Islamists in Power

It has been very difficult, at least for the Arab World, to evaluate the performance of Islamic Movements and their relations with the realms of politics and democracy as they have not been in power yet. However, seven years have passed ever since the Arabic Spring started and these movements showed a possible framework that can be a reasonable clue for evaluating them. It has been proved that they have got nothing new for their relationships with contemporary political concepts, most important of which are democracy and economics. This paper discusses the experience of political Islam through the following headings:

  • Injustice that Islamic movements have so far suffered from
  • Political Islam in Arabic Spring
  • Tunisian Islamic Experience
  • Muslim Brothers’ Experience in Egypt
  • Political Islam in Iraq
  • Are Islamists liable to learn a lesson from power experience?


Basic factors for any evaluation process depend on what has been achieved on the political, economic and social levels taking into consideration the internal and external circumstances that affect both the undertaker and the achievement itself at the same time. This is very essential for avoiding unjustified blame on the experience in question and the evaluation process itself.

Injustice that Islamic movements have so far suffered from

Islamic Movements that are deeply rooted in history have always claimed the exposure to political injustice throughout a full century. Actually, they are right in this claim just like all other movements which have been deprived from power. Theses claims come in the midst of a large-scale absence of modern democracy, peaceful transition of power and normal parliamentarian life. These movements have been deprived form their constitutional right to practice their activities in public under the control of Arab Regimes which have variable connections to democracy.

This is essentially attributed to the fact that Arabic political atmosphere after 1950s was basically founded on the revolutionary legitimacy. This revolutionary legitimacy suffocated the constitutional legitimacy which tried to find its way through following the independence era after the evacuation of colonizers. So, all these movements were the product of revolutionary atmosphere. This trend used to depend on using violence for governance. Consequently, if any movement or political party conquered power, whether nationalist, leftist or Islamic, the result would be the same because the political infrastructure of the Arab World is based on the concept of domination.          

Political Islam in Arabic Spring

With the advent of Arabic Spring, the traditional stereotyped attitude was reversed. Peoples of the region proved their abilities to move from inertia to efficiency to affect the World and change its maps. At least they proved their ability to make counter change against centuries of absurdity. What was expected next was not important at the beginning. Few years of tranquility came after a period of turbulence and demonstrations. The image was getting clearer and clearer when Islamists took the opportunity to benefit from this momentum. The appearance of Islamists on the scene was not a surprise after two decades of a complete absence of nationalism and leftism. This was encouraged by economic deterioration and the absence of middle class which usually sponsors the enlightenment in general. Programs of Islamic Movements, especially Muslim Brothers always emphasized that it wouldn’t be like other parties that came to power, but they achieved nothing for their peoples. They blamed other parties and accused them of treachery and disloyalty to the confidence of the public as well as corruption. This applies to parties that were closer to pragmaticism than to Salafism or Jihadism, which adopt change through the use of violence. However, the real experience of Islamists in Tunisia proved that making theories for politics and society is much different from politics in practice. Although Tunisian Islamists are generally moderate and they differ from their Egyptian counterparts, for example, they are the closest to Justice and Development Party in Turkey in the sense that they both believe in lenient power for change. This put us in front of a question: Are Islamists different from others in politics? Have they really presented a real alternative? Are there differences among varieties of Islamism?    

Tunisian Islamic Experience

For the first time in their history, Islamists came to power in some Arab Countries through elections. Islamist parties in Tunisia gained the majority of votes in January 2011. Soon the government collapsed due to poor economic performance. Nine successive governments flowed and Al Nahda Party was an essential part of the government. Al Nahda Party had to share other nationalist and secular parties out of necessity rather than a conviction.

Many times, members of Al Nahda Party, led by Ghanoushy, were appointed as ministers, but they proved not to be different from others. Rafeek Abdul Salam, a former Foreign Minister and one of the leaders of Al Nahda said something important in his reply to those who blamed Al Nahda coalition with Al Neda’a Party by saying: “Politics is not a puritan tendency or disdain positions and responsibilities. Politics naturally entails conflict, competition and conflict of interests. Those who want to deal with politics from a puritan perspective should stay home and give up politics or join a Sofi worship isolation though I respect Sofi believers.” These words refer to a political maturity on part of Islamists on the one hand, and to the way Islamists approach politics and manage their battles on the other hand. Today they are aware of their complete disability to win power. Islamists are fully aware that they are swimming in a hostile environment after the disasters they caused during Arab Spring. The advent of ISIS with all its brutality has internationally stigmatized Islamists. Therefore, they are following a step-by-step strategy hiding their true intentions while they are waiting for an opportunity to come. They follow the steps of Justice and Development Party, the Turkish version of Muslim Brothers. This party is considered as an inspiration for all Islamists in the Arab World especially Al Nahda Party in Tunisia whose leader is Rashed Al Ghanoushy, the Godfather of Recep Erdogan as Erdogan confesses.

In today Tunisia, experts are warning of the risks of social and economic explosion as financial indicators show that 2018 will be the most difficult year. This situation necessitates more painful decisions and policies for lower and middle classes. Such decisions need the approval of the International Monetary Bank. Up-coming procedures will undermine the remains of public sector and annihilate the social gains of Tunisians and block their living resources. Tunisians will be overdrawn by more taxes, and prices will dramatically rise up as the Leftist Gathering of the Opposition says. What concerns us is that Ministers of Al Nahda were the first to approve these procedures.
We need to refer to an important issue written by Basheer Abdul Fatah, an academic researcher in Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. He says: “Liberals and Leftists adopted dialogue, political struggle and democracy instead of exclusion incitement against Islamists or resorting the military to intervene in politics, imposing political and economic and psychological pressure against Al Nahda Party. This Policy made Al Nahda representatives more inclined to democracy and civil state, and therefore they themselves stood against the efforts of Salafi and Jihadi trends to overblow the achievements of the new era.

Tunisia constitutes a case in which an Islamic Party gained power in one of the Arab Countries whose peoples have always been frightened by their military regimes with the Islamic ghoul. Islamists themselves didn’t spare any effort to boost this image circulated by the media especially authoritarian media. Islamists haven’t been able to abandon their taboo of the past in their political thoughts. Their dogmatic thoughts remained a stream course for their policies. For decades, they haven’t cleared themselves from their heritage which is stigmatized with political violence and violent mentality. Al Nahda Party is a special case in the sense that it is very popular among Tunisians, who are known for their enlightenment, is more of a modern democratic and civil party. This made it closer to secular parties. However, this is only an artificial image as illustrated above. They are “stooping to conquer” as we say in Arabic. 

Muslim Brothers’ Experience in Egypt

In Egypt, during Muhammed Mursey’s rule, the worst happened when a systematic campaign of favoritism and bribe started to insert Islamists into the governmental structure for their Islamic identity, not for being technocrats which the government really needed.      

As a result of two years of Muslim Brothers’ rule, public debt has horribly increased. Today, the current president continues the task by introducing huge projects that have no effect on the average citizens of Egypt which has the highest poverty rate in the Arab World.

According to experts, the public debt during the rule of the Military Council from February 2011 to middle of 2012 decreased by 200 million US Dollar to become 34.7 Billion US Dollar, but the internal debt increased to score 1.23 Billion Egyptian Pound. When Muhammed Mursey came to power in July 2013, the internal debt scored 1.55 Trillion Egyptian Pound and public debt mounted up to 43.2 Billion US Dollar. At the time of Interim President Ali Mansour, internal debt continued rising up to score 1.7 Trillion Egyptian Pound whereas public debt mounted up to score 46 Billion US Dollar.

With the current President of Egypt, the total of national and international debt has become 4 trillion EP i.e. 226 Billion US Dollar by the end of 2016. When Abdul Fatah Al Sesi came to power, the total debt was 1.7 trillion EP. 3 years later, the debt increased up to 2.3 trillion EP i.e. 129 billion US Dollar.

The democratic change in Egypt was not as successful as that of other countries like Tunisia. This is undoubtedly attributed to the fact that Egypt represents a strategic power and it is adjacent to Israel. Despite the fact that Muslim Brothers of Egypt have had good relations with the United States, Israel doesn’t feel at ease with the existence of Muslim Brothers next to border although they send tranquilizing messages, but they were all in Vain.

Despite the presence of Israel on the election agenda of Egypt, Muslim Brothers didn’t talk about the annihilation of any treaty with Israel. Their religious obsession was not concerned with Jerusalem as the first Qubla and the second holly mosque for Muslims. Although Muslim Brothers used to have a strong popularity and a political ideology, their priority was to capture power without offering any program for change in politics and economics, or even making use of power. In other words, their only goal is presidency and nothing else just like all other Islamic Movements.

Political Islam in Iraq

In the case of other countries like Iraq, it was clear that Shia Islamic parties also used religion and the sectarian militias for their private interests rather than for the public interest. Out of 204 registered parties documented by the High Commission for Elections, 12 parties are Islamic, most important of which are Al Fadellah, Al Da’wa, Islamic Council of Iraq and Islamic Iraqi Movement. These parties have recently substituted their Islamic doctrine with civil slogans to absorb the anger of their audience following the last elections when only about half of voters voted for them. With the sweeping failure in governing Iraqi affairs, the mood of the public changed despite the efforts of regional countries injecting millions of US Dollars. Each country supported its allied Islamic Party to prevent its collapse. Fatwas were also provided for voting for Islamic Parties. For fear of the collapse of their parties, Islamists returned to their usual dogmatic ideology in managing their parties. The domination of Islamic parties in Iraq caused corruption, retardation and illiteracy. Following 14 years of failure in ruling the country, Islamic parties are changing the names of their parties. Saeroon Alliance led by Muktada Al Sadre, the Shia leader, gained 54 seats in the Iraqi Parliament out of 329 seats. This Saeroon Alliance includes six parties including Iraqi Communist Party and Al Istekama Party with many technocrats supported by Muktada Al Sadre.

Are Islamists liable to learn a lesson from power experience? 

What is going on in Tunisia happened in Egypt and will probably happen any where else where Islamists or others are in power. The issue is not associated with religion to substitute politics. There is a complicated network of interrelation between politics and economics where religion, any religion, is considered irrelevant. The assumption that religion is capable of managing a governmental system is not a successful one as religion isn’t really capable to approach the complicated state system and its structure. Religion is far away from this invention with its old and new manifestations. It was clear that leaning against religion in the elections aims at provoking the public, and the bad intentions of this are clear in deception of the public more than once. However, in the end, achievements will have the upper hand, and with the absence of real achievements, people will have a different opinion.

The attempts of Islamists in the Arab World to play on the economic and political factors will come to an end with the repetition of democratic failed experiments and the rising awareness of the public of political hypocrisy practiced by all parties and Islamic parties are not an exception though they fast and pray. In Politics there is no chance for the integration of religion with daily life. It is not a policy of exclusion against one party in favor of others. Religion has got its fixed system of forms and templates that are not necessarily accordant with the realms of politics.

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