Nathan Brown: Arab Democratic Movements

September 3, 2009 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Today is a hot (unusually muggy day from a hurricane a [thousand miles south] off the Pacific Coast of Mexico).  I am looking back to  a discussion documented in my notebooks in Berkeley with Nathan Brown and Mohammed Hafez–Brown is not Muslim, but he is a great scholar of Islam.  Professor Brown spoke to those present on understanding Islamicist politics and their electoral opposition to the often corrupt parties in power in their nation states.

Islamist Arab Parties – especially in Egypt – have had great successes in elections, but they almost never win. 

Mainstream “democracy” is manipulated by Arab leaders.  This is why Islamist Parties mostly refuse to take part in elections and often react violently by resisting against their rulers and their pseudo-“Parliaments.”  On the other hand, examples can be had in the victory of the Islamic Parties in Algeria which the Party in power refused to  recognize the results leading to a protracted civil war.  Another instance can be found in the Gaza 2006 election that Jimmy Carter and his observation team described as the fairest that they had ever witnessed, but both Israel and the United States and Egypt refused to recognize! 

Outside the Islamic world political Islamicism is equated with Nazism, but “It is more like [European] ‘Christian’ Democracy in that it, too, makes a religious reference to its politics.”  The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Be prepared!” which resonates from the Koran itself, and is on the visual crest of the Party.  The Brotherhood began as a secular movement to help individuals to become better Muslims, but later its philosophy flowed into politics.

Dr. Brown maintained that “Elections in the Middle East have predicable results, but uncertain rules.”  For the most part they are designed for the government to win.  Those Islamists who contend find it  advantageous for them (see my article on Da’wa and Democratic Politics in a back issue of this  publication) although they are “not recognized as a full political party” by the establishment.  Yet they are able to weather a harsh political climate. 

They are “highly ideological, and enforce their principles;” so, that they “will not rupture into discordant fissures although debate and schism has arisen over minute issues.”

Hard decisions have to be made over elections.  Elections can raise the primacy of politics over religion which is always a concern amongst devout people.

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