Posts Tagged ‘Islamist’

Ashour on why Libya’s Islamists lost

July 17th, 2012 Comments off

Omar Ashour as a new column up at Project Syndicate explaining Libyan Islamists’ defeat at the hands of a wide-ranging ranging coalition of liberals, independents, conservatives, and, well, almost everyone who was not a self-described Islamist.

Nevertheless, the question remains: what happened to the Islamists? They spearheaded the opposition to Qaddafi, were advised by their Tunisian and Egyptian brethren, and larded their rhetoric with religious symbolism in a conservative Muslim country. For many, however, this was not enough.

A striking difference between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Ennahda, on the one hand, and Libya’s Islamists on the other is the level of institutionalization and interaction with the masses. In Qaddafi’s four decades in power, Libya’s Islamists could not build local support networks; develop organizational structures, hierarchies, or institutions; or create a parallel system of clinics and social services, as their counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan were able to do.

As a result, Libya’s Islamists could not unite in a coalition as large as that of Mahmoud Jibril, the former prime minister under the National Transitional Council, who heads the NFC. Instead, their votes were divided between several parties, six of which are significant.

But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990’s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Qaddafi’s forces.

But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organizations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.

Also see: Analysis: Elections in Libya —the surprises | Libya Herald

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On "morality police" in Egypt

July 15th, 2012 Comments off

I did not get a chance to blog about the reports of Islamist morality vigilantism said to have caused the death of a young man in Suez a couple of weeks ago, but below are some links on the story. While it’s not clear how widespread the phenomenon is, and there has been some alarmism, I do believe that such events are happening more frequently. I would not look at a conspiracy by the new Islamist president for now, though — this problem has much more to do with the collapse of authority in areas where there the state already has problems to impose itself. No wonder the worst instances of such morality police (but the least reported) is Sinai.

  • No morality police in Egypt: Morsi spokesman – Politics – Egypt – Ahram Online
  • A noisy discourse on sexual harassment : EgyptMonocle
  • Egyptian Youth’s Murder in Suez Puts Islamists on Defensive – Bloomberg
  • Fears of ‘morality vigilantism’ in Suez – YouTube
  • After Suez murder, questions linger over vigilante ‘morality police’ | Egypt Independent
  • Egyptian student fatally stabbed by militants – SFGate

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    Meet some of the armed Syrian groups lionized in the West

    July 15th, 2012 Comments off
    The FSA’s leadership, a collection of mid-ranking Sunni Arab military defectors headed by Colonel Riyad Musa al-As’ad from a base in Turkey, is actively courting Western support and has unambiguously condemned jihadi groups. This attitude is not necessarily shared by the fighters on the ground, who tend to label themselves FSA whether or not they are in actual contact with the FSA headquarters. With Sunni sectarian perspectives becoming more central to the armed uprising as time passes, most FSA factions are now steeped in religious rhetoric and there are a number of explicitly Islamist groups calling themselves part of the FSA, some of whom use radical jihadi slogans. One such group is the al-Bara bin Malek Brigade, which uses the Salafi-Jihadi flag made famous by al-Qaeda in Iraq and vows to carry out “martyrdom operations.” [3]

    Outside the FSA umbrella, there are other groups which are more radical and more hostile to Western influence over the uprising. These include the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, a network of Islamist militias spread over several provinces, as well as a Salafist group in Homs called the Ansar Brigade. Others, such as Fath al-Islam, a Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian group, predate the uprising. There is not, however, a formal al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, after the failed attempt to establish al-Qa’ida fi Bilad al-Sham (”al-Qaeda in the Levant”) in the mid-2000s, though this situation may be about to change (al-Hayat, September 28, 2010).” (thanks Aron) 

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    Clinton to Egypt’s Morsi: Find way out of crisis

    July 15th, 2012 Comments off

    U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reacts during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, not shown, at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, July 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used her first meeting with Egypt's new Islamist president to press Mohammed Morsi to start a dialogue with military leaders as a way of preserving the country's transition to democracy.

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    Clinton in Egypt for first meeting with president

    July 14th, 2012 Comments off

    Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to reporters during a joint news conference with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, unseen, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 13, 2012. The presidents of Egypt and Tunisia pledge to open a new chapter in relations following uprisings that overthrew longtime rulers, replacing them with a Muslim Brotherhood figure and an activist who was exiled.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham hoped to use her first meeting with Egypt's new Islamist president on Saturday to steer Mohammed Morsi toward opening a dialogue with the military that could end the country's political crisis.

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    Moderate but Islamist…

    July 13th, 2012 Comments off

    A variety of Islamophobes have comfortable media niches, including “opinion writer” Charles Krauthammer, whose Krauthammering away at Islam as a political force in yesterday’s Washington Post is yet another low blow. Krauthammer admits, almost laments, that Libya “appears to have elected a relatively moderate pro-Western government.” But, then who cares since “Libya is less a country than an oil well with a long beach and myriad tribes.” I suppose one could expand on this to argue that Texas is less a state than an oil well with a long beach and myriad rednecks. Libya is a country, Mr. Krauthammer, and one that is struggling to remake itself after decades of a dictator that the West loved to hate but actually did nothing to undo. Ah, but after all, this is obviously an exception in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.”

    They say that ignorance is bliss, so consider the bliss as Krauthammer’s view unfolds: “Tunisia and Morocco, the most Westernized of all Arab countries, elected Islamist governments. ” The most “Westernized”? This might come as a surprise to the Lebanese, unless they fail to qualify as Arab. Does he mean that they happen to be rather close to Europe? Is being “Westernized” a geographical issue? Does being “Westernized” mean accepting American foreign policy without reservations or having access to iphones and Hollywood movies? Morocco, by the way, is still a kingdom and not part of the “Arab Spring.”

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    Of liberals, secularists, Islamists and other labels

    July 11th, 2012 Comments off

    I want to discuss here the labels assigned to Arab political parties and politicians (if you want to get to that directly skip till the end of the following quotes), but before let me point out what started this post — a fine piece by Nasser Rabbat on Steve Walt’s blog, Arab secularism and its discontent:

    Is this a new turn for the West? Did the West support the secularists before the revolutions? And has Arab secularism really become irrelevant? My answer to all three questions is an emphatic no.

    Many good points he explores each in turn, before concluding:

    Arab secularism, however, remains on the street and online. Though outdone in the current rush to power by the Islamists, it still has the ability to reassert itself in the political arena, if not as the ruling party, at least as lawful opposition and guardian of the principles of civic freedoms. The culture of lawful opposition, long absent under the totalitarian regimes, needs to be reinserted into the political discourse. This is as important a function as good governance for the well-being of the nascent Arab democracies. To that end, the efforts of the discontented revolutionary youth and the seasoned secular intellectuals should be united under the umbrella of political parties. The West should help them by recognizing their crucial political role and by treating them as long-term partners not just as recipients of training and aid.

    I will take him to task for a factual mistake, though, here:

    The few attempts to register a secularist political presence in the elections in Tunis and Egypt were swept aside by the eminently more organized Islamist parties and by their shrewd appeal to the basic religiosity of the people, especially the poor and the illiterate.

    Secularist parties have at least 40% of seat in Tunisia’s constituent assembly/interim parliament, and both the speaker of that assembly and the president are secularists. In Egypt that percentage could be argued to have been 20-30% in the dissolved parliament and nearly 50% of voters voted for non-Islamist candidate in the presidential election and 50% of the electorate decided not to vote at all in the presidential election, where secularist candidates won over 30% in the first round, including Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third. 

    The question for Arab secularists is not that they are an anemic force in society. It’s that they are divided (on the conservative / progressive and economically liberal / socialist axes) and disorganized. The key to their future electoral success will be building strong organizations and finding the right mix of alliances with conservative political forces (i.e. felool) and moderate Islamists. In other words, the winning combination may not be a liberal one but still be a mostly secular (at least in Arab terms, not European ones) one.

    The recent Libyan elections are a case in point in this distinction. What have been annoyingly called “liberals” performed well in the election, but this is a catch-all term that really is used to say non-Islamist and perhaps non-a certain type of Islamist, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. But these liberals include parties and movements led by former Qadhafi regime officials who defected early and probably a bunch of people who should not be called liberals in at least the two standard meanings of the term: either economically liberal secularists as is meant is most of continental Europe, where liberal parties tend to be center-right, or socially liberal as is generally meant in the US, and associated with the center-left. Of course the irony is that a liberal in the Arab world could very well not be secularist — i.e. he could be a moderate Islamist — while a secularist might be a Stalinist or Nasserist, or in other word not particularly progressive in terms of human rights or liberal in the economic sense. 

    We need better terms that this, or perhaps more terms than merely liberal, secular (these two sometimes wrongly used interchangeably) and Islamists. Let’s start with Islamists: a wide range of people fall under this label, with different views. Arguably the Muslim Brotherhood tendency deserves in own label, due to its relative ideological coherence and strength. Salafis are also diverse, since only a segment engage in politics, but that segment is pretty reliably ultra-conservative. And then there are new variants of Islamism usually described as “moderate” which is not quite satisfactory either, especially when the Brothers in particular often use this word to describe themselves. So we may have:

    • Ikhwani Islamist for Muslim Brothers;
    • Salafi Islamist for the various Salafi parties, who are mostly socially ultra-conservative;
    • Wasati Islamist for individuals like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh or the Wasat or Egyptian Current parties.

    How about the non-Islamists? Historically there is the Arab nationalist trend, which can be further divided into Nasserist, Baathist and various local variants. But the nationalist trend is fast-changing — how much longer will anyone call themselves a Baathist? Sometimes the national label — Nasserist — is most appropriate because it is used by politicians to define themselves, for instance for Hamdeen Sabahi in Egypt. But these personalities and parties do share a common adherence to the idea of Arab unity, which still has backers in many countries and often translates, as in the Maghreb, into policies that stress Arab identity (e.g. in national education). So it seems to be that Arab nationalist is a decent catch-all label for these, even for those newer types of parties that, while making a nod to Arab nationalism, are progressive like Moncef Marzouki’s CPR in Tunisia.

    There is also a growing social-democrat movement in the Arab world that draws inspiration from the European model — Mohamed ElBaradei explicitly referred to his experience living in Austria, for instance, and used the label himself. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party also falls under this label. Social democrats could of course be Wasati Islamists in the Arab world, and I suspect this will develop in that direction, representing what is called, usually derisively, “Islamo-gauchiste” in French.

    Socialists put more emphasis on issues of social justice and the redistribution of wealth, and most often tend to be secularists. Radical socialists might as well be included here for now, since this trend tends to be stronger in civil society than in electoral politics. But whether “moderate” or Trotskyist or even Stalinist, this socialist/Marxist trend has a long and rich history in the Arab world, and there’s no reason to think that it’s over just because the terms “Islamist” and “liberal” tend to dominate the headlines.

    Liberal is a label I feel should be used in the European sense in the Arab world, because Arab politics (in these early days of emerging democracy) tends to resemble continental Europe more than the two-party systems that have dominated Anglo-saxon politics for centuries — i.e. they are more likely to be coalition driven and constantly in flux, as the political boundaries of France or Germany or Israel often are. In Egypt the liberals are clearly the Free Egyptians (which can also be translated as the Liberal Egyptians), they are also ultra-secularists. There are similar parties in Tunisia, essentially representing the business elite and libertarians.

    What of the felool? Over time, I think these will dissolve into the other trends, but they can also represent a certain conservatism. Perhaps the Bourguibist parties of Tunisia, represented by personalities like Beji Caid Essebsi or Kamel Morjane, represent this trend. There is a Sadatism in Egypt that can also be described as conservative, and most importantly statist. The Istiqlal Party in Morocco is also conservative, while taking in some Arab nationalist ideas and social conservatism. Ultimately these may be termed conservative, because they are attached to an old order and ideology.

    The bottom line: Ellis Goldberg put it well in a recent piece on the importance of Egypt’s institutions when he wrote:

    The problem with thinking of Egyptian politics as a two-party game is that there are more than two actors.

    He meant it in a broader way then about political parties, but the same thinking applies about selecting labels to describe politicians and parties in the post-uprising Arab world. The US model — Democrats vs. Republicans, conservatives vs. liberals — simply does not apply. We need to be more careful with the terms we use and stricter in defining them, so that the results of Libya’s elections and future ones elsewhere are not reduced to a nonsensical “victory for liberals” headline.

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    Egypt’s Morsi says will obey court ruling on parliament

    July 11th, 2012 Comments off

    Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (R) meeting with the Head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Hossam al-GherianiEgypt's President Mohamed Morsi will respect a court ruling overturning his decree for the dissolved Islamist-dominated parliament to convene, his office said on Wednesday amid a power struggle with the military.

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    New crisis looms in Egypt over legislature’s fate

    July 10th, 2012 Comments off

    Workers clean inside the Egyptian parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 9, 2012. The speaker of Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament called Monday for the legislature to meet this week, raising the stakes in a tense standoff with the powerful military which backed a court ruling to dissolve the chamber. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)A new showdown loomed in Egypt on Monday as the country's highest court stood by its ruling that dissolved parliament last month, challenging the new Islamist president's plans to reconvene the lower chamber in defiance of the military.

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    Categories: Arab News Tags: , ,

    New crisis loom over Egypt over legislature’s fate

    July 10th, 2012 Comments off

    Workers clean inside the Egyptian parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 9, 2012. The speaker of Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament called Monday for the legislature to meet this week, raising the stakes in a tense standoff with the powerful military which backed a court ruling to dissolve the chamber. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)A new showdown loomed in Egypt on Monday as the country's highest court stood by its ruling that dissolved parliament last month, challenging the new Islamist president's plans to reconvene the lower chamber in defiance of the military.

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    Categories: Arab News Tags: , ,