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February 12, 2013, Tuesday

How to view Islam in the Middle East, and Middle East, quo vadis?

The assassination of Tunisia's left opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, has set off new discussions on the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, the country where the changes first began, they are trying to associate the assassination with the ruling Ennahda party -- one of the main dynamics of the change. The Ennahda party was not only a part of the Tunisian revolution, but is also in line with the reformist Arab awakening that followed.

What should be underlined is that the Ennahda party leader, Rashid al-Ghannushi, has assimilated Sayyid Qutb's thoughts, from which the Muslim Brotherhood (İhvan) derived its tradition. This tradition is based on the notion of Islam being a religion of peace and justice, and it aims to create a new ummah (a large international community) with regard to political democracy in this region and eventually throughout the whole world.

However, before Ennahda, let us take a short look at Tunisia's political movements before the revolution; this will give us clues to what comes next. The spirit of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the overthrown leader of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), still permeates the government. Thus, this leads us to the RCD as one of the parties in answer to the question of who benefited from this last assassination. The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which we could say is a party of social democrats, remains an important focal point for the opposition. However, an oppressive technocratic government evolving after an upheaval or even civil war would also not suit the PDP.

Let's get back to the Ennahda party. Here is another interesting detail: The leader of Ennahda, Ghannushi, is an old socialist who was influenced by Qutb's Islamic views while studying at Cairo University. Of course, you can also find a wide range of political communists, new liberals and socialists in Tunisia. However, the new management of these parties all know that the model for Tunisia's independence, declared by Habib Bourguiba, emanated from Turkey's coup d'etat “founder” ideology of Kemalism and actually gave rise to Ben Ali's dictatorship just as Egypt's “anti-imperialist” Gamal Abdel Nasser gave rise to Anwar El Sadat's dictatorship. Notice that a similar course has also begun in Egypt. In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood -- which built the general framework for the ideology and carried out the real politics, leading to the Arab Spring -- is being forced out of political legitimacy by being identified with the actions of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization of these regions. It looks as if some shadowy figures are trying to force political Islam outside of the Middle East and return to old times. OK, where is this course leading, or we could ask: Middle East, quo vadis?

This is how Immanuel Wallerstein recently explained the reason for the chaos in the Middle East: “In 1822, the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, George Canning, sent a memo to his Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, in which he laid out what he considered, should be the basic principle of Great Britain's foreign policy:

“‘[We should not consider] the wishes of any other government, or the interests of any other people, except in so far as those wishes, those feelings and those interests may, or might, concur with the just interests of England.'

“At that time, Great Britain was the hegemonic power of the world-system and was able very largely to impose its wishes on the rest of the world.

“Today, in the Arab countries, there is great turmoil. And, as the turmoil unfolds, there are a large number of countries which are pursuing their interests in the region. The principal problem is that there is now no hegemonic power. The consequence is a great deal of huffing and puffing, but the multiple geopolitical actors seem both hesitant and ineffectual. They talk far more than they act.”

Wallerstein says: “The principal problem is that there is now no hegemonic power,” but this is only true to an extent. Hegemonic power in a region means that the status quo continues based on dictatorships. In order for a hegemony to continue in power, it has to cooperate with the local dictatorships without relying on occupation.

Then what is the solution? Syria's prolonged civil war and the continuation of the Bashar al-Assad regime are based mainly on the West's uncertainty as to what happens after Assad. Political Islam remains an illegal dynamic for the West, whereas this is a very wrong and “old world” point of view. In other words, it is a standpoint that goes back to before the Cold War and the economic and political transformation we are currently experiencing. The West should no longer associate Islam with terrorists like al-Qaeda or with those who try to ensure transformation by the use of weapons, such as Hezbollah.


Today the Islamic economy exists as a fact, and the main principles of Islamic economy reflect a true period of free competition. Islam forbids an economy based on monopolies and the exchange of goods without provision, just as it does on the earning of interest. Today discussions are being held to take more taxes from the rich and to find a fairer system to overcome the crisis. There most likely are answers to these arguments within Islam's economic legal boundaries, and undoubtedly for a global economy of free competition, it would mean high democratic standards.

I must also add: Humanity's political way out of this crisis will be through an alliance of civilizations. To ensure this, the West must stop viewing political Islam with suspicion.

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