Thursday 24 February 2011

Egypt: Islam in the Insurrection

The Religioscope website carried an excellent article by Husam Tammam and Patrick Haenni (both associated with the Francophone Centre for Economic, Judicial, and Social Study and Documentation or CEDEJ), on the ambiguous role played by religion in the dynamics of the recent people's uprising against the Mubarak Regime. Here are a few excerpts.
“Arab anger” in Egypt was no more Islamist than it had been in Tunisia a few weeks earlier. Islam was an ingredient, but no more than that. The various religious groups played a role that was politically very conservative.
The religious establishment, like all the political actors, was forced to respond to the uprising as it unfolded. Positions were varied, but no religious actor stood as guarantor of the “revolution”, and most were distrustful of it. Therefore an Iranian-type scenario is unlikely: religious leaders and the street have not yet reached a moment of communion.
Shaykh al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib
 The official religious institutions, both Muslim (al-Azhar and Dar al-Fatwa [sic!]) and Christian (the Coptic Church), had ties of allegiance to the regime, and were even further from grasping the new revolutionary spirit.
The political dependence of the leadership of the clerical institutions – both Christian (the Coptic Church) and Muslim (al-Azhar) – was very badly received by the people, and risked jeopardising their relations with their bases over the long term.
The Salafist movement condemned the protests; the Muslim Brothers first retreated, then got sucked in by the dynamism of the dispute, then tried to open up a negotiation process which the demonstrators, bolder in their demands, didn't want. Though that was not necessarily the position of all Egyptians, many of whom would have settled for a compromise, with Mubarak running the transition and the demand for democracy postponed until the next elections: the voice of the street isn't necessarily the will of the people. The Islamist groups were without doubt the most detached. Among these, various parts of the Salafist movement condemned the demonstrators very clearly from the time of the first appeals....
The Salafist nebula of groups found itself deeply at odds with the dynamic of the street. From the start, and up to now, its position has been unequivocal: the protest movement must be boycotted because protest means chaos. Better to choose the iniquity of the regime than the void which opposing it might open up (the Salafists base themselves on a fatwa by the medieval Islamic thinker Ibn Taimiyya, affirming that 70 years of iniquitous rule are worth more that one day without rule).
There was one single discordant note in this loyalist Salafist concert: the position of the “reformist Salafist” current, which emanated from Saudi Arabia as part of an attempt to fuse Wahhabite conservatism with Muslim Brother activism. This trend, though very small in Egypt, has a presence through personalities such as Gamal Sultan, and the project of a political party, the “reform party”. From the start, it has unambiguously supported the movement for democratic reform.
The [Muslim] Brothers in Tahrir Square, truly mobilized and strongly influenced by the other groups who started the protest movement, continued to call for Mubarak's departure ahead of any negotiation. But on 5 February, their leadership began talks with then vice president Omar Suleiman.... This exasperated the young Brothers out on the street.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie
 Unlike other Islamist movements, which have clarified the structural dilemma of Islamism (as a movement of preaching or of political participation), the Muslim Brothers are based on the concept of shumuliyya, globalism: this makes them not just a political organisation, but one which is also religious, social and economic. And this confusion between politics and religion is out of place in an insurrection whose spirit is above all political.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi
 This is notion of shumuliyya is very central in the ideas of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the maverick 'alim of Al Jazeera fame, who returned to Egypt after almost half a century in exile in Qatar.
Strangely, it was the person everyone had thought to be the least inclined to get involved in politics, Amr Khaled, the cool young preacher and religious conscience of the Muslim middle classes, who supported the protest movement the most openly.
Amr Khaled
..we are clearly seeing a revolutionary spirit take shape which could hardly be further from the political culture of the Brothers: it is not programmatic; it does not prefer one ideology over another but demands a transparent framework for political competition; it is anti-authoritarianism; it is democratic and not religious; it functions in a loose logic of networks, spirit of Facebook, transparency (the reverse of a pyramid structure, of secrecy and submission). It bypasses the existing political players in their entirety
The entire article is found here.

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