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Political Islam and its supposed dangers

Abdul Bari Atwan, editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi

By Abdul Bari Atwan  | Middle East Monitor / 01 Dec 2011

In gaining the majority of votes in the Moroccan election, the Justice and Development Party has put the West on alert, as well as some of the more conservative Arab countries. Long-held fears have been revived by the sweeping success of political Islam across the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. However, such fears are misplaced because most of the Islamic parties which have seen electoral success are most definitely moderate; they believe in pluralism and coexistence with other ideologies, secularism included.

Al-Nahda in Tunisia has already formed an alliance with two secular parties: the Congress led by Dr Muncif al Marzouki, which is a leftist nationalist party, and the Assembly led by Mustafa bin Jaafar. More importantly, Al-Nahda leader Shaikh Rashid Ghannouchi has made it clear that he will not meddle in the personal domain of Tunisians; nor will he prohibit bikinis and mixed-bathing beaches. Moreover, he will encourage foreign investment and European tourism which is one of the mainstays of the Tunisian economy.

It is significant that the Justice and Development Party (JDP), which follows what it calls the Turkish model of government, as led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is committed to preserve the character of Moroccan society and respect personal freedoms. JDP Secretary General Abdullah bin Kiran confirmed that justice and dignity are his top priorities; there are core issues to deal with, which are much more important than dress codes and prohibiting alcohol. Kiran said that his party will not be drawn into battles on the sidelines with alcoholics and those who dress scantily because no government can transgress upon the public freedoms of Moroccans.

What the West does not understand about the phenomenal success of political Islam in the democratic elections, claims Abdullah bin Kiran, is that Arab voters are Muslim and moderate by nature. They place their confidence in Islamic parties because they have suffered for decades under secular regimes with their corruption and tyranny; they've seen the national wealth squandered and national rights neglected. The West itself must take responsibility for the prominence of political Islam in most of the Arab countries because Western governments backed corrupt dictatorships for 50 or more years on the pretext of supporting "stability" and cheap Arab oil. Equally important in pushing the Arab voters towards Islamic parties has been Western support, open and tacit, for Israeli illegality, wars of aggression and humiliating occupation.

The election of Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, therefore, is in part a rebellion against Western foreign policies; in part, but not all. People are supporting the Islamists because they stand with the oppressed; they work to relieve their suffering and have been, in the main, the most understanding of their needs and legitimate political demands.

Today, 40 million Egyptians live below the UN-defined poverty line of $2 a day. This is around half the total population of the country in a region which is regarded as one of the richest in the world because of oil revenues exceeding $700 billion per year. It is no exaggeration to say that the US and its Western allies reduced Egypt and other Arab countries to this sub-standard existence by supporting corruption and tyranny. They also prevented, directly or indirectly, the oil-producing Arab states from investing in the Egyptian economy which would have created millions of jobs and improved living conditions.

The MENA region has experienced military dictatorships and phoney secular rule for more than 60 years; the Arab people have been guinea pigs in distorted socialist experiments and warped concepts of nationalism. The West must also bear responsibility for introducing exploitative capitalism which has encouraged immature economies based on corruption. The result has been a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and the creation of a vicious class of businessmen whose only concern has been to plunder national resources and fill their accounts in local and international banks. All over the world the middle classes play a role in monitoring the pulse of society, entrenching democratic freedoms and preserving a minimal level of national unity and social justice between the classes. This not only protects their own interests but also the stability of their countries. Except, of course, in most of the Arab countries, were the middle classes have allied themselves with the corrupt dictatorships against national interests.

The "Arab Spring" revolutions started spontaneously and aim to change this sick reality and put an end to the humiliation and subjugation of ordinary people across the region. They seek to establish a new Arab order based on social justice, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

The elections taking place in Egypt, following those in Tunisia and Morocco and preceding, God-Willing, those in Yemen and Syria, and even perhaps Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, are central to the process of remedying the ills I've mentioned. As long as the Arab public agrees to resort to the polling box it is incumbent upon everyone, including Western governments, to accept the democratic results and live with them. Indeed, they must work with them and respect the will of the people and their democratic choice. Any intervention to reject that choice will in all probability be counter-productive for the region and Western interests.

The Arabs are not lacking to the extent that the West must fashion various forms of democracy for them, the details of which are unfolded according to entrenched interests, hegemony and support for Israeli aggression. Change in the region will not come in the way that Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and the ideologue of the neo-cons, wishes. The coming changes in the region will be Arab and Islamic in character according to the values of the Arabs and Muslims, with respect for others, as long as the changes are logical and respect the peculiarities of the region and the aspirations of its people for freedom, dignity and national sovereignty. The corrupt rulers had us in thrall for six decades and reduced us to the lowest political and economic failures. They were planning to hand over power to their corrupt, spoilt and criminal offspring, creating new dynasties, so why shouldn't we be ruled by Islamists in a democratic system with parliamentary freedoms, transparency, an independent judiciary and constitutional institutions? Especially if we turn failure into global respect as Turkey has, or we create economic tigers such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

There are those who warn about the possibility of the Islamists seizing power and entrenching themselves for decades by aborting the democratic process which brought them to power. These fears have some legitimacy but it is important not to forget the revolutionary fervour which prevails in Arab and Islamic societies at present. The revolutionaries are the guarantors of our embryonic democracies, and the "million man" marches in Tahrir Square in Egypt organised by the revolutionary youth to preserve their gains have already forced the ruling military council to drop Dr Ali al-Silmi's draft document to make way for a new constitution, and fix a clear date for elections that will restore civilian rule.

These few examples of the revolutionary efforts to prevent any digression from the will of the people are clear. So let the Islamists have their chance, and let everyone respect the verdict of the ballot box. The West must restrain itself from interfering in Arab affairs for the sake of Israel, its hegemony and aggression, and to be able to take our resources cheaply. The Arabs are tired of coercion. The new generation will not accept what we and our fathers had to put up with over the past few decades, nor will the Arab youth behind these revolutions spare their blood in order to protect them.

Most of the present Islamic parties espouse a moderate agenda. Take notice, then, that any attempt to deny them their opportunity to rule would be the fastest route to anarchy, civil war and instability, and the birth of an extremist Islam which will make al-Qaeda seem moderate by comparison.

 

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