Hani Nasira describes the roles of Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists in those countries’ uprisings and transitions. Salafists have a considerably stronger presence in Egypt — where they formed parties and performed exceptionally well in recent election — than in Tunisia. Both parties have been forced to cooperate with other parties and factions, some of them non-Islamist. En-Nahdha in particular entered a coalition with left-wing and secular parties in that country’s constituent assembly. What Nasira does not describe, perhaps for reasons of space or something else, is how the Tunisian and Egyptian socio-political contexts differ and how this contributes to producing rather different Islamist scenes and behavior in relation to both Islamist and non-Islamist elements. What kind of relationships to Islamist actors have with the masses and institutions in the rest of society? What structures their course of action? That en-Nahdha was pushed into a coalition with non-Islamist parties in Tunisia can easily be understood given how divisive religious issues are there; and how the diversity of expectations regarding religious politics in Tunisia differs from the Egyptian situation where Muslim identity politics leans in the favor of the major religious parties somewhat decisively. The Tunisian tradition of official state secularism also differs qualitatively from Egypt’s (as well does the overall conversation about religion), and there is a comparatively large element which is comfortable with excluding religion as such from public life which pulls the politically active religious trend more to the center of things and it also means there is more popular contestation between the religious and secular tendencies over the larger picture as compared to in Egypt. Non-Islamsit parties performed much better in Tunisia than in Egypt, and the average Tunisian and probably in somewhat of a different place politically form the average Egypt in how he views Islamism and Islamists more generally, even accounting for class and regional variation which is quite acute. Islamists and secularists ‘get away with’ certain things in Egypt which they cannot in Tunisia and vice versa. Some Tunisians voted for en-Nahdha not out of ideological solidarity but because they felt the other parties were too obscure or arrogant or shallow or the like — protest votes, which one heard about when so many Algerians voted for the Islamic Salvation Front in 1991. But because of the way the electoral system was arranged there was the problem of ‘wasted votes’ and the actual returns for en-Nahdha might have been somewhat understated in the final election results. The Salafist trend differs considerably in the two countries, both in their numbers and their attitudes toward elections. The number of their parties in Egypt is truly impressive. What accounts for the vast numbers of Salafists in Egypt and the ideological and political diversity of Salafist parties there in comparison to Tunisia?
In any case, with all the ink let out over how well Islamists have performed in recent elections, it is worth looking at how these parties got to where they are in political context — what regulates their electoral performance and popular appeal, internally and externally, socially (in official and non-official ways) and both at the elite and mass levels.
UDPATE: Reader ‘Salah’ left the following thoughts in the comments section and they help explain some of en-Nahdha’s performance. Continue reading
Piotr Zalewski’s piece on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Foreign Policy leaves the reader with questions. The piece changes in the Syrian Brotherhood’s attitude toward religion and politics since its violent encounters with the Syrian regime in the 1970s and 1980s; the Syrian Brothers, he quotes one as saying, “have faced a revolution in our thoughts.” Zalewski describes this process broadly; he touches on very few specific questions and relies primarily (though not wholly) on interviews with Syrian Brotherhood members in the diaspora, in Turkey or Europe. The bulk of the article is concerned with explaining the influence of Turkey’s AK party as a “model” for Syrian Islamists. The party’s worldview has been influenced heavily by generational shifts and the success of Turkish Islamists. But the piece suffers heavily from avoiding a discussion of specific changes in the party’stance on specific questions.
For example: It would make sense to consider the Brotherhood’s position on the rights of religious minorities in the Brotherhood’s Syria. Given the strong sectarian element in Syria’s politics and the deep (and sometimes irrational) fear many Syrian minorities have at the prospect of the Ba’th regime falling and leading to even the possibility of “domination” by the Sunni majority (by means of the Brotherhood, for example) it is just as relevant to explore the Brotherhood’s “evolution” in this context as well as its view of the female dress code or the “light” role of ideology in general. Should a non-Muslim have the right to be the head of state (recall the Brotherhood’s campaign against the this provision in Syria’s proposed 1973 constitution)? Should Islam be the state religion? What do Brotherhood members when they refer to free “practice” of religion? How are their positions on these questions different from what they were in the 1970s and 1980s? How does the Brotherhood’s sectarianism relate to the sectarianism elsewhere in Syrian society?
This post is a part of a new series of posts which will consist of translations and excerpts from the communiques, statements, pamphlets and other literature from left-wing political parties in the Arab world, especially Tunisia (others as well, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania in particular). The selections will focus on foreign policy, women’s issues, relations with other political factions (mainly Islamists and other leftist tendencies), ideology, rhetoric and general worldview. The purpose of this series is to put into English elements of the contemporary Arab political discourse which are generally neglected in western and English-language reportage and analysis while the of Islamist tendency receives extensive, if not excessive coverage. The translations in this series should not be taken as this blogger endorsing or promoting the content of particular materials: the objective is to increase access to and understanding of the contemporary Arab left by making its perspectives known, especially in areas of interest and relevance to English-speakers. This series will include both leftist and Arab nationalist [party] documents, statements, communiques, articles and so on. The series will attempt to touch on as many of the main (and interesting) leftist parties as possible.
Below is a translation of an essay (“Marxism and the relationship between religion and state: State secularism”) included in a pamphlet released by the Tunisian Communist Workers Party titled في اللائكية ”On Secularism”. The essay is itself an excerpt from a longer piece dealing with similar issues. The title of the pamphlet and this essay use the term اللائكية (al-la’ikiyya) derived from laïcité/laïque rather than علمانية (al-’ilmaniyya), the the standard Arabic term for secularism. This has been discussed earlier in this series. The essay lays out the author’s view of the corrosive influence of religious and religious partisans on science, freedom of conscience, women, class and the most effective means of dealing with the religious problem from a leftist perspective. It makes a strong effort to avoid targeting Islam as a religion and to cast its criticism of religious politics firmly in the realm of materialist political discourse, criticizing “Islamism” and “Islamists” as a system of political philosophy and explicitly admits that the party and the left cannot attempt to ban or eradicate religion from society. The essay also lays out the party’s view of what the Marxist take on religion in Tunisia ought to be.Below is a translation of an essay (“Marxism and the relationship between religion and state: State secularism”) included in a pamphlet released by the Tunisian Communist Workers Party titled في اللائكية ”On Secularism”. The essay is itself an excerpt from a longer piece dealing with similar issues. The title of the pamphlet and this essay use the term اللائكية (al-la’ikiyya) derived from laïcité/laïque rather than علمانية (al-’ilmaniyya), the the standard Arabic term for secularism. The implications of this have been discussed earlier in this series. Most of the essays/polemics in “On Secularism” are aggressive and loud critiques of Islamist political thought and leaders like Rachid Ghannouchi. More than one of the essays come from the late 1980s but others are not dated, like “Marxism and the relationship between religion and the state”.
The essay lays out the author’s view of the corrosive influence of religious and religious partisans on science, freedom of conscience, women, class and the most effective means of dealing with the religious problem from a leftist perspective. It makes a strong effort to avoid targeting Islam as a religion and to cast its criticism of religious politics firmly in the realm of materialist political discourse (drawing heavily on Leninist themes), criticizing “Islamism” and “Islamists” as a system of political philosophy and activism, explicitly admitting that the party and the left cannot attempt to ban or eradicate religion from society. The author clearly hopes to avoid conflating opposition to Islamist politics to Islam as practiced by ordinary people (which might alienate potential followers) while at the same time arguing for open-mindedness on religious thought (note that the essay mentions the right to atheism, for example). The forceful arguments on education and minority rights are notable as well. These come in support of the piece’s three main problems with religious government (its negative impact on”scientific renaissance, its suppression of free thought and its restrictions on political freedom). “Marxism and the relationship between religion and the state” was selected for translation because it represents a relatively brief and straightforward introduction to the party’s ideological and practical stance on religion and politics, in the general sense. It does not deal specifically with Tunisian rivals of the PCOT or secularism in general by name; it discusses the subject in social and historical terms. Thus it gives readers a general idea of the party’s overall stance which is fleshed out further in other (longer) and more specific essays. Additionally it reveals important elements of the party’s attitude toward education in general. (The article includes footnotes which are not included here but will be in a later format.)
Ramadan begins on 1 August and will last through 29 August. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan will coincide with a variety of ongoing uprisings in the Arab world. It is worth considering how this might be significant in political terms since it seems to so obvious that this Ramadan is likely to be especially eventful. The Islamic holiday’s overlap with several ongoing and developing uprisings in the Arab countries is highly likely to increase openings for popular activism, especially by sectarian and Islamist factions. Additionally, Ramadan will provide opposition elements with greater opportunities for organizing and protest as large numbers of people gather at mosques and communal festivities in the open air in major cities. In counties with ongoing uprisings, such as Yemen and Syria, there is a high probability that Islamist groupings will become bolder and more confident during Ramadan, taking advantage of opportunities to use religious festivals and sermons to rally their followers against their regime and factional enemies. At the least, Ramadan could intensify already common post-Friday afternoon prayers demonstrations and nighttime protests that have become more and more common in several Arab countries. Continue reading
Politics is in the Fourth Quadrant. Efforts to apply rational, scientific analysis often fail to explain political outcomes and processes. Politics is the struggle for power and the process by which individuals and groups determine the division of power in human society. There is a need to recognize that relativism has some place in politics, however unhappy this may make some: individuals are frequently certain of what they believe to be in their own “best interest”. These perceptions are often limited in scope or even wholly tacit (known/unknown unknowns); individuals often do not fully understand why they feel they need or want something but still feel its necessity. In the fundamental human cell, the group, humans are not totally sure of what others in their groups — or in other groups — intend or wish to happen. Uncertainty and fear dominate human life, tacitly and often explicitly. When made explicit, tacit sentiments can be of high utility in society and especially politics. Continue reading