In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shabokshi says that ‘Islamic politics’ is a misnomer. There’s little ‘Islamic’ about it, at least at manifest in countries roiled by Arab Spring. Instead of following the political course followed by the Prophet Mohammed, the leaders who have ascended to power through elections are simply replicating the power politics of the regimes they had overthrown.
Opponents are not welcomed into the body politic. Instead, they are cursed, accused of treason, publicly excoriated, demeaned, and jailed. Instead of taking part in the dynamics of politics, they’re being forced underground. Worse, those in power are showing themselves incapable of governing. By silencing other voices, they are losing possible solutions to problems they are themselves unable to solve.
These new leaders rode into power waving the flag of Islam and promising to fix the social ills that preceded them. Perhaps, Shabokshi suggest, they might actually try behaving in an Islamic manner now that they hold the reins.
Political Islam in Name Only
Several politicians and analysts are trying to look closely and accurately into the state of confusion, tension, and failure that has characterized the experience of the ruling political groups and parties in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, ever since the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions. Perhaps the most important and dangerous trait that all these political groups share is their “exclusionary” nature. They have failed to accommodate different segments of society and represent them all, particularly at a highly sensitive time following on from the violent and impassioned uprisings. These groups were once part of the opposition category themselves; practicing their activities in secret under the severe oppression of the previous regimes. As a result, once in power they took on a retaliatory form, further intensifying the state of fragmentation and fuelling mistrust within society.
Islam’s discourse on politics in general is somewhat shallow. While we can find dozens of volumes and books on purity, worship, and other issues, there are very few books on “political fiqh”, and a clear lack of scholarly consensus. This means that we must use much discretion when talking about political Islam; no one alone can claim a full understanding, and no one should be able to impose this understanding upon others.
The “political Islam” groups that have come to power in the Arab Spring states have not followed in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed himself—peace be upon him—when he conquered Mecca. After the conquest, and while the prophet’s opponents were dreading his reaction, Mohammed announced a “day of mercy” and uttered his famous saying “Even he who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe “, in reference to his prominent opponent at the time. The prophet added “Go your way, for you are free “, without punishing or taking revenge against anyone. This principle was later applied by two of the most renowned politicians of the twentieth century: Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and the peerless South African Nelson Mandela. They both offered a full pardon to their former opponents and enemies, and even incorporated them into their new regimes to become part of the solution, rather than the problem. This is the difference between wisdom and political maturity on the one hand, and political adolescence on the other.
Saudi Gazette runs a piece from Asharq Alawsat that argues the same point. What’s changed in the practical politics? The only thing that seem to have been changed is the rhetoric.