Now that Egypt has elected an Islamist President, Mohammad Mursi, with the narrowest of margins, and political Islam is firm in the beacon of power in major Arab capitals, including the pivotal capital of Cairo, the two lingering questions are: What do Islamists want and what do we want from the plethora of the Islamist parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been patiently waiting for this moment for nearly 80 years. They are finally in the driver’s seat and most likely they will be taking the responsibility of leadership in this turbulent region in the foreseeable future.
This is the Islamist moment in contemporary Arab history. They are in the seat of power in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt and possibly in Libya and Syria as well and they are the majority in the Kuwaiti parliament.
Interestingly, they did not come to power through cheating or by a coup and violent means. This time around they are obviously the choice of the majority of the people in the most democratic and transparent elections the Arab world has ever seen. They command the trust of the majority who are willing to take a risk and give them the benefit of the doubt to run the affairs and resources of the states.
The Islamists are trusted because people have had enough of decades upon decades of corrupt regimes. Most also feel that Islamists are simply “men of God”. People in Egypt and elsewhere have voted both with their hearts and minds for the new and yet-to-be-tested political Islam on the assumption that the once-oppressed Islamists would know better than not going about oppressing people. In addition, many voted for Islamists because they have the successful Turkish model in mind. Turkey is a rising regional power and a democratic trendsetter. Its impact is felt all over the Arab landscape.
But now that the Islamists, who have benefited the most from the Arab Spring, are firmly in the driver’s seat nearly everywhere, except the Gulf states, it is time to ask some pertinent questions such as: What do Islamists really want and what do we want of the Islamists? Will they deliver on the promises of social justice, freedom, economic prosperity and democratic reform?
Needless to say, Islamists are not a homogenous lot and it is difficult to lump them all in one bunch. Some Islamists seem to have one solution to all problems in the universe. They do not have a coherent sociopolitical and economic agenda. They just want to Islamise us and make the society more Islamic on the ill-founded assumption that we have not been good Islamists lately.
Other Islamists have more pretensions in their immediate and ultimate goals. This brand of emboldened religious Islamists settle for nothing short of pausing the button and taking the society some 1,500 years back to the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] era of purity. They are serious in wanting to reinstate the glorious past. They think this is possible, now that they are in power.
A third group of Islamists is much loftier in their final goals. They call for a new Islamic reawakening and promise nothing short of a quick renaissance for the Arab world. The Arabs have failed miserably to catch up with modernity. They deserve a reawakening and Islamists know how to do it.
Other Islamists are more realistic and pragmatic. They are merely interested in assuming political power. To this group of Islamists, politics is the end game and political power is the ultimate end. They deserve to be given the chance to sit in the seat of power to implement their political views and shape regional agenda. That and nothing else is their top priority.
But if the question ‘What Islamists Want’ is somewhat ambiguous, the question as to what do “we” want is doubly ambiguous.
Of course everyone seems to want something different from Islamists. The majority of the people are patiently waiting for the Islamist parties to deliver on the promises of economic prosperity, political stability and democracy. They simply want decent lives, jobs, freedom and dignity.
The West is interested in political stability, regional influence and the unconditional recognition of the Israeli right to exist. As for the Arab Gulf states, there is this feeling that they are being encircled by Islamist governments of all sorts. All of a sudden, Islamists are nearly everywhere. Iran is a radical Shiite Islam, Turkey is essentially a democratic Islam and now major Arab capitals are taken over by untested Islamists.
This is not to the liking of the mostly moderate and prosperous Arab Gulf States who value status quo and stability more than anything else.
From the Arab Gulf states’ perspective, it is not whether the Islamists deliver on the various demands. The real issue for them is whether political Islam is a stabilising or a destabilising force. They just have to wait and see for only time will tell.
Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is a professor of political science. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE