By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Those who became intoxicated and danced for joy at what they called “the fall of political Islam” following the military coup in Egypt are living an illusion.
Furthermore, tambourine players and incense holders who filled various media outlets should not have rushed to hold burial ceremonies or to gloat… for as it seems, they did not learn about the norms in the universe … nor the march of history.
Before going into the details, I would like first to make clear two observations:
The First: The term “political Islam” is a western term, which we used because it is widely spread, and because it seemed to be the easiest way to convey the meaning that we intended. In general, Muslims believe that Islam is Islam… it does not need to be classified… there is no “political Islam” and a “non-political Islam”; because Islam is simply a religion that encompasses all aspects of life: social, political, economic, devotional and educational, etc. Therefore, the political aspect is an integral part of this religion.
As for our discourse here, it applies to the broadest trend among Islamists, which is the moderate trend. This trend has a cultural project, believes in national partnership, and avoids violence in its practices and relationships with its compatriots.
The Second: The military coup in Egypt constituted the tip of a backlash wave that aims at ending the “Arab Spring” and restoring the “remnants” and institutions of the deep state of the past regimes, but in new attires. This was done in alliance with regional and international powers for which revolutions and change processes posed threats to their future and interests.
These powers found that “political Islam” constituted a solid base for change, in addition to gaining the trust of the masses in free and fair elections. That is why targeting this movement (with the Muslim Brothers—commonly known as Muslim Brotherhood—at its heart) became an essential part of the coup’s plan in Egypt.
The observer may note, based on facts on the ground, how this coup coincided with coordinated and synchronized campaigns to thwart the rules of Islamists in Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco, contain the opposition in Syria, and pressure Turkey (Taksim disturbances). These campaigns were also in sync with a fierce media campaign against Hamas, tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip, closure of the Rafah Crossing and the destruction of the tunnels.
These events indicate that “political Islam” has received a severe blow in Egypt, while suffering great difficulties and attempts to topple it in other countries, which may lead to its decline and defeat.
However, a general induction of the political and strategic scene, and understanding the nature of the region and its peoples, would indicate that “political Islam” will return stronger, more vigorous and popular, and with a higher capacity for change and for leading political action in the region.
The most prominent of these indications are the following:
First: The movement that adopts Islam as thought, conduct and way of life, is an authentic, strong and profound current, deep-rooted in the Arab nation and Islamic Ummah (Nation). Furthermore, Islamic renewal and reform movements, which played political and revolutionary roles, trace their roots back to the first century AH, as manifested, for example, in the revolts of al-Hussein bin ‘Ali, ‘Abdullah bin al-Zubeir, ‘Abd al-Rahman bin al-Ash‘ath … and have continued throughout the ages.
In modern and contemporary history, the main constituent of the major force that faced the state of backwardness in the Muslim Ummah and the colonization of our homelands was Islamic, and its driving spirit was Islamic as well, such as Wahhabism in the Arabian Peninsula, Mahdism in Sudan, Senussism in Libya, the movement of Ahmad Khan in India, and Ben Badis in Algeria, and others. The movements of the Muslim Brothers or the Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah in the Indian subcontinent, Nursism in Turkey, and others are an extension of this reformist movement.
This trend cannot be marginalized or eradicated, because it is simply the most compatible with the religious, psychological, social, cultural and civilizational formation and makeup of the person in this region; and because the values and ideals that it upholds are those upheld by almost every Arab and Muslim, and without affectation or pretense. This explains how it is when tyranny and corruption systems fall, and an atmosphere of freedom prevails, this trend, especially the moderate, soon moves to the forefront and gains the confidence of the masses.
Second: Since the disastrous repercussions of the 1967 war on the Arab world, in which the Israelis occupied the rest of Palestine, Sinai and the Golan Heights, and which exposed the miserable performance of military regimes, as well as the leftist, conservative, and nationalistic movements, the graph of the Islamic trend witnessed a state of ascension.
Yes, there is faltering in some places and a decline in others, caused by the poor performance, at times, of some Islamists; and in other times, they came as a result of the repressive measures of the regimes. However, the general line is an ascending one. And regardless of who is in power, the Islamic trend remains the foremost popular one in most of our Arab countries.
Third: Since the Arab and Muslim World was plagued with the decline in its civilizational role, with colonization, Zionist occupation, division and schism, it continues to suffer from the throes of disarray, where trends and ideologies clash. It is a nation looking for an identity, and a path that will restore to it its vitality, renaissance and advanced status among nations.
In its essence, our dilemma is not economic, even though economy is one of its manifestations. In most of our countries, including those of the “Arab Spring,” no one dies of hunger, even if many die from gluttony and obesity. However, many die every day a thousand times because of oppression and feelings of injustice and humiliation.
Throughout the past years, military regimes, as well as the regimes that raised nationalist slogans such as the Ba‘athist and Nasserite, and secular regimes (whether left-wing socialist or liberal capitalist) and hereditary regimes, have all failed to answer the questions about identity, unity, development and confronting the Zionist projects; the Islamic movement is still seen by many people as the only trend that got the “answers” and should have the chance to govern.
Fourth: The Islamist movement is the richest trend in the number of its young members and the competencies of its youth. Unlike most leftist, liberal and nationalistic movements that were not able to renew themselves, having leaders who had grown past the autumn of their lives.
The Islamic movement continues to be the most popular, powerful and prevalent in the circles of students, university graduates and union members. This means that this movement will inherit the other movements that had filled their political, media and economic positions decades ago. In short, we are in the presence of an ascending generation and a departing one.
Fifth: Despite its appalling bloody and repressive actions, against the Islamists in Egypt, the military coup was perhaps having its positive impact on the Islamists themselves. As the January 25 revolution of 2011 in Egypt (the same as in Tunisia and Yemen) was an unfinished revolution. It did not bring with it revolution changing tools that could allow it to protect itself, such as transitional justice, revolution protection institutions, tools for dealing with the opposing media that support the old regime, and ways to deal with various forms of disruption in the structure of the “deep state.”
The Islamists found themselves in the dilemma of being at the front of the scene without having a real ability to change. For the fact that the Egyptian army rode the wave of the January 25th revolution, and assumed the task of containing and redirecting it, cut off the possibility that the revolution complete its elements.
The Islamists have tried to implement their program through institutions that worked on thwarting their efforts and bringing them down. They worked on adapting themselves to these institutions and on gradually improving them, believing in peaceful quiet change. However, they paid dearly for their civilized behavior in an environment that requires revolutionary measures.
They paid for it with a decline in their popularity and an inability to execute their plans. Yet, it could be a helpful factor, when the counterrevolution was revealed to all, with its questionable relationships, and the immense influence it has in the Egyptian state’s structure and institutions, all of which call for a new revolutionary wave.
Sixth: The Islamists presented a civilized model in respecting the democratic process, the peaceful rotation of power, and the results of the ballot boxes. They won in Egypt on five electoral occasions (the Constitutional Declaration, the Parliament, the Shura Council, the Presidency and the approval of the Constitution) in free, fair and transparent elections. And thus they aptly expressed the will of the Egyptian people.
During the tenure of President Mursi, there was not a single political detainee. And the media (including the governmental ones) used to attack the Islamists (esp. Muslim Brothers), tarnish their image, and demonize them, without getting shut down or suspended.
The headquarters of the Muslim Brothers were burned, and many of their members were killed. They seemed to be the vulnerable side, in spite of their being in the seat of power.
The Islamists have continued with their civilized model even after the coup, and proved that they have a broad popular and continuous presence.
On the other hand, the coup and its supporters have revealed the falsity of their claims to be democratic; so they continued their campaigns of distortion, charges of treason, slander, and sowing hatred.
They did not tolerate the other opinion, so they shut down the dissenting media outlets, and carried out an unprecedented huge terrorizing and eradication campaign against the Islamic movement and all those who oppose them. The blood of hundreds or even thousands was shed; they committed massacres against peaceful demonstrators and protesters.
Thousands were arrested, and charges were fabricated against dignitaries and leaders. This has revealed the failure of the military, the remnants of the past regime and their allies, to deal with civility and to tolerate freedoms, and their fear that facts would become known to the masses and their awareness of their own weakness if they grant Islamists the same amount of freedom of expression and action.
And due to the practices of the coup perpetrators, the Islamists’ popularity has increased rather than decreased; and people’s sympathy for them grew. Furthermore, other forces and youth movements have rallied more around them; as they proved that they are the real defenders of the constitutional legitimacy and the democratic process.
Seventh: The military coup conduct was in itself a tacit admission of the inability of the opponents of Islamists to face them in free and fair elections. The repressive eradicating behavior toward the coup’s opponents, especially the Muslim Brothers, is evidence that the coup perpetrators and their allies prefer the top of a tank to the ballot box, and that they are cooking up an election to fit their agenda. Otherwise, why did they not wait two or three months to participate in the elections for a new parliament, in the presence of all the guarantees of impartiality, and let them then carry out, in case they won, their electoral program and determine democratically the path of political life in Egypt?
Eighth: The options of those who carried out the coup against the democratic process and of the opponents of the Islamic movement seem limited and difficult. For, there is the option of returning to the former corrupt and authoritarian regime, albeit in new garb, along with an attempt to marginalize or eradicate the Islamists. It is an option that sooner or later will be exposed, and will lead only to preparing the ground for a more extensive and powerful popular revolution, which would pull out the former regime and its institutions by their roots and establish a new regime.
There is also the option of curtailed democracy, made to the measure of the coup perpetrators, and may allow a nominal participation of Islamists after clipping their wings. This option, which seems more intelligent, will also be exposed, when everyone realizes that their democratic game has a ceiling, governed by some military and influential people who despise the people and their will.
The regime will continue to carry its blowup elements within itself, through its various crises; foremost among them, are those related to crisis of identity, reformation and civilizational development, democratic legitimacy, corruption and tyranny.
In addition, there is the option of choosing to apply a fully democratic system and holding free and transparent elections, as promised by the coup leaders and supporters. This option opens the door wide to the return of the Islamists to power. So, will those respect the election results and give the Islamists a real opportunity to govern? or will they carry out a new coup, considering themselves above democracy, above the people and above the institutions?!
Ninth: The person in this region has broken the barrier of fear, and repressive authoritarian regimes, bypassed by history, cannot turn back the clock. These regimes have become the only exception in our contemporary world, and the injections they supply to their flabby bodies cannot stop man’s aspirations for freedom and dignity. These aspirations ultimately mean that the peoples will decide their fate of their own free will, which means in practice that the Islamists will have the strongest opportunity to take center stage sooner or later.
Tenth: The Islamists are not angels, they can be right and they can be wrong, they stumble and they learn. The Islamists were excluded from the state’s administration and its institutions for tens of years, and suffered from marginalization. Therefore; they may need a transitional period, during which they would comprehend the mechanisms of working in the state’s institutions, and regain some of their rights to be present at these institutions according to their experience and competence.
Perhaps this past experience has proven to the Islamists that they should take several steps, among those are to:
• Be more open to different segments of society, and clearer in explaining their program.
• Reassure religious minorities about their project, and open the way for them for a real partnership in national action.
• Seek to accommodate all capabilities and competencies.
• Expand the circle of their alliances, so to establish a national safety net to protect the revolution and the democratic process in the country.
• Produce the appropriate mechanisms to deal effectively with the old regime’s “deep state institutions.”
• Be more efficient and balanced in dealing with the regional and international environments.
The coup was a hard lesson for the Islamists, but an invaluable one, for they learned clearly the map of their friends and foes, and they recognized their vulnerabilities and limitations. Perhaps this matter will motivate the Islamists to bring out the best in them, and rise to the level of managing society and state.
They should also rise to the level of meeting the challenge of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, and in saving the region and its national interests in face of destructive foreign agendas. So perhaps Allah’s saying in the Holy Qur’an: “…think it not to be an evil to you; On the contrary it is good for you” may apply to them.
Therefore, probably the backlash wave that toppled the Islamists in Egypt will be to them only “a step back… towards a leap forward.”