By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It is interesting to see that in the countries where revolutions took place in the Arab world, the moderate Sunni Islamist movements have received harsh blows, whether from corrupt and tyrannical regimes or from extremist armed groups that describe themselves as Islamic. The noose has been progressively tightened around moderate Islamists, which had earlier been at the forefront of the political landscape in the Arab region, especially in the two years that followed the revolutions and regime-change in the Arab world. These movements can barely find themselves a role in the bloody game imposed by the military and security practices of the regimes against their peoples, in parallel with the practice of takfir (declaring a Muslim an apostate) and killing of anyone deemed an apostate in the ideology of extremist groups.
The moderate Islamic movement, which have a civilized vision for reform and change, and a broad public support, have been at the receiving end of policies and measures led by the regimes meant to prosecute, marginalize, and even uproot them. At the same time, the moderate Islamists have been accused of being infidels and apostates, coupled with violent attempts to uproot them, by radical “Islamic” groups, which have done little more than engage in mass murder and tarnish the image of Islam, its tolerance, and its fairness.
Both sides are thus squandering the peacefulness of the moderate Islamists. It is as if their moderation is a taboo and an offence, in the dance of blood and death between the regimes and the extremists.
First, there seems to be a problem in agreeing on the meaning of “moderation.” Almost all sides are seeking to paint themselves as moderate, as moderation is something desirable. Whether the extremists are secularists, Islamists, nationalists, or leftists, they tend to see that they alone are right, and see their righteousness as a criterion for moderation. It is almost impossible to find anyone among those who call for eliminating, uprooting, or declaring their opponents apostates admitting to be extremists, according to the criteria to which they adhere.
It is not in the scope of this article to delve into the term and its details, but we want to say that the moderate Islamic movement we speak of:
– Belongs to the mainstream trend among Muslims, which has historically clung to Islam with moderation, tolerance, and simplicity, without exaggeration nor neglect.
– Belongs to the mainstream schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence to which the majority of Muslims belong.
– Adopts Islam as a way of life and a reference frame for its affairs.
– Accommodates the other, accepts differences, and does not resort to declaring others apostates and sanction their killing without absolute and unequivocal proof, according to what is agreed upon by the Muslim scholars and their schools of jurisprudence.
– Accepts to participate in government and the peaceful rotation of power.
During the counterrevolutions in the Arab world, the primary victim slated for elimination were Islamist moderates, who carried a project for development and a political program for change… The “moderates” that were allowed to remain or were brought in are those “hypocrites,” who applaud the tyrannical and corrupt regimes, providing them with “fatwas on demand.”… These are false witnesses, who give obedience and blessing to the worst offenders…
Perhaps the heart of the problem for the regimes or extremist forces is that they cannot compete with the moderate Islamic movement in an honest, transparent way governed by the will of the people, and by the ballot boxes. They cannot compete in a level media and political field that would allow all parties to present themselves and their plans by themselves and not as their opponents portray them.
In a climate that guarantees the freedom of action, moderate Islamists are likely to win or to be a strong contender at least, in student elections and elections for syndicates including those of doctors, engineers, pharmacists, and university professors, etc. In such a climate, the moderate Islamists will be active socially and in charity, engaging in a broad manner with the masses, their concerns, and their aspirations. This has often allowed them to form a broad segment of competent cadres based on a real and broad popular base… Subsequently, through their reform project and their Islamic reference frame, they served as a real antithesis or alternative to the corrupt regimes.
These movements, which have the advantages of having a vision for reform, political realism, popular legitimacy, and a religious jurisprudence that focuses on priorities first, have represented for many regimes a threat bigger than the threat of Islamic extremism. Indeed, the moderate Islamic movements presented a peaceful and civilized alternative that was feasible and that could compete, and that had odds to succeed in today’s environment…
The regimes know that they can confront, besiege, and hit extremism, because the broad popular base rejects it, and because it does not have a real and realistic program for development, lacks political awareness, and has no instruments to manage people’s affairs… For this reason, it became a taboo for moderate Islamic organizations (especially in Egypt and the Levant where the Zionist project is based in occupied Palestine) to take political power or be active political partners, or even have the natural right to engage in peaceful political work and activities.
In Iraq, the moderate Islamic movement suffered all forms of oppression and persecution under Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘athist rule. When the United States ousted his regime in 2003, there was a resurgence of the Islamic movement. Soon after, it became the most popular among Sunni Arabs and played an active in the armed resistance against the US occupation. However, not long after, the sectarian conduct of the new regime destroyed the experience of political pluralism and the Iraqi social fabric, as it came to dominate the state’s agencies, institutions, and ministries… True political partnership was undermined… and Islamists were confined into a small margin unable to act and influence.
On the other hand, Islamic extremism flourished (in both its Sunni and Shi‘ite components), poisoning the atmosphere and assaulting people’s security and lives. Al-Qaeda, which did not exist in Iraq… swelled to include thousands of operatives in a short period. Yet instead of focusing its energy on fighting the US occupation… it depleted it in sectarian strife… and sought at the same time to dominate the Sunni arena by force… demanding people, scholars, and leaders to pledge allegiance to it… Al-Qaeda sanctioned the death of many of those who disagreed with it or stood in its way… killing those whom the sectarian gangs and the US occupation forces could not get to… Iraq became dominated by a binary of Sunni and Shiite extremism… with the US occupation now able to exist comfortably and watch the sectarian and ethnic fragmentation of Iraq.
More recently… Sunni moderates were lost between the Islamic State group (IS) and the Shiite “Popular Mobilization” militias… IS has come to seize Sunni areas before proceeding to eliminate its Sunni opponents. Then when IS is forced to retreat, the Popular Mobilization replaces it and engages in ugly sectarian atrocities against what is left of the Sunnis… Large areas in Salahuddin, Diyala, and Anbar provinces have been cleansed of their Sunni residents…
Now Mosul, which has lost two thirds of its population… stands waiting for a new dance with death from US bombs, IS, or the Popular Mobilization…
This is the game of extremism, the game of blood, death, and destruction…
In Egypt, it did not vouch for the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement and the moderate Islamist groups that they had been oppressed and persecuted for decades. It did not vouch for them that they had won in five elections after the revolution of January 25. It did not vouch for them that they showed patience and rose above their wounds in dealing with the state agencies, which had sought to undermine them, bully them, and smear them… even though the people had given the Islamists the first chance to govern. Instead, these agencies led a coup against the MB movement and the nascent democracy… The tragedy culminated with the massacre of thousands at public squares like Rabi‘ah and al-Nahdah and elsewhere… Military rule was thus restored… and the trickery reached a peak with the MB movement being designated as a “terrorist” group… As for those who shed blood and aborted the democratic experience, they created or they found someone to applaud them as “symbols of moderation!!”
The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court (loyal to the former regime) accepted the challenge to the legitimacy of the parliament and ordered it dissolved, even though the election that produced it had probably been the most fair and transparent in Egypt’s history… This was applauded by the opponents of the Islamic movement, who said the verdict of the court should be respected. The MB movement and the Islamists said they accepted the ruling… despite their glaring victory in the election… yet without this vouching for them either.
When the Constitutional Court in Libya, likewise, ruled that the elected parliament is illegitimate… several secular trends, separatist, and anti-revolutionary parties and behind them the coup regime in Egypt and many Gulf and other regimes rejected the verdict… They insisted on the legitimacy of the parliament and the government it produced… But if the majority had been in the hands of the Islamists, they would have had a different position.
In March 2011, the Syrian people rose up. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Syria’s cities, demanding change and reform. This continued for several months, with the moderate Islamist groups dominating the opposition… However, the regime soon chose to deal with these protests with a security and military approach… The regime crushed all manifestations of peaceful opposition… labelling its opponents as “terrorists” and members of “an international conspiracy” against Syria.
At the same time, the regime released hundreds of prisoners affiliated to al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic movements.. Syria thus entered into a spiral of violence… The country’s social fabric, infrastructure, and economy were devastated, to the tune of sectarian agitation, bloody conflict, and foreign intervention. The voices of moderation faded, and the tolerant Islamic centrism the Syrian people were long known for was marginalized.
In Yemen, some Gulf and world powers sought to teach the Islamists a cruel lesson, especially the Yemeni Congregation for Reform—Islah Party (which had a key role in the Yemeni revolution) for daring to rise up against deposed President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh. These powers turned a blind eye to the Houthi expansion and the Houthi unholy alliance with the deposed president… to undo the revolution and entrap the Islah Party in an uneven fight that would lead to its demise or its designation as a “terrorist” group if it becomes involved in the war without official cover. However, their attempt failed when the game was exposed, and the Islah Party did not allow itself to be dragged into the confrontation. The plot backfired as the Houthis expanded rapidly, with the deposed president rushing to take revenge against his opponents, all while Iran reaped the rewards… The Gulf countries then recalculated, and decided to launch Operation Decisive Storm and reach out to the Islah Party once again.
The coming days will prove that the decisions made by some Arab regimes to designate the MB movement as a “terrorist “organization, and the measures they implemented against the moderate Islamic movement, were among the worse decisions and measures ever made in their history…
Perhaps the MB movement and other moderate Islamic groups made some mistakes… Perhaps they rushed things… Perhaps they were not ready yet for the requirements of change and governance… Perhaps some their leaders lacked charisma… a revolutionary spirit… or the ability to forge alliances. However, this cannot justify uprooting them or marginalizing them, which is not feasible anyway.
The countries that chose to confront the moderate Islamists, militarily or via a security approached, have disregarded the ballot boxes. They will pay a heavy price for this, because they have opened the door to extremism and violence… and left the vast masses that support the Islamic movements without any options or future prospects.
Since the regimes do not have any real programs for development, freedom, and human rights, the seeds of their crises will continue to be within them… The moderate Islamic movements, which have learned harsh lessons from their experience, will benefit. It is not farfetched that a second revolutionary wave will erupt against these regimes no matter how much they will try to delay this. But this wave will be stronger and better positioned to uproot the corrupt regimes.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 1/6/2015