that it was a military coup, not the will of the people, which caused the Brotherhood’s experiment to fail.37 Yasser El Zaarta stated that no state-level decision could possibly eradicate Islamism.38 Granted, Egypt’s current repression of Islamist political activity is signiﬁcantly harsher than in the past. Just as Bozekry Mohtady has claimed, however, it will not succeed simply because repression alone cannot end Islamism.39 Yasser El Zaarta argued persuasively that the very success of Islamists after the Arab Spring followed years of state repression.40 Moreover, El Zaarta and Ferhana maintained that repression is much more diﬃcult in a globalized world after the revolution in information technology:41 people will wake up.42 Roushdy Bouibry added that repression will also make people more sympathetic to Islamists.43 Farhana wrote that no government or policy could possibly eradicate Islamism in the foreseeable future because the sources of its success persist into the present day: Islamists are both stronger organizationally and closer to the people than any of their ideological adversaries in the Middle East.44 Zaarta further added that Islamists will not be crushed while watching idly; they will soon regroup and lead the counter attack.45 Farhana claimed that Islamists proved better than others, as their reign did not witness human rights violations, the silencing of the press or massive ﬁnancial corruption. Furthermore, they have remained peaceful even in the face of repression.46 Al Sayed Haydar Reda wrote that Islamism in the twentieth century still has a comprehensive program that covers all walks of life, just as it did during the time of the Rashidun Caliphate.47
Islamists have made two key arguments that stand out for their importance. First, they claim that Islamism is deeply rooted in Muslim countries,48 that it “is not a foreign plant in the [Muslim] nation’s body”49 and that, in fact, the Islamist “project stems from the people’s identity.”50 This argument deserves serious consideration. Indeed, Islamism by its very nature does not claim to be a political ideology within the world of Islam, but rather that it represents the political manifestation of Islam. Of course, such claims should not be accepted outright given the modern nature of the ideology, the contribution of modern European ideologies to its foundation, as well as Islamism’s clear break with traditional Islamic political thought. However, these claims can’t be dismissed offhand. Islamists’ second signiﬁcant argument is that the political alternatives to their agenda in the Muslim world have been completely discredited.51 Non-Islamists have not been able to defeat Islamists in a democratic competition and have relied instead on the military to contain and suppress the Islamist project, proving their lack of commitment to the very principles they proclaim and more importantly their continuous weakness.52 Simply put, Islamism’s competitors have not articulated a viable political alternative to Islamism. Thus Islamism continues to be the only available ideology that claims to offer a coherent answer to the crisis of modernity that has come to overwhelm the Arab and Muslim world with the discovery of European technological, material and military superiority.
The three articles translated below on Islamism’s future were written by leading Islamist thinkers in Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. They provide an important window into the current thinking among Islamists, their interpretation of events in Egypt, and perhaps most importantly, how they view themselves and their professed ideology. Rachid al-Ghannouchi and Mohsen Saleh present forceful rebuttals to those proclaiming the impending demise of Islamism. Belal el-Taleedy, meanwhile, agrees that Islamism will not fail, and then devotes his article to analyzing the different paths that Brotherhood organizations in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have taken, and to charting the movement’s future course.
Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s article is particularly interesting because this is not the ﬁrst time he has attempted to offer a counter-argument to predictions about the end of Islamism. In fact, his article is clearly modeled on an earlier one that he wrote in 2009 both in structure, style and in many of its fundamental arguments. Nevertheless there are key differences, or more accurately omissions, from the previous article that deserve to be discussed.
In a March 19, 2009 article entitled “Did Political Islam Fail or its Opponents?”53 Ghannouchi takes for granted the notion that the West hates Islam and clearly regards the existence of a Western conspiracy against Islam and the Islamist project as self-evident. He states that the Western “machine and its funding, which was directed towards dismantling the buried Soviet Union, was transferred to undermine Islam at the beginning of the nineties.” Moreover, he views Western claims about the demise of Islamism, something which he calls “counter-preaching,” as potentially beneﬁcial to the Islamist cause. He argues that these claims “may decrease the degree of maliciousness against [Islamists] in Western decision-making circles,” by encouraging the West to grow “conﬁdent that evil has eaten each other and collapsed from the inside, so there is no need to mobilize armies and spend money, after endless coffers have been drained in pursuit of Islamic terrorism.”
Ghannouchi further adds that the disasters that have befallen the Islamist project in recent years are “due to the Western bet on achieving its interests in the region, not through accommodation with the will of the peoples, i.e. democracy, after that became associated with the quicker road for Islam and Islamist rule, but on the usurper savage Zionist entity and its allies from corrupt dictatorships.” Israel, or the “Zionist entity” as Ghannouchi calls it, is at the core of Western hatred of Islam. He describes Israel’s policies as the “atrocities of Nazi Zionists in Gaza,” and rejects all peace treaties with the Jewish state claiming that those who have signed them have “succumbed to the logic of Zionist Western arrogance to sign treaties of compliance and submission.” Partly for these reasons, he hails the Iranian regime:
As to the Iranian experiment, it too lives under the impact of the international embargo and struggles to achieve a degree of balance of power with its dangerous enemies. This drains a large amount of its resources to guarantee its survival in the face of the largest international conglomerate assisted by regional complicity. Despite that, the Iranian model has succeeded in establishing a stable system which achieves a transfer (of power) within the framework of the oﬃcial ideology of the state (Vilayat Al Faqih)54 and provides for the independence of its decision and its determination of pursuing a huge developmental project, and provides support to resistance to the Zionist project, to which the region nearly surrendered.
He further praises all those who resist Israel and Western hegemony:
As is seen in the creativity of the great youth of Gaza, the youth of Hezbollah, and the youth of the Iraqi resistance, who have put an end to the arrogance of materialism and the arrogance of weaponry testifying to the power of Right and man’s predominance over the machine and the victory of faith over tyranny and Kufr.55
Ghannouchi further professes doubts that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by Islamists and, even if they were, he argues that the attacks pale in comparison to the atrocities committed against Muslims:
If the attribution of the 9/11 bombings to whom it was attributed is true, an action regardless of who did it that does not deserve from a Muslim anything but condemnation without reservation and sympathy with its victims, to the same extent that one sympathizes with all the victims of similar or worse genocidal actions taking place in Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and other places.
He praises jihad against occupation:
Islamism is leading the nation’s major battles in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. True, some mistakes are committed by Jihadists, though these are quite understandable given Western actions, but these hardly discredit Islamism as a whole. Some energy triggered by the awakening may get out of control as a reaction to the tyranny of rulers who are endlessly backed by Western control centers that become harmful to the Islamic project before anyone else, as has happened in Algeria, Egypt, New York, London, Madrid and elsewhere… Can all this be considered a failure for political Islam just because of a few reckless actions that have never represented the mainstream of the Islamic movement as much as they are fringes that no society is without and the responsibility for which rests with political tyranny, occupation, foreign bases on the land of Islam and all of these are not the responsibility of Islam? Islamism has succeeded in defeating communism, advances at the expense of secularization projects, the most powerful of which was the Communist project, which the intellectual proselytizing Islam and the Jihadist Islam had a huge role and honor in overthrowing, and capitalism will soon follow. The end of capitalism has been proclaimed following its red brother, all in direct relationship to political Islam.
But the most important part of Ghannouchi’s article is how he understands Islamism itself, its competitors and what it aims to accomplish. As he writes:
The main idea in Islamic reform since two centuries ago,and especially since the fall of the last form of the Islamic Caliphate in the ﬁrst quarter of the twentieth century, is the resistance of this dahriya,56 as Afghani expressed it, or “schizophrenic bile,” as the martyr Sayed Qutb expressed it: the separation between faith and life, between worship and conduct, between the mosque and the market, between religion and state. Resisting this schizophrenic bile, that is, restoring religion to its original monotheism, is the main idea in the Islamic project. It is the antithesis of paganism as presented by the countersecular project: the marginalization of religion and its removal from the struggles of life. Countering this basic idea in the secular project in order to restore the connection between religion and life, religion’s leadership of life is the essence of the Islamic reform project for nearly two centuries. Perhaps Islam is, as truthfully conﬁrmed by English social scientist Ernst Gellner, is the only religion that the idea of Western modernization i.e. secularism has failed to penetrate, in fact it was it (Islam) which penetrated modernization, tamed it, and absorbed the essence of modernity, i.e. scientiﬁc progress, without being forced to give up anything from its essence, which is what some scholars term, Islamic exceptionalism.
The aim of Islamism is not to protect Islam as mere rituals:
The Islam of rituals has never been a matter of dispute…. rather the dispute has been over the view of the totality of Islam which absorbs modernity and is not absorbed by modernity, above the authority of the state and above its (Islam) authority there is no authority, for which the West has invented the term political Islam. In fact Islamism has a universal mission: the world’s need for Islam to restore a degree of morality and justice to a politics and economy that are devoid of them and Islam today represents the hope of the nation and even a sector of humanity in restoring morality, justice, and meaning to a civilization and politics that has undressed from them to a drastic extent. Testifying to that have been the scandals of Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, Katarina, poverty belts surrounding many modern cities such as Paris, as well as the crisis of capitalism and its collapse.
Nothing can stop the advance of Islamism:
which makes the task of empowering57 it a matter of time and standing in its way is pure stubbornness to the ways of history and society … attempting to stop it only results in more extremism and explosion. Islamism is not limited to a party or a group, the Islamic project is broader than being reduced to a party or a governance program, governance is merely a part of its project, and is not the greater part or the most important. This is why countless states of Islam fell while its (Islam) effect remained in the nation and history. … The Islamists’ pursuit of power only intensiﬁed after the state of “modernity,” which grew into a monster until it suffocated the initiatives of society and swallowed it. The center of the Islamic project is man; as an individual, family and societal relations, as it is an upbringing societal project directed at man to achieve in his life, no matter his position, the presence of God in his life, coloring all his thoughts, emotions, all his conduct and relationships with a Divine dye.
Has Rachid Al-Ghannouchi changed all his views dramatically in ﬁve years or have the constraints imposed by his newly acquired leadership role in Tunisia limited what can be stated in public? Only time will tell.
Political Islam: One Step Backwards Towards a Leap Forward58
By Mohsen Saleh59
September 8, 2013
Those who were euphoric and danced with joy to what they called “the fall of political Islam” after the military coup in Egypt are deluded. The Tambourine drummers and incense holders that the various media was ﬁlled with should not have hurried in the funeral rituals or gloating, because they apparently did not learn the ways of God Almighty in the universe or the movement of history.
Before going into the details, I would like to initially make two observations. First: the term “political Islam” is a Western term; we were forced to use it because it is widespread and because it appeared the easier way to convey the meaning that we want.
We believe that Islam is Islam, and it is not in need of classiﬁcation. There is no “political Islam,” and there is no “non-political Islam,” simply because it is a comprehensive religion for all aspects of life—social, political, economic, worship, and upbringing and others.
Thus the political aspect is an indivisible part of this religion. Our talk here generally applies to the broader current among Islamists, which is the centrist-moderate current which has a civilizational project, believes in national partnership, and which veers away from violence in its practices and its relations with its countrymen.
The second observation is that the military coup in Egypt formed the head of an aftershock wave aimed at ending the “Arab Spring,” and the restoration of “the remnants” and deep state institutions of the previous regimes, albeit with new gowns, and it happened through an alliance with regional forces and international forces, the future and interests of which the revolutions and the change process constituted a threat. They have found that “political Islam” constitutes the solid base for change, and possesses the conﬁdence of the masses in free and fair elections. Hence, targeting this [Islamist] current (and at its heart the Muslim Brotherhood), is an essential part of the coup’s program in Egypt.
The observer can note how this coup coincided with the [anti-Islamist] campaigns, which facts indicate are coordinated and synchronized in time to thwart the Islamists in Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, to contain the opposition in Syria, pressure Turkey, and coincide with the ﬁerce media campaign against Hamas, the tightening of the siege on the Gaza strip, the closure of the Rafah crossing and the destruction of the tunnels.
Those facts indicate that “political Islam” has received a severe blow in Egypt, while it has suffered from great diﬃculties and operations to foil it in other countries that may lead to its decline and thwarting it.
However, a general reading of the political and strategic landscape and an understanding of the nature of the region and its people indicates that “political Islam” will return again with much more strength and popularity, and with a higher capacity to change and lead political developments in the region. The most prominent of these facts include:
First: The current that adopts Islam in a person’s thinking, behavior and way of life is an authentic,deep, and strong stream that is rooted in the Arab nation and the Islamic nation. And that the Islamic revival and reform movements that have played political and revolutionary roles traces its roots back to the ﬁrst hijri century where it was manifested for example in the revolutions of Husayn Ibn Ali,60 Abdallah Ibn Al-Zubayr,61 Abdel Rahman Al-Ash’ath,63 and did not stop throughout the ages.
In modern and contemporary history, the main component of the main force that confronted the state of underdevelopment in our Nation and faced colonialism in our lands was Islamic, and its driving spirit was Islamic. This includes Wahhabism in the Arabian Peninsula, the Mahdiyya63 in Sudan, the Senussis64 in Libya, the martyr Ahmed Khan65 movement in India, Ben Badis66 in Algeria,the Muslim Brotherhood movements and the Gama’a Islamia671 in the Indian subcontinent, the Nursis68 in Turkey and others; they are all extensions of this reformist current. This current cannot be marginalized or eradicated because it is simply the most compatible with the religious, psychological, social, cultural and civilizational makeup of the people in the region and because the values and ideals that it carries are the values and ideals held by Arabs and Muslims without affectation or pretension.
This explains how once systems of tyranny and corruption fall and the atmosphere of freedom spreads, this current, and especially the centrist-moderate one, quickly advances the ranks and enjoys the conﬁdence of the masses.
Second: Since the disaster of the 1967 War—in which the Zionists occupied the rest of the land of Palestine, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights, and which revealed the misery of the poor performance of military regimes, as well [as the weakness] of the leftist, conservative, and nationalist currents in Muslim societies—the Islamist current has been in ascendance.
Yes, there is stumbling in some places, retreat in other places, as a result of the poor performance of Islamists sometimes, and as a result of acts of repression by regimes in other instances. But the general line is an ascending line. Regardless of who is in power, the Islamist current is the ﬁrst popular current in most of our Arab countries.
Third: Since this Nation has been plagued with the retreat of its civilizational role, colonialism, the Zionist occupation, and with internal division and splitting, it is experiencing a state of labor, in which currents and ideologies are wrestling. It is a Nation in search of an identity, for a path that restores its vitality, its renaissance, and its advanced standing among other nations.
Our problem is not economic at its essence, although the economic problem is one of its manifestations. In most of our countries, including the countries of the “Arab Spring,” no one dies from hunger, though many die from overeating and obesity diseases, but many people are dying every day a thousand times due to oppression, and the feeling of injustice and humiliation.
Over the past years, the military regimes have failed, and the regimes that have raised nationalist slogans such as Baathism and Nasserism have failed, and the secular regimes (whether they are socialist leftist or liberal capitalist) have failed. Also failing are the hereditary regimes in answering the questions of identity, unity, development, and in confronting the Zionist project. Only the Islamist civilizational current that has not had its real chance to rule remains.
Fourth: The Islamist current is the richest current in youth and qualiﬁed young men—unlike most leftist, liberal, and nationalist currents, most of whose leaders have exceeded the autumn of life, and who are thus not able to renew themselves.
The sons of the Islamist current remain the most popular, powerful and prevalent among students, university graduates, and syndicates, which means that this current will inherit other currents that have occupied political, media, and economic positions decades ago. We are, in brief, in front of the coming generation and the passing generation.
Fifth: Perhaps it is from God Almighty’s kindness towards Islamists in Egypt that the military coup occurred, despite its bloody and ugly repressive practices. For the revolution in Egypt (as in Tunisia and Yemen) is a revolution that has not been completed, and was not accompanied with the revolutionary tools to be able to protect it. Such tools consist of transitional justice, revolution protection institutions, the tools to handle with the counter-media, and the ways to deal with forms of obstruction in the state’s deep structure.
Islamists have found themselves in the quandary of leading the scene without the real capacity to change. The military’s mounting of the January 25, 2011 revolutionary wave, and attempting to absorb and redirect it, cut off the possibility of the revolution completing its components.
Islamists have tried to implement their program through institutions that have worked on foiling and overthrowing them. They have worked to adapt with these institutions and develop them gradually, believing in peaceful quite transformation; but they paid a heavy price for their civilized behavior in an environment that required revolutionary action.
Yes, they have paid for it with a decline in their popularity and an inability to implement their program, thus it was from the kindness of God that the counter revolution was revealed to everyone, and its relationships, and the tremendous inﬂuence it possesses in the structure of the state and its institutions, and what this entails in a new revolutionary wave.
Sixth: The Islamists have presented a distinguished civilizational model in respecting the democratic process, the peaceful transfer of power, respect for the results of the ballot boxes, and won ﬁve electoral competitions (The Constitutional Declaration, Parliament, Shura Council, Presidency, Constitution) in free and fair elections. Thus they deservingly represented the will of the Egyptian people.
During President Morsi’s era there was not a single political prisoner, and the media (even the government ones) attacked, maimed and painted them [the Brotherhood] as devils without being shut down or disabled. The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood were burned and many of their members were killed, and they appeared as a vulnerable entity despite their presence at the helm of power.
Islamists have continued their civilizational model even after the coup, and they proved to have a broad and continuous popular presence. On the other hand, the coup and its supporters revealed the fallacy of their claims regarding democracy: they have continued their smear campaigns, their accusations of treason, slander and dissemination of hatred, and they could not tolerate the other opinion, closed dissenting media, and carried out an enormous unprecedented terrorist eradication campaign against the Islamist current, and against all those who oppose them. The shedding of the blood of hundreds, no even thousands, was made permissible, and massacres were committed against demonstrators and peaceful protestors, and thousands were arrested, and charges were fabricated against symbols and leaders, which revealed the failure of the military and the remnants [of the old regime] and their allies in civilized conduct, their displeasure with liberties, their fear of the truths reaching the masses, and their understanding of their weakness when they give Islamists the same amount of free expression and action.
And because of the putschist’s conduct,the popularity of Islamists has increased and not declined; and people’s sympathy with them [the Islamists] has increased, as has the embrace of other powers and youth movements; and they proved that they are the defenders of the constitutional legitimacy and the democratic process.
Seventh: The military putschist behavior is in itself a telling confession of the inability to face the Islamists in free and fair elections. The oppressive eradicative behavior towards the opponents of the coup, and especially the Muslim Brotherhood, is proof of the putschists and their allies’ preference for the top of the tank over the ballot box.
The putschists are preparing cooked up elections suiting their size; otherwise, why were they not patient for two or three months to participate in the house of representatives elections with all guarantees of impartiality available, and implement their electoral program if they win, and determine in a democratic manner the course of the political life in Egypt?
Eighth: The options of the putschists on the democratic path and of the opponents of the Islamist current appear limited and diﬃcult. There is an option of returning back to the former corrupt and autocratic regime, albeit in a new garment, with an attempt to marginalize Islamists or eradicate them, which is an option that will be exposed sooner or later and will not lead to anything, but will only prepare for a popular revolution more vast and powerful, which uproots the old regime and its institutions and establishes a new regime.
And there is the option of partial democracy whose garment is designed at the putschist’s size, and perhaps Islamists will be allowed artiﬁcial representation after cutting their wings. This option, which appears more intelligent, will be exposed as well, after it is shown to everyone that their democratic game has a ceiling governed by some oﬃcers and by the powerful, who despise the people and their will.
The regime [that the putschists will create] will also still carry the elements of its self-destruction through its various crises, at the forefronts of which are the crises of identity, democratic legitimacy, renaissance, corruption, and tyranny.
And there is the option of fully applying democracy and holding free, fair and transparent elections, as the leaders of the coup and their supporters promised, which is an option that opens the door wide open for the return of Islamists to power. Will they respect the results of elections and give the Islamists a real opportunity? Or will they stage a new coup as they are above democracy, above the people and above institutions?
Ninth: The human beings in this region have broken the barrier of fear and the authoritarian and repressive regimes that have been overcome by history cannot turn the clock back.
These regimes have become the only exception on the planet in our contemporary world, and the injections which are supplied to their slouch bodies will not be able to stop man’s aspirations to freedom and dignity, which are aspirations that mean at the end of the matter that the peoples will determine their destiny with their own will. This means in practice that the Islamists will have the strongest opportunity to return to leading the scene sooner or later.
Tenth: Islamists are not angels; they make mistakes and also the right choices, they stumble and learn. Islamists have been pushed away from running the state and its institutions for decades, and suffered from attempts at marginalization, so they may need a transitional period to comprehend the action mechanisms in state institutions and regain some of their rights to be present in those institutions according to their experience and competence. Perhaps the previous experience has proved to Islamists that they must:
- Be more open to different groups of society and clearer in explaining their programs.
- Reassure religious minorities of their civilizational project and open the ﬁeld of real partnership for them in national action.
- Seek to accommodate all qualiﬁed and potentially qualiﬁed people.
- Expand the circle of their alliances, so as to establish a national safety net that protects the revolution and the democratic path in the country.
- Establish the appropriate mechanisms to effectively deal with the “deep state institutions.”
- Be more capable of dealing with the regional and international environment.
The coup was a hard lesson for Islamists, but it was an invaluable lesson, for they clearly learned the map of friends and enemies, their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Perhaps God Almighty destined this to be so that He extracts from Islamists the best that they have, deny their wickedness, and rise to the level of managing society and the state, and the level of managing the conﬂict with the Zionist project and the Western project in the region. Perhaps His verse applies best: “Do not think it is bad for you, it is good for you” (Al Nur: 11).
Therefore, the counter-wave that toppled the Islamists in Egypt will be for them but “a step backwards towards a leap forward.”
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Western experts monitoring the Islamic movement’s path have been accustomed, whenever Islamists here or there suffer a setback, or even merely a decline in elections, no matter how small, to herald all over the world71 with the loudest speakers the failure, collapse and end of political Islam. This is reiterated in their symposiums and talks to the media, which presents them as experts pronouncing judgment and the ﬁnal word.
Soon their ilk in the land of Islam as well as those working in our media receive these pronouncements as if they were facts that cannot be wrong.
The Egyptian events in the last few months have provided abundant material for such research, seminars and assurances that this market has ﬂourished and its merchandise became popular.
How credible are these claims? Is what is known as “Political Islam” in the process of signiﬁcant and growing decline in the direction of ultimate failure and certain collapse? Or is it merely backward turns here and there motivating a new start in an upward curve in its overall direction, which makes it likely that even the points of decline will soon join the overall curve heading upwards?
1. The “Islamic Movement,” which is the term preferred by Islamists as an alternative to what is called “Political Islam,” refers to all the activities that call for Islam as the ﬁnal word of God to people and a comprehensive curriculum to life and a message to the world. This Islam is conﬁrmed by all statistical studies to be the fastest growing, and most widespread and attractive to minds and wills, religions and ways of life today. Its adherents are the most willing to sacriﬁce everything dear and precious for it, out of ardor and commitment to it.
What is called “Political Islam” (the Islamic Movement) moves on this religious base that is the most widespread in the world today, and it has been enabled by contemporary technological communications to extend its reach in a speed unprecedented in history—especially since it hardly encounters any signiﬁcant resistance given the state of ideological emptiness, existential anxiety, and the collapse of the warm incubators around man in contemporary civilization such as the family and clan.
This is taking place at a time when governments have increasingly accelerated their resignation of their duties to care [for the people], which has increased the state of anxiety, isolation and loss of companionship, as one of the effects of accelerated secularism, which is pushing individuals to search for warm incubators and systems where the demands of the body and soul are met, the individual and the community, the religious and the worldly, nationalism and internationalism, and this is what the wandering seeker ﬁnds completely in Islam with its comprehensive origins and known moderation. This explains eminent elites from all religions and cultures seeking to embrace it despite the war of hatred and demonization being waged against it, its movements and minorities.
2. The Islamic Movement in its mainstream—and set aside the extremist margins that no ideology and nation is devoid of— presented Islam as the completion of civilization’s achievements and noble aspects. It did not do so as an antithesis in every aspect to the achievements of modernization such as education for all males and females, to the values of justice and equality, rights and freedoms, without discrimination on the basis of belief, sex, and color, which guarantees to everyone the rights of citizenship, humanity, religious and political freedoms as is customary in contemporary democracies, given that equality in those rights and freedoms is a necessary deduction of the divine honoring of the sons of Adam. “And we have certainly honored the children of Adam” (Al Isra’: 70).
3. The Islamic movement which originates from the basis of Islam, the religion of instinct, in search of solutions for the problems of its societies and contributing to solving the problems of humanity, beneﬁting from all expertise of civilization that are compatible with the values of Islam and its purposes in achieving people’s interests, is the closest to the conscience of our peoples. It addresses them with their familiar values, concepts and language; it cannot be rivaled popularly, if the preachers understand the problems of the people and framed it in accordance with their mental and doctrinal structure.
4. The Islamic movements have been subjected for more than half a century to a series of repression, which hardly rests for a short time before it returns with even more severity.
The continuous repression bequeathed numerous virtues to the Islamist movement: it has instilled in Islamists a legacy of struggle which, binds them to each other, and a common history in which at least three generations have grown up.
The brutal repression has also gained them people’s sympathy with the injustice inﬂicted upon them. This gave them additional assets and gains that were unavailable to any other political competitor. For as much as one offers, one gains and the peoples gives ﬁghters their dues.
5. The Islamists today more than ever stand in the noblest and ﬁrmest position. They are closer to the doctrinal and conceptual cultural position of the people; they are standing, like in Egypt, carrying the noblest slogans such as defending the will of the people and resorting to the ballot box, and they are leading a fantastic peaceful revolution. That revolution defends the values of the revolution, the freedom of the press, which their rule upheld while the coup squandered, and it defends political pluralism and the nation’s major causes such as the cause of Palestine.
In contrast, the deeply rooted Egyptian liberalism, including the Wafd party, stands in the camp of the counter-revolution. It seeks support from a military coup and defends it, while its tanks trample on the ballot boxes and crush the people’s will as well as their bodies, silences the voices of the media, opens prisons wide open and strikes the unarmed masses in the millions.
As for the Nation’s major cause, the cause of Palestine, it has become a major accusation. Was the elected president not charged with espionage with Hamas as a pretext for deposing him, while he was the ﬁrst democratically elected president, and in order to please Israel?
Is the embroilment of the Egyptian “modernist” elite and its Arab counterparts, which applauded the coup, not a form of collective suicide? This is in contrast with the honorable stand of the Islamist Movement in the face of tyranny with bare chests except with faith?
Is it possible from an historical, strategic, or nationalist point of view to consider supporting the brutal coup a liberal, progressive, nationalist, or secular victory? And is it correct to consider what happened to be a defeat for political Islam and an end to it?
6. We do not doubt that what occurred in Egypt is not a relapse for political Islam, as much as it is a relapse that will end what is left, unfortunately, from the heritage of Arab secular liberalism and nationalism, unless they reconsider their positions and return to their senses. On the other hand, the coup will provide opportunities for the Islamic Movement to carry out revisions in order to correct its mistakes in governance, so that it will be more open to opposition forces in Egypt and elsewhere. This is especially important during a transitional phase which cannot be governed by a single party or a single current, nor acceptable for its constitution to be written by one trend.
The Islamic Movement in Egypt and elsewhere will realize this, and it will be more open to all the national forces, giving them [the national forces] the space not only to participate and ally with them, but even to occupy positions of leadership in Islamist par- ties, for Islam is a common heritage of the whole nation.
7. While the Brotherhood in Egypt underwent successive tribulations at the hands of the rulers of Egypt since the monarchy, and especially in the Nasserite era, it cannot be compared, neither quantitatively or qualitatively to what it is enduring at the hands of General El Sisi. The total number of victims during sixty years did not far exceed sixty martyrs, which is the same as the number of the ﬁrst “Sisian” [Field Marshall Abdel Fatah El Sisi] handshake [encounter] with them in front of the presidential palace. Soon there was news of thousands of killed, wounded and detained, which clearly indicates the weakness of the coup’s legitimacy and its reckless attempt to offset that by repression against escalating peaceful heroic resistance.
8. The difference between what the Brotherhood suffered from Nasserite repression, and the current repression from the standpoint of a value judgment is great. Nasser did not strike the Brotherhood with the word of the state only, but he struck them with grand projects that he brought to his people and the nation, regardless of how serious some of them were.
The security and political repression [of the Nasser era] had a heavy cover in the form of civilizational and politically tempting missionary projects such as the agrarian reform project, dissemination of education, expansion of al-Azhar, the liberation of Palestine, the uniﬁcation of the Arab Nation, countering imperialism, and the Non-Aligned Movement. In contrast, what does Sisi offer as a project for his people and nation as a cover for the brutal repression of his regime, which has become so intellectually vapid as to accuse the legitimate imprisoned president of collaborating with Hamas?
9. At the time of open spaces (internet, TV), the crimes of tyrants are taking place under the most powerful microscopes and the brightest lights. This was not possible to the pharaohs of old, whose crimes were carried out under the guise of secrecy. It was thus possible for Moses’s Pharaoh to say: “I do not show you except what I see” (Ghaﬁr: 29), imposing his absolute authority over his people through his control over information.
That time is long gone and the crimes of tyrants are taking place under the microscope. There is no future for Sisi and his ilk in the era of open spaces.
Considering all of the above, I can conﬁdently assure you that political Islam was not defeated in Egypt or anywhere else. For the world of ideas is replete with the values of Islam, in a manner unprecedented since we were invaded with modernity on the back of the tanks and dominated by the world of elites. Modernity drove Islam to the margins and promised major projects, most of which were a failure either on the level of freedom, development, justice, unity, or the liberation of Palestine. This returned and renewed the need to think of Islam and search within it for a renaissance project that interacts and absorbs, rather than rejects the achievements of modernity after replanting it in the ﬁeld of Islam.
What is called “political Islam” is not in a state of decline. Rather it is in the process of correcting its mistakes and preparing for a new phase, which is not far away, of the practice of better governance. It does not need decades to recover larger opportunities that await it in the time of open-source media spaces, and in the face of coup projects which nakedly lack any moral, civilizational or political cover.
They (Islamists)are deeply rooted movements in their societies carrying the values of peaceful democratic revolution and the values of communalism as a substitute for individuality in a successful marriage of the values of Islam and the values of modernity.
“And Allah has full power over His Affairs, but most humans know not” (Yusuf: 21).
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Future of Islamists in the Arab Region after the Overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Experiment in Egypt72
By Belal El Taleedy73
November, 29 2013
It should be emphasized at the start that it is difficult to take the developments that Egypt has recently known as an indicator to judge the experience of Islamist movements after the Arab Spring. The hasty analysis which rushed to declare the end of Political Islam in the Arab region did not take into account four similar examples which have all led to opposite conclusions. The July 1952 coup in Egypt, which ended with the eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood; General Ben Ali’s coup in 1987, which moved almost in the same direction; the coup on the experiment of Erbakan’s rule in Turkey; and aborting the Salvation [Islamic Salvation Front] experiment in Algeria after it had won a majority in the electoral process—those four examples have not ended the experiment of Political Islam as many researchers had predicted. On the contrary, these experiences have increased Islamism’s strength, or at least, it presented itself in newer forms, and returned once again to form the largest political force in the political landscape of many Arab countries.
It is true that the difference was evident in those four experiences in the way that Islamists dealt with the regimes, but in the end, the weakest link was in Algeria because of the resort to the military option by some factions of the Islamic Salvation Front in response to the coup against the election results. While out of the womb, the Islamic movement in Turkey came out with a new political approach that reexamined the traditional leadership style in dealing with the components of the political ﬁeld and the outside actors. Whereas in Egypt and Tunisia, the popular movement has played a role in returning the Islamist movement to the forefront of the political scene from its wide gate because of the weakness of the other political elites, and the lack of a political rival which has the same organizational strength that the Islamic movements possesses.
Although the possibility of assessing the situation in Egypt and exploring its outcome is diﬃcult because the political interactions are still taking place, and the balance of power’s entire features have not been completed due to the rapid changes within Egyptian society, the preliminary reading of the reality and outcome of the performance of Islamist movements in power in the Arab region indicates the presence of key governing determinants of the experience’s course:
1. The ﬁrst determinant is associated with the differences between the activism experiences in the Arab region. That variation is the result of the difference in the nature of the political ﬁeld on the one hand and the nature of the political actors that form it. The Moroccan model, where Islamists manage government work under a monarchical system in which the king retains broad powers according to the constitutional text, is different from the Tunisian model, which is governed by the contract between three political forces which have different intellectual and political references. The Egyptian model differs from those two in terms of the Islamists’ position in power, and the weight of the military establishment in the political ﬁeld. Moreover, the difference in political geography gives a stronger presence and inﬂuence in national decisions to the international actor. It is also dictated on the second hand by the different schools of thought to which each movement independently belongs, and the kind of kinetic reference from which it draws. This is especially the case in the relationship between the da’wah and politics, and how this impacts the output of the political mind. As the Moroccan experience has chosen the formula of differentiation between da’wah and politics, the Nahda movement [in Tunisia] has retained the option of full integration between the da’wah and political institutions. While the Freedom and Justice Party is merely the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
2. The second determinant is associated with the options that the Islamist movement resorts to in its answer to the questions of the post-Arab Spring, particularly with regards to ways of dealing with the state, its infrastructure, institutions and structures. The Moroccan Justice and Development experiment has raised the slogan of “let bygones be bygones” as a springboard to the second political transition, and it adopted the formula of reform in the framework of stability without touching state institutions and their functions, even if some of them run counter to the will of reform. The Nahda movement’s experiment has staggered for a long time with the adoption of revolutionary slogans represented in the slogan of political isolation and purging state institutions from “remnants.” It was forced in the end to make concessions in the last government reshuﬄe, and perhaps in accepting the government’s resignation thus slightly detouring to the same style of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco. In Egypt, the Brotherhood’s experiment was governed by a great hesitation between prowess and reluctance in dealing with state institutions, as could be seen in their handling of the judicial institution, they wound up ultimately inciting many of the state institutions against them.
3. The third determinant is associated with the way [the Islamist Movement] deals with the political elites. The Nahda movement protected the political transition experiment through its political contract with three political components with different intellectual and political references, and the Justice and Development Party allied with political opponents, some of whom belong to the forces of the left. However, the Brotherhood experiment was forced to conduct its alliances from within the Islamist current alone. This isolated it from the rest of the secular and liberal elites, and enhanced the opportunity of accelerating those forces’ alliance against it. Especially that they [secular and liberal elites] maintained important relations to the international actor with all his levels, governmental and civil.
4. The fourth determinant is associated with estimating the size of the international actor and the stakes and contradictions that govern the international position. In spite of the three movements resorting to the production of reassuring discourse, and some of them taking the course of immunizing “acquired” Western interests, the Brotherhood’s experiment in particular did not understand the requirements of political geography, and what that geography dictates in building national political concensus that exceeds the Islamist ceiling. [This required] increasing the political offering [to non-Islamists] to succeed in partnering with other forces, whose existence [as partners] reduces the size of the external targeting of the experiment or at least creates contradictions within the international position.
5. The ﬁfth determinant is associated with the political discourse and the type of political practice produced by the Islamist movement. Despite the three experiments all resorting to mitigating the identity and moral dimension in their political discourse and practice, and resorting to general policies instead of exercising politics with the logic of da’wah, and in adopting pragmatism as a substitute for the ideological discourse, the correlation between the da’wah and the political did not allow the Brotherhood experiment to go too far in this direction. This made political actors who differ from it ideologically, as well as the international actors, distrustful of the prospect of encouraging and supporting a democratic experiment led by Islamists.
Those ﬁve determinants make the future of Islamists in the three experiments governed by three scenarios:
1. The ﬁrst scenario: consolidating the cumulative reform approach modeled on the Turkish experiment. We can nominate for this [scenario] the experiments of both the Justice and Development Party and the Nahda movement in the case of the continuation of adopting the logic of partnership in political action, and adopting the logic of cumulative reform in dealing with state institutions and bodies [by the Nahda movement].
2. The second scenario: a scenario of the launch of revisions within the Islamist movements, especially within the Brotherhood experiment and even within the Nahda experiment. Unless the historical leadership does not play the role of bridging the gap between them and the managerial leaders. In this case those movements will know the same fate of the emergence of the Turkish AKP from the womb of the Welfare Party, with a new managerial leadership and a new political approach that reevaluates the political ﬁeld, the nature of its components and their weights and the nature of the interactions with it, and the debate of the domestic and foreign, and the political gate to reform.
3. The third scenario: exactly the opposite of the second. In the case of the failure of the option of toppling Islamists in Egypt, and the broadest political and civil forces bonding around the national coalition in defense of legitimacy, and the success of political initiatives to return to constitutional legitimacy and democracy even partially. It would be expected that the Brotherhood experiment would experience its best state; it will work on marketing its revolutionary model in the Arab region, and creating a model to compete with the Turkish model in resisting those against its experiment which it has been used to call the components of the deep state.
The assessment in the next stage is that the cumulative reform model with its components and attributes detailed in the ﬁve determinants, despite its slow nature and the magnitude of the challenges before it, will be the most likely candidate for success in the Arab world. It will be the driver in the future for the Brotherhood movement to undergo deep revisions in its discourse and political behavior in terms of recasting the relationship between the da’wah and the political anew, and in building its existing political experience according to a new perspective that answers all the ﬁve challenges to which it has failed to provide successful answers. This means in the end, that the experience of Political Islam will not undergo failure or retreat, instead it will undergo changes and revisions which will aid it in re-optimizing its position once again, especially as it will retain a wide base amongst the popular strata which is united around its reference point, its leadership or in solidarity with its victimization.
This article appeared in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology Volume 16.