Islamic movements in the eye of the beholder
Yasmine El Gharaibeh - 22/05/2012
In his article "Islamophobic questions raised by Muslims", media strategist Marawan Husaaini wrote that the term “Islamophobia”, which came into use after the 9/11 attacks, is no longer a western term. As the current affairs in the Arab world are leading to a new aspect of the fear of Islam, Muslims themselves are becoming Islamophobic.
The merger of Islam and politics worries many people who believe that Islamic parties are using religion to seek political gains. Having struggled for decades to reach political powers, many people are concerned by the fact that Islamists will be dogmatic and use this "golden opportunity" to secure future political gains.
These concerns are echoed in Jordan. As the post Arab Spring political arena bustles with political parties and movements, there is even more room for Islamic movements such as the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood the Islamic Action Front (IAF), to demand expanded political authorities, including larger representation in the Jordanian parliament.
The government’s official stance claims that it seeks to achieve political reform ensuring fair representation for all political parties. Furthermore, the Prime Minister Awn Al Khasawneh affirmed in a local interview that like any other legal political party, Islamists “do not run a charity organization” and therefore, it is perfectly legitimate that they pursue political power like all other political parties whose goal, by definition, is to rule.
Although this kind of “amicable” or “smooth”” relationship is sometimes evident between Islamist movements and the government, the Jordanian activist Abdalla Ahmad, believes that like many other neighboring governments, the Jordanian government has tailored electoral laws that curb the influence of Islamists. He added that “all efforts are being made to avoid having Islamist majority in parliaments.”
“It is naïve to deny that there is a systematic war against political Islam, for media is constantly attacking Islamists and political Islam and accusing them of having hidden agendas”, continues Ahmad, who also believes that “narrowing the space in which the Islamists can work to some extent in Jordan and banning them completely by other regimes in the region have created a sense of anticipation as to what the Islamists have to offer when they finally come into office. According to Ahmad, the fact that the people do not trust the regimes has rendered years of propaganda and attempts to ruin the Islamists reputation and image ineffective.
Ahmad uses the Hamas in Palestine as a good example to endorse his judgment. "Although the world punished political Islam and attacked it through media, and despite the illegitimate siege that the world has imposed on Hamas and Gaza, Hamas has proven its ability to lead the community there. Polls reveal that Hamas will succeed in the next elections over other Palestinian political parties", says Ahmad. Similarly, this is also manifested in the rise of Islamists to power in Tunisia and Egypt, and the high prospects of the IAF winning the majority of parliamentary seats in Jordan following the amendment of the elections’ law.
The partisans who look forward to the rule of Islam argue that ideologies such as liberalism and socialism have failed to bring about democratic, fair and good governance in the Arab world. They believe that giving Islamists a chance to “practice what they preach” may result in a successful experience similar to the ones in Turkey and Malaysia.
On the other hand, opponents suggest that if Islamists form governments, the "non-angelic" nature of the party will be revealed. In their view, Islamist governments will also suffer from corruption and have a negative impact on freedoms.
Furthermore, opponents argue that Islamists are not yet ready to rule a country. As suggested in Al Hussaini’s article, "a Quranic verse, a hadith or a fatwa by a certain sheikh would be an accepted answer to any big problem or crisis, but this is not applicable when managing a country." The last argument remains debatable, as the influence of Islamic parties increases among key Jordanian professional associations, such as the engineers association. The long experience they have within these associations and the clearly organized party appeal to the supporters. Besides, there are no other ”well-prepared” parties and this makes the Islamists a “safe” choice in the eyes of many people.
For others, the experience of Islamists among associations is the exact reason why they are not to be trusted. Lately, concerns about the Islamists double standards related to the electoral law were raised. In the Engineers’ Association where they hold the majority of seats, the Islamists reject the proportional electoral law, a law that they are demanding on a national parliamentary level.
This “double standard” policy seems to be a recurrent issue for the Islamists, who have recently met western officials to discuss reform process in Jordan. Although IAF leaders announced that no internal matter, such as the electoral law, was discussed, this remains a high stake game where the Islamists could lose a substantial part of their partisans, who support Islamists primarily because of their declared firm stance against western and foreign interference in Arab and Islamic countries as well as Israeli existence in the region.
The future of the Islamic parties in Jordan is not clear yet, especially with the parliaments’ fresh decision to propose a law forbidding the formation of parties on the basis of religion. The performance of the political parties in Tunisia and Egypt is bound to have an effect on the way political Islam is perceived in Jordan. However, expectations about political Islam remain hypothetical, for it has not been given the chance to rule yet. Therefore, it cannot be objectively evaluated.
Yasmine El Gharaibeh