Islamists and Democracy in the Middle East
The article above indicates that parliamentary elections in the last couple of years in the Middle East have resulted in the advancement of Islamic parties. In 2005, Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt run as independents in the elections and won 87 out of the 454 seats in people’s Assembly.
Islamists have managed to use religious codes in socio economic, and political levels that would fit the Islamic Law, Sharia. According to Hamzawi, the belief that regular public had on government institutions in 1950s-1980s is changing. The public do, however, expect the governments to solve their socio-economic problems. Most of these governments’ inability to fulfill the wants of the people has lead to the rise of Islamist groups. Islamist groups have become very powerful throughout the Arab world. Majorities of Arab think that secular movements of Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Morocco, and Iraq could not satisfy the socio-economic needs of its public. Islamists have provided socio-economic and educational aid to help the needy that have been overlooked by the government. Elections in Palestine and Egypt did not give enough choices for the Islamists. Muslim brotherhood is very influential in Egypt and is a very powerful Islamist party. Islamists who try to impose Sharia have been imprisoned, expelled, or even killed in arguments with government.
Bruce K. Rutherford in his article “what do Egypt’s Islamists want?Moderate Islam and the Rise of Islamic Constitutionalism” argues that Islam is facing challenges of the contemporary world governance which has led many Islamists to form political parties. The ultimate goal of these Islamists is to establish Sharia Law in the government. Many active Muslim scholars such as Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Tariq al-Bishri, Kamal Abul al-Majd, and Muhammad Salim al-Awa have written extensively on Islamic law. Ramond Baker calls these muslims “New Islamists.” These Islamist constitutionalists emphasize that Islamic law is based on Quran and Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad which constitute Sharia. They argue that it is a state’s ultimate duty to establish sharia. There is no room for man-made law. Islamists in Egypt such as the Muslim Brotherhood argue that rulers and the ones who are ruled should all obey sharia law. According to them citizens are free to dismiss a ruler that goes against sharia.These figures do advocate a multi-party political system in which each party offers their own strategies; they argue that public should participate in the parliament of a state. And rulers should be appointed through the votes of people. Every individual should have the right to vote. They also emphasize that the rights of the people of other faiths should be protected. The concept of shura (consultation) is very important in Islam. Rulers should always consult with people when making decisions. New Islamists argue that parliament is an effective way to let public participate with the government. Muslim Brotherhood is a good example of these Islamist movements. MB wrote their own platform in October 2005 which has a lot of similarities to the United States constitution with a couple differences that Rutherford points out: MB argue that Egypt is a weak state because Egyptians have abandoned the rules of Sharia; Second important issue that Rutherford points out is the concept of hisb (verification) from the government on people.
The article I have found argues that some analysts worry about the true intentions of these Islamist groups and what they would make of Middle East if they are to come in power. It is true that Islamist groups are in severe competitions with existing governments, but it will take a while for them to actually win their arguments and establish their own political system. It is true that the west is not in favor of democracy in the region that will be in favor of conservative Islamists. The victory of Hamas in recent Palestinian election is a vivid example of this dilemma. The true intentions of the west to promote democracy are unknown in the Middle East. If democracy means giving rights to every political party, then why wasn’t Hamas given the full rights when they won the majority vote? Rutherford in his article argues that hisba interferes with the personal rights of people. Therefore, he is not sure enough of what Islamists mean when they claim that they want to give freedom to people. Rutherford says that MB is tricking the public. He says that Islamists have secret missions that people don’t know about them. He says that under sharia law people of other faiths would be significantly discriminated. He calls the Islamic constitutionalism as more ambiguous than western Democracy. He says that Islamists put little emphasis on individual rights than the west does. He believes that Islamsits’ sole focus is on building a just and pious community.
I believe it is very complicated to figure our whether these Islamists are ambiguous or the West thinks of them as ambiguous. I guess these New Islamists have never been given a real chance to prove how they will govern—at least in the case MB of Egypt.