Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Support the uprising, support democracy!

Several news agencies, and as a result probably many people, believe that there is a huge risk of radical, militant islamist political parties rising to power once the 'classic Arab autocrat' is ousted.

I have heard this theory promulgated many times over the past few weeks; used to describe both the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings and even implicitly used to justify the long standing American foreign support for corrupt regimes in the Middle East. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is patently false.

One of the central beliefs in Islamic political philosophy, though few there are, is that despotism beats anarchy. Basic Sharia law, unbeknownst to most western media outlets, largely steers clear of outright political assertions, dealing mostly with familial concerns. But it does come down clearly on this point. As Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), a very influential philosopher, put it, "The tyranny of a sultan for a hundred years causes less damage than one year's tyranny exercised by the subjects against one another... Revolt was justified only against a rule who clearly went against a command of God or his prophet."

This may at first glance seem to support the notion that these autocrats are saving society from what some may call "bad people". But, if we look closer at the political situations in many Arab countries we see that many fundamentalist islamic institutions are largely supportive of the long standing regimes. Islamists have been called on by many regimes for justification of political action in return for political positions and various other favours. Autocrats and dogmatists have been going skipping hand in hand, hanging onto each others backs, all the while sidelining the more moderate and democratic voices in society (be they of what ever religious bent). Those opposing the regime may indeed be religiously conservative and muslim (fine by me), but primarily they would oppose the regime because they are democratic (even more fine).

Mubarak for example, has held a tight grip on the official religious establishment. A horrid but perfect example occurred in 2007 when several journalists were convicted of publishing false information about the regime. A fatwa came from the Grand Imam, the highest religious authority, who cited the Quoran while stipulating that those convicted of libel should be sentenced to 80 lashes!

Ignorant and alarmist media outlets mention the illegal political party the Muslim Brotherhood (that attained 20% of the parliament as independents in the 2005 elections) and Americans westerners get a bit scared. The reality is that they have been the only sensible opposition to Mubarak, have worked explicitly towards democracy, and have claimed outright that they would pose "a democratic political challenge to the regime, not a theological one."

The notion that toppling dictators will plunge Arab Muslim countries into bedlam is frightening. But the idea that radical islamists will suddenly seize power if a regime is toppled simply does not hold not water.

By promoting either argument, America the West is oppressing the moderate democratic people who have been silenced for so long, and who have really never had the chance to take control of their countries.


By the way check out this and this for a who's who of the has-beens of Egypt.

Giant tip of the hat to the chaps at http://www.arabist.net/

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