Dec 07 2011
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Give Islamists a chance
Whether western countries and ME liberals like it or not, Islamic parties have emerged victorious in elections in North African states. Before typecasting and dismissing them, Islamic parties deserve to get a fair chance at leading their people.
This is not what western nations had in mind when they were rooting for Internet-savvy Egyptians and Tunisians who were out on the streets demanding the ouster of their dictators.
But once the euphoria died down and popular sentiment gives way to cold hard reality of politics and winning elections, the liberals were nowhere in sight and appear to have given way to the much more-organized Islamic parties.
But western powers have not taken this well, even compelling ratings agency Standard & Poor's to issue a statement that it does not view the rise of the Islamic party Justice and Development in Morocco as a credit worthy event.
Still, western powers, seeing the Arab World through Israeli eyes, continue to believe the rise of Islamic parties means greater hostility in the Middle East.
"This is naturally a risky and uncertain period. It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns. It also doesn't help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy," said Christine Laggard, Managing Director at International Monetary Fund in a Tuesday about the Arab Spring.
"It will be important to manage this difficult transition in an orderly way. And here, I want to pay tribute especially to the people of Tunisia, who are going through a smooth and inclusive process of transition. Just as Tunisia provided the first spark of the Arab Spring, so now can it light the path forward for other countries in the region."
More specifically, it is Ennahdha, the victorious Islamic party in Tunisian elections that has a golden opportunity. The country saw the culmination of its struggle against dictatorship with historic elections on October 23. But while secular Tunisian citizens forced the ouster of Ben Ali earlier this year, the final poll results showed the moderate Islamist An-Nahda party won 41% of vote, 89 out of 217 Constituent Assembly (CA) seats. Left-leaning Congress for the Republic (CPR) led by prominent rights activist Moncef Marzouki 29 seats; populist Popular Petition party led by former Islamist militant 26 seats; liberal socialist Ettakatol 20 seats.
A new assembly was inaugurated 22 November with the three main parties formalised power-sharing agreement same day.
However, "continued concerns over post-election unrest in South and West; thousands-strong peaceful demonstration in Kasserine turned violent 23 Nov, riots in Gafsa region 24 Nov as protestors attacked govt building, authorities declared curfew," says the International Crisis Group. Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with students at Manouba University November 28-29 over wearing of veil by female students.
Clearly, Ennahada faces an 'ideological' in the country, according to its own statement. To avoid escalation of trouble at the university, the party called 'to keep the university away from political and ideological bargaining,' reasserting 'the individuals' right to choose their clothing style, as part of good moral standards.'
This is the right message to send out, as was its decision to unite with secularist parties to form a coalition government.
In Egypt, there is also tremendous fear of the conservative, Saudi-leaning Salafist party which suddenly makes Muslim Brotherhood look liberal, at least in western eyes.
In the first leg of the elections, the Egyptian Supreme Committee for elections announced that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party won 40%, while Al-Nour (Salfist party) won 20%, liberal Egyptian Bloc Party (El-Kotla Al-Masrya) 15%, Al-Wafd 6% and Al-Wasat 4% respectively.
In Moroco, the Islamic Justice and Development Party (JDP) has taken 107 out of the 395 seats, and while the turnout of 37% was far less than what the 51% turnout of 2002, it's seen as a critical step towards democracy under King Mohammad.
The western powers' fears are not without good reason. Their experience with the clerical regimes in Iran and Hezbollah and that most nefarious bunch - Al Qaeda and Taliban - , has given them an instinctive suspicion and fear of Islamic parties.
Western fear is shared by many liberal Muslims who have seen how Islamic parties have hijacked the aspirations of the citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
These are well-founded fears and this is where leaders of JDP, Ennahdha and Muslim Brotherhood have an opportunity to win the hearts and minds of not just their own countrymen but also the wider international community.
In Morocco, the JDP has restrained itself from talking about women's scarves and instead focused on promoting Islamic finance, suggesting at least that their first priority is economics, rather than populist social restrictions.
It's still too early to denounce this victory of the Islamic parties, as they have won the elections fair and square. Instead it should be seen as an evolution of Islamic parties, which have been disciplined by years of repression from dictatorial regimes.
One could argue that the reason many Islamic groups resorted to violence in the past because they had not other outlet to express themselves. Now they can't make that excuse as they are the ones in the driving seat.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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