Islamic Parties Rise

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Political Islam will have to deal with clashing interests

Religion remains an unavoidable reference for the Arabs and as such will be critical in building the future

By Tariq Ramadan

2011-10-25T200235Z_715025985_GM1E7AQ0BBL01_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA

Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement celebrate outside Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis October 25, 2011. The party said on Tuesday it had won more than 40 percent of seats in Sunday’s election, pledging to continue democracy after the first vote that resulted from the “Arab Spring” revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Over the last few weeks the new Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), has been repeating, “Sharia will be the main reference and will be implemented in Libya.” Several of his references to Islamic legislation came in the presence of western politicians and intellectuals like the pro-Israel French self-styled philosopher Bernard Henri Levy, who, surprisingly, did not react with any shock whatsoever. Surprising indeed! It was as if Abdul Jalil was determined to show that the ‘Libyan revolutionaries’ were truly independent and not supported or protected by France, the US, or the West. The West kept silent, though some media have asked pointed questions about whom the French, the Americans and the British were supporting.
Given Libya’s extremely complex political situation, Abdul Jalil’s statement was timely and very smart. He referred intentionally to concepts seen as very controversial in the West to make it clear to the Libyan people he was not a western puppet. In a way that seemed weird to a western ear, he spoke of Sharia and polygamy, knowing that for the emotionally wrought Libyan Muslims he was offering proof of his complete independence (such references are of course demonised in the West). For France, Britain and the US it was a way to show the world that Libya was now “on its own;” time for Nato to allow the new Libya to build its future by relying on its own traditions. The religious and political reference to Islam thus serves to appease the Muslims and lend traditional and religious legitimacy to the NTC while concealing the West’s tri-dimensional — military, geopolitical and economic — penetration of Libya.

The Arab uprisings are showing that the peoples of the region are drawn to freedom, dignity and justice but are not prepared to betray their traditions and religious beliefs. The recent victory of Tunisia’s Islamist party, Al Nahda, in that country’s constituent elections, underlines a historical reality: Islam remains an unavoidable reference for the Arabs and as such will be critical in building the future, especially through the democratic process by which peoples are now able to express their political demands, their concerns about identity and their economic hopes. The conservative parties that invoke Islam in one way or another (hence the Islamists as well) are gaining ground and achieving greater political legitimacy. They are operating on three distinct levels: acceptance of democratic rules, preservation of the nation’s Islamic identity and readiness to open their markets to the dominant economic powers and the multinational corporations.

The Turkish example has set a precedent: no one can deny that the AKP — coming from an Islamist background — is proving its leadership’s success in these very three fields: they are religiously conservative, geopolitically prepared to deal with all the western powers (including, until recently, Israel), and economically integrated into the dominant capitalist system. They have shown great openness (with the EU) and demonstrated considerable flexibility. The West can indeed do business with any Islamist party that evidences a similar willingness to adapt and to collaborate, from Al Nahda to the Muslim Brotherhood. Things are moving fast in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena); the new political strategies are based on new economic and geopolitical concerns, driven by the active presence of new state actors in the region: Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric). The West has no time to waste in the race to win Arab minds, hearts and money.

In these highly complex political and economic games, one issue stands out as crucial. The western countries have shown in the past that they have no major problem in dealing with political Islam to protect their interests. Given the presence of the Bric’s countries, they have no choice as the latter are ready to establish strong political and economic ties whatever the situation in the respective Arab countries.

Stance against Israel

The key factor will be Israel. All the Islamist parties have taken strong position against the Zionist state (even Turkey recently), which is the reason for their broad popular support (including the current Iranian regime). The Islamists may well be ready to promote the democratic process and to participate fully in the dominant economic system (the great majority of the Islamist parties accept it today) but they remain quite explicit in their stance against Israel. Here lies the core of the acute tensions and contradictions in the US and the European countries: they need to be involved in Mena but they cannot distance themselves from Israel. Meanwhile, the Bric countries do not have the same historical alliance with Israel and they seem ready to challenge the western bias towards the Middle East conflict.

The Islamic reference is at the heart of the debate in the Arab world.

Political Islam is at the crossroads: it faces numerous challenges and must deal with conflicting interests. Only a comprehensive approach can give us a sense of what is at stake. Many trends — even some Islamist parties — are playing with Islam in an attempt to gain legitimacy.

There can be no doubt that politics corrupts. Who, in the Arab countries, will be able to hold power while respecting the Islamic imperatives of dignity, justice and transparency — let alone truly supporting the just cause of Palestine?

Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. His new book Islam and the Arab Awakening will be out this month.

Gulf News

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Tunisia’s Ennahda May Back Open Economy

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Hammond

2011-10-25T195752Z_357696695_GM1E7AQ0B4401_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA

Soumaya Ghannouch (C), daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, celebrates outside Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis October 25, 2011. The party said on Tuesday it had won more than 40 percent of seats in Sunday’s election, pledging to continue democracy after the first vote that resulted from the "Arab Spring" revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

TUNIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Tunisian Islamists who won a historic election victory this week are expected to promote business-friendly economic policies but Europe’s economic woes could favour Gulf investors in the short term, analysts say.

Ennahda has tried hard to assuage the concerns of Western powers and secular elites which have long had the upper hand in the North African country that it will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.

But it has also been keen to argue it will not cause any ruptures in Tunisia’s economic life. The two are linked since Western tourism, with its expectations of sun, sand and drinking, has been an economic driver for Tunisia.

Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jbeli singled out on Tuesday wine and bikinis as elements in attracting tourism that the party had no intention to touch. He also said Ennahda had no plans to make changes to the banking sector, where Sharia-compliant services are so far minimal.

“We will pay close attention to what they implement but on the economic side we have no cause for concern. Our biggest concern is long delays in government formation,” said one Western diplomat in Tunis.

“A lot of their backers are from the merchant class who are keen on the idea of a liberal economic policy and they don’t have serious plans to change the economic policy of previous governments.”
Tunisia is under pressure to reinvigorate an economy that was hailed in recent years as a “miracle” by Western governments and financial institutions for its privatisations and deregulation but which has ground to a halt since the uprising that brought down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Unemployment was at 14 percent before Ben Ali fell, and one third of the jobless had higher education. The figure is thought to have worsened in recent months.

The biggest problem facing the country is resource distribution. It is no accident that the revolt started in Sidi Bouzid, a depressed provincial town in the semi-arid zone of the Tunisian interior where resentment against the affluent coastal cities is strong.

“Economically, they are not radicals. Ennahda is quite conservative economically,” said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin of Control Risks. “They favour free enterprise.”

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi assured a delegation of bourse officials on Tuesday that he favoured more flotations on a stock market. Share prices fell in October on apparent fear of an Ennahda win, though Tunisia’s Eurobonds did not react negatively to its victory.

An initial public offering in state operator Tunisie Telecom had been held up partly by the leftists who gained in influence after the revolution. Jbeli, who is tipped to be Ennahda’s prime minister, met employers’ federation leaders on Tuesday.

About 80 percent of Tunisia’s trade is with the European Union, but with Europe in a financial crisis Ennahda could draw money from the conservative Gulf Arab region.

“Qatar in particular may feel encouraged to resume exploring investment opportunities in the country as the political situation stabilises,” said Dubai-based analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates.

“Although it did not proactively support the Tunisian revolution like it did in Libya, many Tunisians, including Ennahda feel indebted to Qatar for the moral support it gave to their cause,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is not thought to have close ties to Ennahda, but Qatar’s leading Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera has heavily promoted the group. Qatar was a major Arab backer of the NATO operation to back Libyan rebels who succeeded in ending the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

Sama Dubai, a government-owned company in the emirate, had plans in the Ben Ali era to develop a residential and commercial district in Tunis but the future of the project is now not clear and the land sits empty.

Hardliners among Ennahda’s rank-and-file could still rock the boat, despite Ghannouchi’s attempts to offer reassurances on social and economic policy.

“The danger is that Ennahda members or influential independents foment fears among investors with unguarded comments that do not really reflect the party’s intentions,” said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group.

“The net result is that we believe that investor sentiment over Tunisia will remain nervous and trending towards the negative in the aftermath of the election.” (Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Tarek Amara; Editing by David Stamp)

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