New version of political Islam

New version of political Islam

The victory of moderate Islamists in Turkey”s general and presidential elections coincided with a concerted crackdown by authorities in Egypt and Jordan against the Islamists.

Moreover, this coincided with Hamas taking control of Gaza and fighting with militants in Nahar Al Bared refugee camp in Lebanon. Is there a link between all these developments, or is this a mere coincidence?

No quick answer would satisfy analytical curiosity, especially when all developments in the region, from Iran and Iraq to Syria and Yemen are attributed in some way to religious and sectarian factors.

Politicians, regional and international, are heavily using religious and sectarian language when addressing key issues.

A quick and relatively simplistic explanation is that US meddling in Iraq led to the strengthening of Iran in the region. Now Washington is trying to balance its support for Shiite Islamists by opening corridors with Sunni Islamists.

Some signs of openness towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could have triggered the government”s heavy-handed reaction.

But we can”t apply this logic to what”s going on in Lebanon and Palestine. In Lebanon, Washington is against Shiite Hezbollah and in Palestine it supports secularist Fatah against the Islamic resistance group Hamas.

Yet, the rethinking of policy is a valid point and countering growing Iranian influence is an American priority.

The most significant of such developments might be the dominance of moderate Islamists in Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is the prime minister, his associate Abdullah Gul is now president, and after their victory in July”s general election the Speaker of the Parliament is also from the AKP.

For the first time in almost a century, the army is not that influential in Turkish politics under the guise of protecting the secular foundations of the state laid down by Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

Though Erdogan, Gul and other leaders of AKP came from the disbanded Islamist Welfare party founded by Necmettin Erbakan, who was forced by the army to step down as premier in 1997, AKP is different and proved more liberal and democratic.

Number two

I remember visiting Istanbul in the 1990s, when Erdogan was number two in Erbakan”s party, and how ordinary people were admiring his policies as mayor of the city.

He changed the municipality from a loss making burden into a profit generating body, while improving public service dramatically.

Erbakan was more of an Arab Muslim Brotherhood type while Erdogan was clearly different. He rocketed in Turkish politics, leading a version of political Islam that might be called “Erdoganism”.

Thus, it can be said that Erdogan took political Islam in Turkey away from the legacy of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood movement originating in Egypt and, definitely, from Iranian-style Shiite political Islam.

Now we have two different versions of political Islam ruling the two main players in the region: Turkey and Iran. The Brotherhood in Egypt and its affiliates like Hamas in Palestine and Islamic Action Front (IAF) in Jordan are not in the same position. But authorities fear them.

Arab regimes used to exploit the Islamists as a bargaining chip against American pressure, threatening that the alternative to them in power were the “evil” Islamists.

Late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussain of Jordan appeased the Brotherhood at times for internal and external reasons.

But the example of a monster you create turning against you, as the CIA-backed Mujahideen in Afghanistan did to the US, is vivid in the minds of US allies in the region.

Another significant difference from Turkey and Iran is that the military in both countries is becoming more and more part of the state, unlike in Arab countries.

There might not be a great chance for the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt or Jordan, to achieve what the Islamists in Turkey had or come closer to the Iranian example (assuming power by popular Islamic revolution).

Nevertheless, regimes in both countries can”t afford to take chances. Militancy is very close to their borders in Gaza and Lebanon.

Moreover, the Americans are in trouble, six years after 9/11, dealing with the so-called “terrorism” – interpreted by every party in the international coalition as opposition to his authority.

Dr Ahmad Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.