Arab democracy needs ‘Islamist revision’

Arab democracy needs ‘Islamist revision’

Islamic movements in the Arab world should undertake a “radical intellectual revision” and abandon the “dogmatic” idea of a religious state, leading Arab analysts argue.

“Any Islamic state would have a problem with democracy because Islamists seek to create a religious state in which the infallible Islamic Sharia would replace the law though Sharia is merely a way of life,” said Radwan al-Sayed, professor of Islamic Studies at Lebanon University. Addressing a seminar organized by the Doha-based Arab Democracy Foundation, he condemned Hamas and Hezbollah party for resorting to violence. Hamas has “relapsed into violence against the Palestinians who voted for it”, while Hezbollah deployed “just to obtain more advantages over rival factions,” he said.

Arab regimes were responsible for “the weakening of the religious institutions”, creating a vacuum which Islamists sought to fill. “A main obstacle to democratisation in the Arab countries is the ruling regimes themselves,” he explained. “They suppress all the civil society movements including the Islamists.
He was supported by Tunisian analyst Salah al-Din al-Jurashi who called on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to abandon its slogan “Islam is the solution” which implies a “monopoly of Islam”.

“I hope that Islamists can give up the idea that application of the Sharia will solve all the problems of our societies and do some sort of calm revision of their approaches,” he said. “Without a radical revision made by Islamists, a relapse would remain possible.”

Muslim societies typically divide into three broad blocs, suggests Bret Stephens: a “pre-modern” element of tribesmen, peasants, nomads, and the like; a “modern” element – the Arab Center – the urban, educated middle-class; and an “anti-modern” elements, comprising Islamists but also members of Baathist and other fascistic groups.

So far, he argues, many democracy-promotion efforts have targeted the middle, most familiar group. “But this is not, in all cases, politically the most consequential element,” Stephens argues. “What we have learned in Iraq is that it is possible, indeed necessary, to isolate anti-moderns by creating political alliances between the urban middle class and the tribes.”