By Rashid Ghannouchi
The author of the following article, Rashid Ghannouchi was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 and Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers and was awarded the Chatham House Prize in 2012 (alongside Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki) by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, for the successful compromises achieved during the Tunisia’s democratic transition”. In 2016 he received the Jamnalal Bajaj award for “promoting Gandhian values outside India”.
In April 1981 Ghannouchi founded the Islamic Tendency Movement also called “Ennahda” (Arabic: حركة الاتجاه Ḥarakat al-Ittijāh al-Islāmī). The Movement described itself as specifically rooted in non-violent Islam, and called for a “reconstruction of economic life on a more equitable basis, the end of single-party politics and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy.”. By the end of July, Ghannouchi and his followers were arrested, sentenced to eleven years in prison in Bizerte, and were tortured. Both the religious and secular community, including numerous secular political organizations, rallied in his support. While in prison he translated a number of works and wrote on topics such as democracy, women’s rights, and Palestine. He also wrote his most noted work, Al-Hurriyat al-’Ammah (Public Liberties).
In the following thought provoking article, Ghannouchi refutes the claim that political Islam has failed or collapsed. In his opinion it is awaiting resurgence given right circumstances and its right understanding and application. Some blame for acceptance of the claim he thinks lies with information age and adverse media. A counterblast by ‘The Spark’ entitled “Demise Of Political Islam” follows his article. Both points of view are presented here for your critical review.
Whenever the Islamists suffer a setback, or even a small decline in votes, some Western experts monitoring the Islamic Movement’s path rush to proclaim to the world that political Islam has failed and collapsed, and that it has come to an end. This is reiterated in their forums and statements to the media outlets who host them as experts providing certain and absolute judgements.
Their counterparts in the Islamic world and voices in our media then echo those statements accepting them as undoubted and unmistakable facts. Events in Egypt over the last few months have provided abundant material for those theses, seminars and claims, and their popularity has risen once again.
But how credible are these claims? Is what is known as political Islam undergoing a serious and growing decline and heading for ultimate failure and imminent demise? Or is it just a matter of a few steps back here and there in preparation for a new launch and, in order to move forward, those setbacks are simply dips in an overall upward curve? The Islamic Movement is the term preferred by Islamists rather than political Islam. This term refers to all the actions calling for Islam as God’s final word, a comprehensive approach to life, and a message to all humanity. That message, according to statistics, is the fastest growing religion and way of life nowadays, and that its followers are most willing to sacrifice all that is precious to them in order to protect and adhere to this religion. Thus the setting for the so-called political Islam (Islamic Movement) is the largest religious base in the world, and modern communication techniques have allowed it to spread at an unprecedented rate, especially since it faces very little resistance given the current state of ideological vacuum, existential anxiety, and the weakening of the warm incubators in modern civilization, such as families and clans.
This is occurring at a time when governments have increasingly headed towards the abandonment of their duties which has caused increased anxiety and isolation. This is one of the effects of the growing secularization which is driving people to seek centres of warmth and organisations where the demands of our bodies and souls, the individual and the group, the religious and the worldly, patriotism and internationalism are reconciled. This is what people seek and find in Islam in its comprehensive outlook and characteristic moderation. This explains the attraction of people from every walk of life and culture to Islam, despite the war of hatred and demonization waged against it, its movements, and its priorities.
The mainstream Islamic Movement, putting aside the extremist margins which exist in every ideology and nation, has presented Islam as the completion of all the achievements and contributions of the different civilizations. It is not in opposition and contradiction to the achievement of modernisation, such as education for all men and women and the values of justice, equality, rights, and freedoms without discrimination based on beliefs, gender, or colour and guarantee everyone’s right of citizenship, with full political and religious freedom, as practiced in modern democracies. These rights and freedoms are divine privileges given to human beings, as mentioned in the Quran “And We have certainly honoured the children of Adam” (Qur’an, Al-Isra’:70).
The Islamic Movement, which operates on the basis that Islam is the instinctual religion, seeks to solve the problems of its societies and contributes to solving the problems of mankind, benefiting from the expertise of other civilisations that are compatible with the values of Islam. This movement is the closest to the collective conscience of nations and it speaks to their values, concepts, and languages. Its popular appeal is unbeatable if Islamic movement activists understood the problems of the people and approached them in accordance with the people’s social and intellectual background.
For over half a century, the Islamic movements have been subjected to continuous repression that barely stops to return even more furious than before. This continuous repression had a number of consequences, such as instilling a legacy of activism and struggle amongst the Islamists which has bound them together, as well as a shared history that three generations, if not more, have experienced. The brutal repression has also gained them the people’s sympathy giving them an additional advantage over any other political competitor, as the people value and remember the sacrifice of those who struggled against injustice.
Today more than ever, the Islamists are in the noblest and firmest position, for, in addition to their characteristic of closeness to the people’s doctrinal and cultural understanding, they – like in Egypt – are standing up for the noblest of values, such as the defence of the people’s will and resorting to the ballot boxes. Moreover, they are leading a glorious peaceful revolution in defence of the values of the revolution, such as media freedom – which their rule preserved and the coup violated – as well as political pluralism and the nation’s major causes, such as the issue of Palestine.
In contrast, the deep-rooted Egyptian liberalism, including the Wafd Party, is standing on the side of the counter-revolution, seeking support from a military coup and allowing the military and their tanks to run over the ballot boxes, trample the people’s will, their bodies, silence the media, open prisons wide open for political detainees and opens fire on unarmed civilians. As for one of the nation’s major causes, that of Palestine, it has become a criminal charge to support it. The elected president Mr. Morsi finds himself charged with collaboration with Hamas, as a pretext for deposing him.
Does the attitude of the “modernist” Egyptian elite and their Arab counterparts that applauded the coup not constitute a form of collective suicide? This is in contrast to the honourable stand of the Islamic Movement in the face of tyranny, armed with nothing other than their faith. From a historical, strategic, and national point of view, can we consider the support of the brutal military coup a liberal, progressive, nationalist, or secular victory, and can we consider what has happened a defeat and end of political Islam?
We have no doubt that what occurred in Egypt was not a relapse of political Islam, as much as it is a collapse that will unfortunately end what is left of the heritage of Arab secular liberalism and nationalism, unless thereconsider their position and come to their senses.
Meanwhile, the coup will provide an opportunity for the Islamic Movement to make revisions and correct their mistakes in governance, making it more open to the opposition in Egypt and elsewhere, especially during transitional phases which cannot be managed by just one party or one trend, nor should its constitution be written by one trend.
The Islamic movement in Egypt and elsewhere will realise this, making it more open to all the national forces and giving these forces the chance to not only participate and ally with them, but also to occupy positions of
leadership in the Islamic parties, as Islam is a legacy
shared by the entire nation.
Although the Brotherhood in Egypt faced terrible plights at the hands of the successive Egyptian rulers from monarchy to the reign of Abdel Nasser, it still did not compare, neither quantitatively nor qualitatively, to what they are facing now at the hands of General Sisi. The total number of victims over the past 60 years was not much over 60 martyrs, but this number covered just the first “Sisian” encounter in front of the presidential palace. Then, we quickly began hearing about thousands of deaths, injuries, and imprisonments, which clearly indicates the weakness of the coup’s legitimacy and its reckless attempts to make up for it by intensifying the repression of peaceful and heroic resistance.
The difference between the oppression suffered by the Brotherhood under Nasser and the current oppression is that Nasser did not just hit the Brotherhood with the state’s violence, he also carried out large projects for the people. The security and political oppression was heavily covered by a vast number of promising attractive cultural and political projects, such as the agricultural reform, the spread of education, the expansion of Al-Azhar, the liberation of Palestine, the unification of Arab nation, promotion of anti-imperialism and nonalignment. In contrast, what projects does Sisi have for his people and nation, other than the pseudo-intellectual cover for brutal repression that has reached suchcheap levels as to accuse the legitimate president of collaborating with Hamas.
Nowadays, the crimes of tyrants are being committed under the most powerful microscopes and the brightest of lights, a matter that was not even afforded to the ancient pharaohs, who committed their crimes secretly
and discreetly. Thus the Pharaoh at the time of Moses was able to proclaim, “I do not show you except what I see” (Quran, Ghafir: 29), thus imposing his rule on his people by controlling information. That time in history
is long gone, and the crimes of tyrants are being committed before our very eyes, and therefore Sisi and the likes have no future in the age of instant flow of information.
The result: In view of the above, I can assure you, with full confidence, that political Islam was not defeated in Egypt or anywhere else because its world of ideas is imbued with values of Islam like never before. Ever since modernity invaded our world on the backs of tanks and dominated the elites, it continued to push Islam to the margins by promising great projects, most of which were a disappointment. Those unfulfilled aspirations led to a re-thinking of Islam and a search within it for a renaissance that interacts with and embraces, rather than rejects, the achievements of modernity by replanting them in the field of Islam.
What is known as political Islam is not in a state of decline, but in the process of correcting its mistakes and preparing for a new phase. It does not need to wait for decades for another chance, at a time of free flow of information, and in the face of coups and attempted coups devoid of any moral, cultural, and political cover.
The movements of political Islam are deeply-rooted in their societies and bear the values of peaceful democratic revolution and the values of participatory democracy rather than autocracy or domination. It is a successful marriage of values of Islam and modernity.
“And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most humans know not.” (Qur’an, Yusuf: 21)
The author is leader of Al Nahda Movement in Tunisia. This article is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera Net. With grateful acknowledgement of permission by Middle East Monitor, to reproduce.