Arabs getting what they need? 144

Islamic “justice” and the development of  Islamic power advance in North Africa.

USA Today reports:

The victory of an Islamist Party in Morocco’s parliamentary elections appears to be one more sign that religious-based parties are benefiting the most from the new freedoms brought by the Arab Spring.

The phrase “new freedoms” means an election, nothing more.

Across the Middle East, parties referencing Islam have made great strides, offering an alternative to corrupt, long serving dictators, who have often ruled with close Western support.

Are they less likely to be corrupt or dictatorial? And if the new bosses should turn out to be much like the old bosses, will they fail to secure Western support?

The Justice and Development Party dominated Morocco’s elections through a combination of good organization, an outsider status and not being too much of a threat to Morocco’s all-powerful king.

By taking 107 seats out of the 395 seats, almost twice as many as the second place finisher, the party ensured that King Mohammed VI must pick the next prime minister from its ranks and [it will] form the next government out of the dozen parties in Morocco’s parliament.

It is the first time the PJD will be part of the government and its outsider status could be just what Morocco, wracked by pro-democracy protests, needs.


Although it didn’t bring down the government, the North African kingdom of 32 million, just across the water from Spain, was still touched by the waves of unrest that swept the Arab world following the revolution in Tunisia, with tens of thousands marching in the streets calling for greater freedoms and less corruption.

The king responded by modifying the constitution to give the next parliament and prime minister more powers, and held early elections.

But there was still a vigorous movement to boycott the elections. There was only a 45 percent turnout in Friday’s polls, and many of those who went to vote turned in blank ballots or crossed out every party listed to show their dissatisfaction with the system. …

But now they’re getting what USA Today thinks they need?

In the face of such widespread distrust of politics, historian and political analyst Maati Monjib said a government led by a new political force could be the answer.

If the abstainers had thought PJD was the answer, wouldn’t they have voted for it?

“If the PJD forms a coalition in a free and independent way and not with a party of the Makhzen,” he said referring to the catch-all phrase for the entrenched establishment around the king, “this will be a big step forward for Morocco.”

In Tunisia, Morocco, and on Monday most likely also Egypt, newly enfranchised populations are choosing religious parties as a rebuke to the old systems, which often espoused liberal or left-wing ideologies.

“The people link Islam and political dignity,” said Monjib, who describes himself as coming from the left end of the political spectrum. “There is a big problem of dignity in the Arab world and the people see the Islamists as a way of getting out of the sense of subjugation and inferiority towards the West.”

They were subjugated by their own tyrants, not the West. But if they feel inferior to the West they are only being – for once – realistic.

Like the Ennahda Party in Tunisia, the PJD is also from the more moderate end of the Islamist spectrum.

The term “Islamist” was coined by Western appeasers to designate Islamic extremism, so that “Islam” could be exonerated from charges of aggressively waging jihad. But now we have moderate Islamism.

The party doesn’t describe itself as “Islamist” but rather as having an Islamic “reference,” meaning that its policies follow the moral dictates of the religion. …

Only the moral dictates? Beating wives, stoning adulterers, amputating the limbs of thieves, executing apostates and homosexuals, keeping slaves, waging aggressive jihad? That’s the good side?

Egypt, where there is an election in progress, will end up getting a more religious government too, and as Professor Ephraim Karsh of King’s College, London, said at a recent conference:

Islam remains the strongest identity framework in Egyptian society in particular, and in Arab society generally. The Arab national dictatorships that were layered over this basic Islamic identity for the past 80 years were but a thin veneer of repression. With the fall of these dictatorships, what remains is the core Islamic underpinnings of society, and these will now come to the fore. Consequently, no democratic structures, processes or values are likely to emerge in the Arab world for many generations.”

We think he’s right.

But for an alternative view – for the sake of balance – see what Wadah Khanfar, writing in the leftist Islam-sympathetic Guardian has to say. Here’s a bit of it:

The uproar that has accompanied the Islamists’ gains is unhelpful; a calm and well-informed debate about the rise of political Islam is long overdue. …

We must understand the history of the region. In western discourse Islamists are seen as newcomers to politics, gullible zealots who are motivated by a radical ideology and lack experience.

Sure we suspect, on very good evidence, that they’re zealots motivated by a radical ideology. But do we say they’re gullible newcomers lacking in experience? Not in any discourse we’ve heard in our corner of the West.

In fact, they have played a major role in the Arab political scene since the 1920s. Islamic movements have often been in opposition, but since the 1940s they have participated in parliamentary elections, entered alliances with secular, nationalist and socialist groups, and participated in several governments – in Sudan, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria. …

A number of other events have had an impact on the collective Muslim mind, and have led to the maturation of political Islam: the much-debated Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979; the military coup in Sudan in 1989; the success of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front in the 1991 elections and the army’s subsequent denial of its right to govern; the conquest of much of Afghan territory by the Taliban in 1996 leading to the establishment of its Islamic emirate; and the success in 2006 of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. The Hamas win was not recognised, nor was the national unity government formed. Instead, a siege was imposed on Gaza to suffocate the movement. …

What lessons were learnt from such examples? He doesn’t say.

He makes it plain as he goes on, however, that he has great hopes of desirable outcomes from Islamist rule in North Africa:

The region has suffered a lot as a result of attempts to exclude Islamists and deny them a role in the public sphere. … Islamists should be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling overconfident: they must accommodate other trends, even if it means making painful concessions. Our societies need political consensus, and the participation of all political groups, regardless of their electoral weight. It is this interplay between Islamists and others that will both guarantee the maturation of the Arab democratic transition and lead to an Arab political consensus and stability that has been missing for decades.

And maybe that is what the Arab world needs. But what will the rest of the world get? The end of jihad? Skeptics that we are, we doubt it.