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Archive for July, 2009

The Economist has just published a fairly comprehensive report on the Arab world (Middle East and North Africa).  Though much of the information can be obtained elsewhere and there’s little if anything new to be gleaned, the overall thesis together with some telling insights (mainly from Egyptians) on the broad range of social, political and religio-cultural changes taking place in the region, is worth reading  about.  Here’s a brief snippet:

‘…[A] great social upheaval is under way, with far-reaching consequences.’

In almost every Arab country, fertility is in decline, more people, especially women, are becoming educated, and businessmen want a bigger say in economies dominated by the state. Above all, a revolution in satellite television has broken the spell of the state-run media and created a public that wants the rulers to explain and justify themselves as never before. On their own, none of these changes seems big enough to prompt a revolution. But taken together they are creating a great agitation under the surface. The old pattern of Arab government—corrupt, opaque and authoritarian—has failed on every level and does not deserve to survive. At some point it will almost certainly collapse. The great unknown is when.

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I’ve been meaning to post these two sets of articles for the last couple of days, but just haven’t found the time.

The first set of 3 articles, at Elaph.com, document the relative strength of Islamism and Islamist movements in Germany:

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(1-4)

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(2-4)

قراءة في واقع الإسلام السياسي في ألمانيا(3-4)

The second set, also at Elaph.com, examines Arab Shi’ite political thought:

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 1

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 2

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 3

تساؤلات في المرجعية السياسية الفکرية للشيعة العرب 4

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I enjoy reading about political Islamism, and I’m sure you do too, so I’ll be uploading regular essays culled from around the web here, for your enjoyment.  Eventually, I hope to keep a store of important documents and pamphlets here on another page, but for now, enjoy this seminal Martin Kramer article.  In it, and bear in mind this was written way back in the early nineties (pre-9/11!), he examines the phenomenon of Islamic fundmamentalism and its various manifestations in the light of recent electoral successes andWestern foreign policy.  It’s a poweful lesson in epochs for all those prematurely celebrating the terminal decline of political Islam:

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Great post over at The Spittoon from Rashad Ali on the scriptural and moral legitimacy of the Islamist-espoused pan-global Caliphate.  I’ve reproduced it below in full (Thanks Rashad!  Excellent work!):

Hizb ut-Tahrir; Jamaat-e-Islami; Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and al-Qaeda all have, as a fundamental aim; the establishment of a global dictatorship under the rule of one Caliph, an autocrat, who will impose one interpretation of the Shar’iah over the entire globe. They intend to do this through unifying countries where there already exists Muslim majorities then launch a worldwide international effort at expanding this state through diplomatic and hostile means i.e. warfare.

For them, there is a religious duty (fard) in which there is no dispute, that there must be a single caliphate encompassing the whole globe. There is no room for different interpretations, and anyone differing with them – especially the likes of the Hizb, and al-Qaeda, are upon Kufr – unbelief and apostates from Islam. In fact they would argue that all the Muslim scholars who have abandoned engaging in political activity for the sake of establishing such a super-state are upon misguidance, and Kufr, even if on the whole the Muslim jurists take the position, that there are different opinions on this issue, which are legitimate opinions – Ijtihadaat – and therefore we cannot start accusing others of being on un-Islamic positions for holding different views.

The fact is whilst mainstream religious scholarship prefers unity to disunity, and an ideal of unified peaceful relations, it recognizes the practical and political reality that has existed throughout our history, that we have always had different states and empires. Scholarship has always recognized that there differences in all such issues which warrant recognition. Barking on about the obligation of having a leader/caliph/head of state- all of which carry the same meaning according to groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, is not the same as proving that Muslim scholars historically or presently support the forceful unification of Muslim majority countries or expansionist states in the World. This is a false representation of classical and modern scholarship.

First of all, Muslim scholars have differed over the necessity of having a single political leadership. Rather it was considered acceptable to many scholars.

Secondly, rejecting the concept of having a caliph and Imam or leadership was considered as erroneous (this should be differentiated form the notion of an expansionist state), but not Kufr. In fact, it was considered a form of extremism amongst classical scholars to exaggerate the issueof caliphate as their many differences upon such issues.

Thirdly, political rebellion in order to remove leaderships by force, coup or militant means or through political agitation was considered heresy, and fisq (transgression) and an aspect of deviant sectarian cultiures such as the Khawarij; deemed outside of the way of mainstream Islamic teaching; which is where the seperation from classical tradition and Islamist ideological activism originates.

A question arise though about the apparent clear cut evidences from prophetic tradition which are often cited to clearly oblige the necessity of one caliph and forbid multiple rulers. It is then claimed that such rules are clear cut and definitive (Qati) permitting no other interpretations.

Methodological principles

The founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir Taqi ul-Din al-Nabhani explains in volume 3 of Shakhsiya Islamiya page 186, in the chapter titled ‘Mafhoom ul-Shart’ (the concept of the condition/conditional clause):

“The mafhoom al-Shart is when the rule depends upon something which has come in any of the forms of the conditional clause such as ‘if/when’ or any meaning implying a condition. It indicates the negation of the ruling when such a condition is not realised/is absent”
Nabhani also states that absolute and general statements would be restricted by conditional clauses, or in fact more generally by the denotation (mantooq) as well as the connotation (mafhoom) of the speech.

“It is permitted to restrict the the mantooq (the meaning of the denotation of the speech), by the mafhoom (the connotations of the speech), whether this is when it is the in the meaning of the statement and in harmony with it (mafhoom al-muwafaqa) or divergent from it (mukhalafa)” [such as the the conditional clause – he gives an example to substantiate this]. (Chapter: restricting the Mantooq by the Mafhoom, page 255)

Hadith about one leader and how they have been interpreted

So for example the hadith wherein the prophet is reported to have said as narrated by Sahih Muslim:

“whoever comes to you, and you are united under one man, and seeks to cause political dissention and separate your community (jama’ah), fight him”

This would apply when united under a single leadership. This would then restrict the meaning of other general texts which imply a single leadership according to nabhani’s principles of interpretation, i.e. the specific meaning would be then understood to restrict the general implications of other texts such as “if the pledge is given to two Caliphs, fight the latter” as applying under a single leadership, not when there are many different states and leaderships already.

Imam al-Nawawi comments on the above hadith in the chapter ‘the ruling of segregating the affair of the Muslims when they are united’,

“Whoever come to you and you are united…” stating that this refers to “those who rebel (kharaja) against the leader…”(!!) (page 444 of al-Minhaj bi-Shar’h Sahih Muslim bin al-Hajjaj, Dar al-Marifa, Beirut – Lebanon).

He also states regarding the second hadith that “generally scholars have agreed that you can not contract two caliphs… there is however the probability of the opinion of Imam al-Haramayn”. (page 445) He explains that there is a possibility of differet opinions in this matter. He states

“This is outside of the definitive matters (kharij min al-Qawati). And Maziri (the well known Maliki commentator on Imam Muslim’s collection of hadith) has narrated this Qawl (opinion) on some of the later scholars of Principle, including Imam al-Haramayn”. So it is the position of Imam al-Haramayn that it is permitted to have multiple political leaders. Imam al-Nawawi is not of this view and he states “though it is an irregular position and conflicts with the views of the early scholars and the apparent, absolute meaning of the text.” (page 435).

The important point is that it is not a definitive issue, it is subject to opinion and Ijtihad. Imam al-Haramayn is however one of the most widely accepted scholars agreed upon to reach the position of a Mujtahid Imam, and was the celebrated teacher of of revered Imam al-Ghazali.

What was Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni’s point of view? He explained this clearly in his text ‘al-Ghiyath al-Umam fi Tiyath al-Zulam’ where he explained:

“I do not deny the permissibility of appointing (two leaders) according to the need (haja) and enforcing both of their executive decisions as a religious duty. This however is a time without an overall Imam.”

People have misconstrued his words, as implying that this is only when it is impossible. This is absolutely false. Not just frpom the quotation itself, which is that it is according to the need (not even necessity), but Imam al-Haramayn explains in the following sentence, “if they agree to appoint an Imam over them, it is a right for the two leaders to submit to the decisions of this Imam in a manner he deems appropriate” He goes on to discuss to Imams in two separate countries, not one would have claim to the leadership of all the Muslims. [(pp 168-169 Muassas al-Rayan edition)]

al-Amir al-San’ani explains that in the statement:

“’Whoever left obedience to the Imam and separated from the community and then died, then his is a death of pagan ignorance.’…the phrase, ‘…left obedience…’, means obedience to the Caliph with whom there is agreement. And the implication here is that the Caliph referred to is that of a particular region because the people have never gathered together behind a single Caliph in all the lands of Islam since the time of the Abbasid State . Rather, the people of every region were independent with someone presiding over their affairs. If the hadith was taken to mean the overall Caliph which the people of Islam had united behind, then there would have been no benefit in the saying” [Subul al-Salaam, (volume 3, page 499)]

Imam Shawkani also held this view:

“As for when Islam spread and its territories expanded and its regions became distant [from each other], then it is known that in all of these regions loyalty was given to an Imam or Sultan… So there is no harm in the multiplicity of Imams and Sultans and it is obligatory for those people in whose land his orders and prohibitions become effective to give obedience to him after having giving bay’ah (a pledge of allegiance) to him. It is the same for the people of all the other regions.”

Shawkani goes on to say, someone not understanding this will not benefit from the presentation of the dalil (scriptural proofs) as he won’t “be able comprehend it”. [al-Sayl al-Jarrar (volume 4, page 512)]

Rejecting Imamate in principle

As for making the issue of political leadership a central aspect of faith, and declaring Kufr on ideas and people on the basisi of such ideas, or even for rejecting the whole notion of having any kind of political leadership, this is considered a characteristicof extremists. As Imam al-Ghazali stated:

“Know, however that error regarding the status of the Caliphate, whether or not establishing this office is a (communal obligation), who qualifies for it, and related matters, cannot serve as grounds for condemning people as Unbelievers. Indeed Ibn al-Kaysan denied that there was any religious obligation to have a Caliphate at all; but this does not mean thathe must be branded an Unbeliever. Nor do we pay any attention to those who exaggerate the matter of Imamate and equate recognition of the Imam with faith in God and His Messenger. Nor do we pay any attention to those people who oppose these people and brand them Unbelievers simply on the basis of their doctrine of on the Imamate. Both of these positions is extreme. For neither of the doctrines in question entails any claim that the Prophet perpetrated lies.” ‘On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam’ Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Faysal al-Tafriqa by Sherman A. Jackson, Oxford.

To clarify, it is considered a subsidiary branch of fatawa, not a fundamental aspect of religion. Which is why someone denying any aspect of recognising political leaderships is considered by the mainstream scholars to be mistaken, at worst upon a devaint position, but not a non-Muslim or outside the community of believers.

‘Nihayat ul-Su’al fi-Shar’h minhaj ul-Wusul lil-Qadi al-Baydawi ma al-hashiya Salam ul-Wusul li-Sharh al-Nihaya’ authored by Jamal ul-Din al-Asnawi and commentary by Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti’ee, Alim ul-Kutub edition states:

“The obligation of appointing an Imam is from the branches of religious rulings (furoo ul-fiqh’hiya), and without a doubt they are not from the fundamentals of religion (Usul ul-Din).” (volume 3 page 92)

Political rebellion in order to forcefully remove leaderships

Imam al-Nawawi explains the orthodox position of the Sunni Muslim scholars:

“We should not challenge nor dispute the legitimacy of the political leqadership, nor come out in difference to them, unless we clearly see a evil perpetrated by them, definitively violating the principle of Islam. If this is seen then this evil should be denounced and you should speak the truth. As for khurooj (rebellion) this forbidden by consensus of all the Muslims.” (page 532).

So what about those who have decided to undertake military means to remove established rulers, despots and tyrants they may be, based upon their interpretation of such evidences? Well let us return to the writings of Imam al-Asnawi, Qadi al-Baydawi and Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti’ee.

“Similarly the Khawarij, those who permit the slaughter of Muslims, taking their wealth and their famillies based upon an interpretation and speculative interpretation of the text; they are transgressors (fussaq) in our eyes, though not in theirs…” (volume 3 page 136)

Ironically Imam al-Nawawi (see above) applies the very same hadith stating that the meaning of the hadith which are politicised for their own ends by the likes of Hizb ut-Tahrir, to mean that they should be fought for political rebellion.

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I found this article critiquing the theological course struck by the popular website IslamOnline.  It’s worth reproducing here in full:

Repackaging Islamism — Rafia Zakaria

Couched in a corporate structure that relies on savvy marketing, attractive rhetoric and smart, modern packaging, projects like IslamOnline represent the effort to change in appearance and language what remains the same in substance

The headquarters of IslamOnline.net is palatial building located on the outskirts of Cairo. Away from the dirt and unrelenting traffic of the bustling Egyptian capital, its shiny and brand new campus is located across the street from an equally palatial mosque. If you’ve spent any time in Cairo, the glass ensconced air-conditioned office of this Qatari-funded online empire can be a welcome respite from the desert heat, undoubtedly for both the casual visitor as well as the nearly one hundred Egyptian men and women who work here.

According to its publicity materials, IslamOnline strives for “an Islamic renaissance” and envisions itself as becoming the largest and most “credible reference on Islam and its peoples”. The website hosts a number of features from “news” to “politics in depth” to “family” and “art and culture”. A whole section is devoted to “Euro-Muslims”, even though the website is based in the Middle East; assumedly perhaps because much of traffic for the website comes not from Egypt itself but from Muslims living in Europe.

The technology is slick, the graphics trendy and the young, energetic staff quite committed to the avowed project of rebranding Islam. Words like “moderate” “diverse” and “plural” are recurrent in the vocabulary of the editors, used repeatedly to describe both their mission and their purpose.

These two facets of IslamOnline, its Egyptian staff and Western consumers and the conscious rebranding of Islam are worthy of attention.

Take first the savvy rhetorical repackaging that is insistent on the fact that the “Islam” it is peddling is both “moderate” and “diverse”. When questioned regarding what constitutes “moderate” Islam, however, the editors are resolute in providing synonyms instead of concrete responses. Ignored thus is the idea that diversity, in essence, stands for the representation of a variety of views that include the extremes, while moderation stands for a particular selection which avoids the extremes.

Also ignored is the reality that selecting what is moderate therefore inherently invokes a judgement and an interpretation regarding what is considered to be so. For instance, on the issue of hijab, the editors of IslamOnline state that the moderate position is that all Muslim women are required to wear the hijab; this is also, they insist, the “majority” position but the process of enumerating what a “majority” means, or why conflicting interpretations are ignored is again left unexplained. The same women who denounce the intolerance of Europeans toward women who wear the headscarf are thus unwilling to tolerate that a Muslim woman can refuse to wear one and still practice her faith.

This lack of self-awareness among the editors of IslamOnline and the self-described promoters of the “correct” and “moderate” Islam is disturbing given the stated aims of the organisation. It is difficult indeed to discern whether the editors and staff of this web-based dawa organisation are being deliberately evasive regarding their project of proffering a particular definition of “moderate” Islam or truly ignorant of their own role in advancing a project whose strings are being pulled by their financiers.

The geographical dynamics of both the headquarters of IslamOnline as well as the constituents of its staff add further complications to the question. 180 Egyptians, men and women, some commuting up to two hours each way, brave the heat and dust of Cairo to work in this air-conditioned glass building reeking of Gulf money. Sitting in neat cubicles, they collect news articles and fatwas for Muslims around the world, most notably in the West.

Their writings say little or nothing at all about the rising unemployment in Cairo, the blatant poverty visible on every city street, or the lack of political process in their country. In fact, these proximate realities, experienced undoubtedly by editors and staff, are all not represented in the conversation and largely the content of IslamOnline. In the deliberate divorce of these two realities then, IslamOnline, in the real and not virtual sense, represents outsourcing at its best: the relegation of dawa to Egyptian Muslims propagating an Islam envisioned by their Gulf financiers.

The disjunction is obvious not simply in the economic disparity between the largely Egyptian producers of IslamOnline, its Qatari backers and its largely Western consumers, but also in the avowed rhetoric of diversity versus its project of propagating the “correct” Islam. The Sharia section, which according to their own statistics is the most popular section of the website, is run by a doctoral student from Al-Azhar University. In his words, the process of compiling the “diverse” and “moderate” views espoused by IslamOnline stands for the effort to combine “authentic” opinions on various subjects from all four Sunni mazhabs. Shiite schools of thought fail to make this authenticity cut and hence are not represented.

A similar conclusion could be reached about the propagators of “authentic” Islam of IslamOnline; a document retrieved from IslamOnline reveals that nearly ninety percent of the sheikhs recruited to provide fatwas are Arab sheikhs with little or no representation for Southeast Asians, South Asians and Muslims from other non-Arab ethnicities.

In conclusion then, the Islam of IslamOnline stands for Islam as understood largely by Sunni Arabs. There is indeed nothing wrong with such a project; Sunni Arabs just like Iranian Shiites or South Asian Sufis have the right to propagate and disseminate information about their particular take on the Islamic faith. Indeed, there is something laudable and commendable also about providing Egyptian Muslim youth with a well funded and inviting workplace where they can interact and earn good livelihoods while living their faith.

The pernicious aspects of projects like IslamOnline lie in the unsaid agendas that undergird their stated goals. Calling a website “IslamOnline” instead of “MuslimsOnline” makes a very particular claim about representing a single and correct doctrinal position whose truth is substantiated by a particular interpretation of religious text. Disguising such a claim in the glib rhetoric of “diversity” and “plurality” while simultaneously excluding entire swathes of Muslim practice such as Shiite theology suggests a deceptive condescension toward both Muslims and non-Muslims consumers of the website.

In larger terms, projects like IslamOnline represent a novel new turn taken by the Islamist project that consciously seeks to redefine itself as “moderate”. Couched in a corporate structure that relies on savvy marketing, attractive rhetoric and smart, modern packaging, it represents the effort to change in appearance and language what remains the same in substance. This new and repackaged Islamism thus continues to privilege Sunni and Arab interpretations of Islam as ultimately authentic and correct but under the glib pretence of being committed to both moderation and diversity.

Firstly, I think it has to be noted that Ms Zakaria is writing about the English section of IslamOnline, and not the Arabic section.  The two sections reflect a relatively sophisticated awareness of market segmentation and consumer targeting common to other Islamic portals catering to users in more than one language.  For instance, the English section, common to most Islamic sites in English offers articles and interactive services covering the major Islamic disciplines, with a particular emphasis on ‘E-jurisprudence’ or ‘E-fiqh’, whereby users can email in their requests for advice and a scholar will supply a detailed religious opinion (fatwa), which in turn appears under the Living Shariah section of the site.  Users are also given the opportunity to email questions to various religious and political personalities, and the subsequent interview is then reproduced on the site.

Although there is rarely any overlap between the two versions, the Arabic site is far more sophisticated: reflected in both the quantity of material and the content.  There is also considerably more emphasis on politics on the Arabic site, given that the political aspects of Islam are seen as affecting the daily realities of Arabic speakers across the Middle East.

One particular section that I try to visit everyday, is the relatively new Islamyoon dedicated site.  This section, which includes daily articles on Islamist groups, Sufis and Salafists worldwide, has recently been expanded to receive its own site.  It was something of an innovation, which is surprising really given the maturity of and contemporary interest in political Islam, in that it’s the only site on the net, to the best of my knowledge, that deals specifically with Islamism and its various manifestations.

Back to Ms Zakaria’s critique, which I think makes some perceptive observations about IslamOnline’s agenda.  certainly, the site does promote an orthodox Islamic worldview, albeit couched in language more amenable to its English readership.  The Arabic site mirrors its English counterpart’s weltanschauung and retains a youthful vibrancy missing from similar sites targeting the same consumers.  There does appear to be a willingness to engage with the site’s readership and tackle challenging topics, especially those affecting modern youth – something which other sites seldom do (though they are learning!).  However, don’t expect there do be any sort of Islamic reformist ideas given space there: topics such as advocating the freedom to reject the hijab or for a woman to marry a non-Muslim man are unlikely to be entertained on the site any time soon.

Ultimately, IslamOnline reflects the persona and vision of its co-founder, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawy.  As an Islamist and long-time associate, some might say ‘spiritual leader’ of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaradawy cuts an imposing figure on the world stage as probably the world’s most popular and widely known Islamic religious personality.  Particularly at home, in his native Egypt, al-Qaradawi is adored for commitment to Islamic moderation, what he terms al-Wasitiyyah al-Islamiyyah (الوسطية الإسلامية).  And he’s never been one to shy away from controversy, as his ruling on the consumption of small amounts of alcohol bears witness to and the fact that, despite its bestseller status and its continued popularity today for download via the net, his book al-Haraam wa’l-Halaal fi’l-Islaam (الحرام والحلال في الإسلام) continues to draw criticism from conservatives for whom ‘permissive’ was the most complementary epithet ascribed to it, and who let to it being initially banned in Saudi Arabia.  Nonetheless, despite his renoun for moderation in the Middle East, he’s somehing of a pariah figure in the West, especially in the UK, after his various statements on suicide bombing and the euphemistically-termed Palestinian ‘resistance’.  To many Western non-Muslims, he’s an extremist plain and simple.

But when I say that IslamOnline reflects al-Qaradawy’s persona, I mean that it’s neither all fire and brimstone with regular calls for jihad or the persistent excoriation of the kuffaar; and neither is it a home for secularists and liberal reformers, such as those who advocate the separation of Islam from politics and radical reinterpretations of the Qur’an.  No.  IslamOnline is home to neither.  Yet, it does to conform to al-Qaradawy’s Middle Way approach and has, as its mission, one of the Shaykh’s principal aims: the re-Islamisation of society from the ground up, a methodology first artculated by Iqbal and Mawdudi, those luminaries of nascent Hindustani Islamism.

I think it’s worth casting an eye over of the traffic data for IslamOnline, although it’s not possible, unfortunately, to get a breakdown of data for each sub-site (i.e. the English side and the Arabic one).  This chart below shows the % of users per country (via Alexa):

IslamOnline Alexa 2

More than a fifth of visitors to IslamOnline come from Egypt and just under one fifth come from Saudi Arabia.  This means that depth of content is more likely to be skewed towards reflecting the interests of Egyptians and Saudis, who together compose more than 40% of IslamOnline’s audience.

Unsurprisingly, two Anglophone countries are in the top six: the US and the UK; IslamOnline is more popular in the UK, considering its  population size relative to the US, and is home to the largest audience in Europe.

The chart below reflects the demographics of IslamOnline visitors:

IslamOnline Alexa 1

We notice that IslamOnline visitors are overwhelmingly female, between 18-24 years of age, have children and are still at college (though just how many female college students have children is open to question).  This demographic almost certainly has an influence on the content, given that there are special sections devoted to love and marriage, answering questions specifically concerning female issues and the tone and format of the site in the English section, which is notably more aestetically-pleasing to the female visitor.

So, are IslamOnline rebranding Islamism to appeal to the European market?  Well, there’s no doubt that in terms of content, though the quality of some of the non-theological articles in both the English and Arabic sections leaves a lot to be desired, IslamOnline deserves its reputation and status as the web’s most popular Islamic portal, and its popularity with young women with children is so important as it will help instil certain Islamic values, the IslamOnline Islamist narrative if you will, in the minds of the next generation.  However, I think it’s arguable as to whether there is a deliberate sleight of hand going on with reference to the English section: it’s clear, especially from those sites that cater to or try to attract non-Muslims to the fold (surely most Islamic sites?), that a different message is conveyed and specific aspects of Islam are emphasised with recourse to tried-and-trusted da’wah methodology.  IslamOnline is not unique in this regard and it’s widely known that Shaykh al-Qaradawi helped to found the site and continues to have an input, so I don’t thin there’s a deliberately sub rosa Islamist narrative there.  Notwithstanding my reservations as regards her global thesis, it’s a thought-provoking and timely article from Ms Zakaria. 

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The best aftermath/repercussions of the Jakarta bombings article that I’ve seen so far:

Contexts of terror in Indonesia

Sympathy for terrorism in Indonesia is far too sparse for Friday’s explosions to destabilize the country. But they occurred merely nine days after Yudhoyono’s landslide re-election as president on July 8, with three months still to go before the anticipated inauguration of his new administration on October 20. That timing ensured that some would speculate that the killers wanted to deprive the president of his second five-year term.

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Khalil al-Anani had a piece in the Daily Star the other day, which I missed, on the possible repercussions springing from the Egyptian regime’s ongoing crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.  These are the main points of the article:

  • The recent spate of arrests, sympathetic press in independent papers such as al-Masry al-Youm and al-Dustour, as well as the tried and trusted state media, has resulted in the isolation of the Brotherhood in mainstream Egyptian society.  However, the MB have never been more powerful, perhaps not domestically, but abroad and especially in Europe, and the organisation will outlast this particular onslaught.
  • The regime’s relationship with the MB continues to mirror that faced by them under Nasser: having won so many seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the MB overstepped the mark somewhat with regards their supposedly accepted ‘quietist’ role in the Egyptian public sphere.  That is, there was an understanding that charitable work and da’wah would be the only fields in which the MB would be allowed to operate.  Post 2005, as the regime’s thoughts started to turn towards the post-Mubarak era and the question of succession, it has been decided to eradicate the Brotherhood once and for all, and in so doing keep the lid on the inevitable power struggle in the wake of President Mubarak’s ‘standing aside’.
  • The MB have been unable to secure a broad-based coalition upon which the fight government oppression and other issues afflicting Egyptian society, and have, in turn, become disconnected from heir grassroots’ support/power base.

Al-Anani outlines seven likely scenarios:

  • The crackdown could lead to mass disruption and civil unrest in the wake of economic turmoil and Egypt’s uncertain political future.
  • The MB’s isolation could have unexpected knock-on effects such as the radicalisation of the organisation.
  • Continued suppression could lead to the disenchantment of the young cadres turning on the MB’s leadership and splitting the organisation.  The recent arrests have been seen by some as akin to the execution of Sayyed Qutb, and have expressed their dissatisfaction at what they see as a lack of political will on behalf of the leadership to confront the Mubarak regime.
  • Arresting moderates in the organisation could secure short-term political capital, but generate long-term problems for the government if the MB left the centre ground.
  • Radical Islamists movements could emerge amidst the MB’s tribulations, groups modelled on al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyyah that espouse violence as means of bridging the void between the state and religion.
  • One possible scenario is the break-up of the MB into smaller, independent groups unfettered by a central command/leadership structure and possible more radical.
  • Finally, the suppression could mirror the period in Algeria in the early 90’s when the Islamists were deprived of political power by a secularist-military alliance that culminated in the bloody feuds that continue to threaten peace in the country today.

It must be said that I disagree with al-Anani over his suggestion that the MB have become isolated from their popular support: those in Egyptian’s miniscule middle classes and more affluent social strata were never likely to endorse them and the recent arrests and consonant media revelations have done nothing to change that.  Furthermore, the MB, despite not being able to capitalise fully on the lack of progress with the so-called Road Map and not forming a coalition with the civil rights movements as we witnessed a couple of years ago, are reaping the rewards of the communications strategy, particularly online.  MB bloggers, as was borne out by the recent Harvard report into the Middle Eastern blogosphere, carry substantial weight domestically and across the Arab world.  Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s alliances abroad, outside of the Middle East, appear to be bearing fruit as meetings with White House officials prior to President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the invitation of several Muslim Brothers to the event itself will testify.

No.  The Brotherhood are a long way from finished yet and, together with Egypt’s burgeoning salafist movement, they have achieved respectable gains in their ongoing efforts to re-Islamise Egyptian society.  The MB are here to stay.

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