As extremists surge, future of political Islam tenuous?

The Islamist politicians who swept elections in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, undermining the militant thesis that violence offered the only hope for change, are now in frantic retreat, David D. Kirkpatrick reports for The New York Times:

Instead, it is the jihadists who are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East. Now they have seized control of territory straddling the borders of Iraq and Syria where they hope to establish an Islamic caliphate.

And they are reveling in their vindication.

“Rights cannot be restored except by force,” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the surging Qaeda breakaway group, declared last year after the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood from office. Islamists must choose “the ammunition boxes over the ballot boxes” and negotiate “in the trenches rather than in hotels,” the group proclaimed, calling the more election-minded Muslim Brotherhood “a secular party in Islamic clothes” and “more evil and cunning than the secularists.”

NYTimes

NYTimes

“But others, led by the moderate Islamists here in Tunisia, argue that …if moderates hope to counter the jihadists and build democracies, their parties must be much more inclusive and conciliatory toward non-Islamist rivals and even those who participated in the old authoritarian governments,” Kirkpatrick continues:

The extremists always warned the moderates not to trust the military, said Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder and chairman of Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “their predictions were true.” But Mr. Ghannouchi said the solution for the Islamist movement was not to fight back with weapons, but to further embrace pluralism, tolerance and compromise. “The cure for a failed democracy is more democracy,” he said, because “dictatorship disguised in religion is the worst kind of dictatorship.”….

Mohammed Sawan, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, echoed the Tunisians, arguing that his faction needed to do a better job cooperating with liberals. “The battle in the Arab region isn’t about Islam or identity at all,” he said. “It’s about the fundamental values of democracy, freedom and rights. It has nothing to do with Islamists versus non-Islamists.”

With the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the militant approach of Islamists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, analysts say the future of political Islam in the Arab world is tenuous, VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi reports:

Tarek Abdel Hamid, a former member of a militant Islamist group in Egypt, now a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy, said Islamists need to moderate their ideology and define a political model.

“In the past the military regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq used security measures to repress Islamists, but now because of their ideological defeat, the population turned against them, so they will have a very negative future.” he said.

“They are not fit to rule because they are still motivated by ideology not focusing on pragmatic solutions for citizens’ demands whether the economy, social justice, gender equality or freedom of religion,” he said.

But Shadi Hamid (above), an analyst at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said while the Muslim Brotherhood failed to govern in Egypt, he is convinced that political Islam will have a future.

“There is a widespread support in the deeply conservative societies in the region for Islamists’ objective of more mix of religion and politics, so if there is a popular demand for this, someone has to supply it,” he said.

When Islamists from around the region gathered last fall at the Middle East Studies Center in Amman, Jordan, to assess lessons learned, the NYT’s Kirkpatrick reports, the main conclusion was that “Islamists must now develop an idea of national partnership with the other forces,” Jawad el-Hamad, the center’s director, said in an interview.

But while what has happened in Egypt will not easily replicate itself in the region, Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said that it has already affected thinking throughout Islamist circles everywhere.

“It has inspired some governments to move against Islamists and has made some Islamists reevaluate their surroundings,” he said. “Political Islam is hardly dead, but the movements that lead Islamism into the formal political process are likely to be just a little bit more leery of that path almost everywhere—and perhaps totally shut out of it in Egypt.”

Hamid said obituaries of political Islam are premature. 

“You can kill an organization but killing an idea is much more difficult. Even if we saw Islamists at an existential threat, their vision for the society is deeply entrenched in the region,” he said. “In spite of repression of Nasser in Egypt, Hafez Al Assad in Syria and Ben Ali in Tunisia we saw the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and Syria, and [the] Ennahda movement in Tunisia recovered and reemerged once there was a political opening.” he said. 

“The struggle for and within political Islam is important for what it can tell us about how beliefs and ideology are mediated and altered by the political process,” he said.

RTWT

U.S. ‘mixed success’ in assistance to Arab Spring transitions

POMEDREPORTThe United States “has largely failed to adapt U.S. assistance or policy toward the Middle East and North Africa in response to the dramatic political changes in the region over the past few years,” a new analysis suggests.  

“In general, it is remarkable how little the structure and objectives of U.S. assistance to the region have changed since before the 2011 uprisings,” according to The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, a joint publication of the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America.

“The percentage of U.S.  assistance devoted to supporting military and security forces has actually increased since 2010 while the percentage devoted to programming dedicated to democracy and governance has decreased, despite frequent rhetoric from the administration and Congress in 2011 suggesting that the opposite would take place,’ the reports notes:  

Three years after the uprisings of 2011, the administration has had only mixed success in regularizing its assistance to countries in transition. In 2012 and into 2013, the administration mobilized large amounts of aid to respond to the democratic upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria through significant reprogramming and reallocation from multi-country accounts. Such a response was necessary at that time, when funds had not been budgeted ahead of time.  

By now, the administration should be working to move a greater percentage of assistance to those countries into bilateral accounts to establish a more permanent aid relationship. The administration has just this year made moves in that direction in both Yemen and Syria, but has failed to do so in Tunisia and especially in Libya. 

Support for democracy and governance programming in Syria in this year’s request is dramatically increased to $80 million; if granted, democracy assistance to Syria will be the highest bilateral level in the region. Democracy practitioners have complained for some time that the administration does not have a clear strategy for supporting democracy and governance activities in liberated areas of the country. The administration moved a substantial amount of Syria assistance into a bilateral account this year, including a large request for democracy assistance, which may signal a step in that direction. This new request, coupled with increasing coordination of Syria assistance by Mark Ward, could bring increased clarity to U.S. democracy programming strategy in the country.

RTWT

 

Is kneejerk opposition to coups misplaced?

egypt sisiIs kneejerk opposition to military coups misplaced?  We can all agree that coups overthrowing democratic governments are never good, but what about authoritarian ones? asks Slate analyst Joshua Keating:

The economist Paul Collier has made that argument, suggesting that “the very forces that sanctimony comfortably condemns can sometimes be the most effective ally of democracy.” After all, whether or not a dictator survives often depends more on the support of those around him than the support of citizens. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” – probably history’s most famous “good coup” ….

A recent paper by political scientists Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis examines the relationship between coups and democracy in the context of the Arab Spring., where the behavior of the military was often the deciding factor. As they note, “loyal militaries have allowed the governments in Bahrain and Syria remain intact, regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell after military defections, and military splits led to prolonged fighting in Libya and Yemen.” In general, coups have been much more likely to lead to a return to elected government since the Cold War. Thyne and Powell argue this is in line with the incentives juntas face after taking power. …

The authors don’t go as far as to suggest supporting coups against authoritarian governments, but they say the U.S. and other foreign powers should focus more on “precoup levels of democracy when deciding how to respond to coup attempts.”

In general though, it would probably be wise for the U.S. to maintain a general bias against supporting coups,” Keating suggests. “And even when coups lead back to democracy, countries tend not to have just one. As we saw in Turkey and Thailand throughout the 20th century and Egypt more recently, countries can become trapped in coup cycles.”

RTWT

Lack of accountability key obstacle to ‘Arab Spring’ transitions

yemenOne of the key obstacles to democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa is a failure to ensure accountability for the abuses that sparked the “Arab Spring” in the first place, argues David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

What, then, has gone awry with regard to accountability efforts in the Middle East and North Africa? Are there any lessons that can be learned just a few short years after these transformative uprisings unnerved long-standing regimes? Are there structural obstacles preventing transitional justice initiatives from taking root in this part of the world? he writes for The Huffington Post:

Transitional justice measures are also operationally complex and require extensive human and financial resources, usually at a time when those very resources are at their scarcest. When those resources are not secured and the goals and priorities are not clearly established during the conceptual phase of the process, the result is, more often than not, ad-hoc measures that inevitably lead to stakeholder fatigue and the inability to meet operational demands or popular expectations.

Stakeholders in the newly constituted governments and in civil society have undertaken a multitude of initiatives with the stated goal of instituting accountability and ending impunity. Yet few, if any, of these efforts have discernibly contributed to those objectives.

The passage of Tunisia’s transitional justice law presents a major breakthrough in a region where transitional justice victories have been scarce, he notes, but….

The historical, political, and social particularities of each country in question mean that a one-size-fits-all approach to transitional justice is unrealistic and undesirable. However, there are two factors in particular that can be discerned in the failed approach to transitional justice in Egypt, Yemen, and Libya: a lack of political will by powerful elements that have much to lose and little to gain from addressing past violations; and the arbitrary nature of the few reforms that have been proposed or implemented and the absence of an integrated vision for those reforms and what they are designed to achieve in the medium- and long-term.

RTWT

West seduced by ‘mirage of political Islam’?

NYTimes

NYTimes

During the decades of dictatorship in the Arab world, political Islamists marketed themselves in the West as “moderate” movements that sought to reconcile Islam with democracy, notes Mustapha Tlili, a novelist and a research scholar at New York University.

In reality, they were proponents of a messianic ideology in which the fundamental tenet is to implement God’s will on earth,” he writes for The New York Times:

Regrettably, the United States failed to recognize the need to strengthen the Muslim world’s secular democratic parties and empower their supporters, who want to build a society based on tolerance, moderation, the rule of law, women’s rights and constitutional freedoms. Just as America worked to stop the spread of Communism after World War II, the Obama administration could have invested in civil society groups and secular democratic parties in the Muslim world.

How to channel the aspirations of that segment of the Egyptian and Tunisian societies that is rural, pious, illiterate and conservative remains a real challenge,” states Tlili, the founder and director of the N.Y.U. Center for Dialogues: Islamic World – U.S. – the West:

Typically, such people are poor and lack economic opportunity. From the period of the dictatorships to the elections made possible by the Arab Spring, these populations were courted by the Islamists and developed into a strong constituency. In Egypt and Tunisia especially, but throughout the Muslim world, political systems must find ways to integrate these communities into the political and economic life of the nation.

This is not only for the sake of social justice, but also to shut the door on Islamism, both “moderate” and jihadist. In this difficult task, America should help, not hinder, the secular democrats of the Muslim world. It is in America’s national interest.

RTWT