Opinion | Columnists

Islamists’ biggest challenge

As they grapple with the meaning of the civil state, the most pressing issue facing them is economics

  • By Shakir Noori, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 July 12, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

A recent seminar titled ‘Islamists and the Government’ drew an audience of 150 personalities from Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and Iraq. The event, hosted by the Middle East Studies Centre, raised issues such as Islamists in the modern Arab state, post the revolutions, challenges facing countries after the revolution and ways in which Islamist states could shape future policies.

The forum presented many democratic models — a few based on previous systems — and used evidence from 11 academic studies to support arguments in response to the idea of Islamist-led governments.

As circumstances have changed drastically in the Arab region over the past year, Islamist governments have had the opportunity to establish themselves in some countries such as Al Nahda party in Tunisia and the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. Another milestone is the implementation of Sharia in Libya and the emergence of Islamist parties in Syria and Yemen.

Islamists the world over face complex problems, the first being the meaning of the civil state. The most pressing issue with regard to this is economics. Under past regimes — both left and right — there was a lack of economic perspective, not because of the lack of books written about Islamic economics, but because of the emergence of a general theory linking the morality of economic concepts, beliefs and applications.

Further, Islamists also differ on which economic school of thought to follow. How to divide private and public sectors in the distribution of resources. What poor distribution of income at the national level does at the global level. And how to combine justice and economic efficiency coupled with the optimal distribution of wealth.

Most Islamic movements are pragmatic in nature. They use vocabulary that is understood by all, and is passed down from hundreds of years.

In Tunisia, the situation appears somewhat different compared to that of Egypt. the Renaissance movement led by Rashid Gannouchi is modelled to a large extent on Turkish Islam. Perhaps the major change in the political position in favour of Islamists reflects the extent to which eager Arab societies hope to come out of the Islamic renaissance project after a long absence, not only on the theoretical level, but on a practical level too.

The real issue is not Islamists ascending the top rungs of power, but how the Islamic project can win the people’s confidence. There are two successful examples in the region: First, Iran in its conflict with the West, and in carrying the banner of the Palestinian cause, has been a strong incentive for Arab societies to revive their own religious and political bodies.

Second, Turkey also formed under the rule of democratic Islam, another exemplary model for Arabs to look upon as an illustration of a great state observing moderate political Islam in the Arab world.

Islamists who are advocates of the project promise to rid societies of corruption and revolution in order to create the proper climate for freedom, dialogue and tolerance. The division of the Islamic current in the Arab arena is split because of religious political interference, which exists between religion and politics.

The Islamists have to destroy the pillars upon which the physical state of tyranny is based. These pillars have extensions too, internal and external systems that are intertwined with the capitalist West. They need to dismantle and rebuild these pillars using social forces and develop and launch a new project to initiate progress in line with international humanitarian standards.

If political Islamic groups cannot create a clear management structure, and establish a modest political environment, which is not accepted by the West, how do these groups think they will succeed in ruling?

Islamists’ acceptance of political participation began using the balance of political, social and religious ideas in the community and in the Arab street, Islamists began reaping votes in the elections in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Libya.

Islamist Arabs are trying to replicate the experience of Turkey when it comes to governance. But they are still at the stage of Erbakan and not Erdogan in regard to the Turkish model. However, as usual they forget important facts, including that Erbakan tried to rule in Turkey, but failed, then went to Erdogan instead and changed the mechanisms of the existing party. He went on to establish a new party, more realistic and social, based on economic foundations.

The Islamists have no clear political programme with regard to economic structures or new prospects for their countries. They cannot forever hide behind slogans directed at limited cultural identity. When people feel that they are not helping improve economic and social conditions, and instead have become victims of government ideology, they will continue fighting for their rights.

It is important that political Islamic groups be honest as they hope to assume power and recognise that societies led by communists, leftists, secularists, nationalists and businessmen failed. The question is, will they be able to rule without any practice?

Further, can the Islamic political system that presents itself to the world as a model, embody the vision of the Islamic movement and its programme?

Democracy has a mechanism for the application of contemporary Shura, and accepts partnership with other political currents — nationalist, leftist and liberal — in government.

The fear of the Arab citizen is that the Islamists will inherit the international agreements and unfair economic conditions that were prevalent before the revolution.

Shakir Noori is a journalist and author based a Dubai.

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