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Political Islam and the Crisis of Democracy in North Africa – Kashmir Reader

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When news circulated that Morocco’s main political group, the Development and Justice Party (PJD), had been defeated in the last elections, held in September, official Egyptian media spokespersons celebrated the news as if the defeat of the PJD was, in itself, a blow to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement. At the regional level, political commentators who have devoted much of their time to discrediting various Islamic political parties – often on behalf of one Arab government or another – have found in the news further supposed proof that Islam policy is a failure both in theory and in practice.
“At the regional level, the news of the failure (of the PJD) was greeted with jubilation,” wrote Magdi Abdelhadi on the British BBC website. “Commentators have viewed the fall of the PJD as the last nail in the coffin of political Islam,” he added.
What is lacking in such sweeping statements is that those who greeted the PJD’s defeat with “jubilation” are mostly the same crowd that rejected political Islam even during its unprecedented push after the “Arab Spring.” ” in 2011 ; and the same intellectual mercenaries who shamelessly continue to sing the praises of dictators like General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt and the various Arab monarchs in the Gulf.
The PJD was not only defeated but almost completely demolished as a result of the vote, sparing only 12 of the 125 seats it won after the 2016 election. The reasons for such a failure, however, are unclear. performed by various entities, governments and individuals with the aim of settling old scores and tarnishing political rivals. The ultimate goal here is to cement the status quo where the fate of Arab nations remains in the grip of brutal, corrupt and self-growing rulers, without any tolerance for true political plurality and democracy.
Those who insist on viewing Arab and Middle Eastern politics through generalized academic notions have also found the Moroccan election result a perfect opportunity to delve into radical statements. These instinctive and cliché reactions have been reinforced by the ongoing political crisis in Tunisia, the main victim of which, besides Tunisian democracy, is the Islamic party Ennahda.
Crisis of democracy in Tunisia
On July 25, Tunisian President Kais Saied launched a series of measures that effectively dismantled the entire democratic infrastructure of the country, while concentrating all power in his hands.
Taking advantage of the poor performance and endemic dysfunctions of the country’s main political parties, including Ennahda, as well as the worsening economic crisis and the growing discontent of ordinary Tunisians, Saïed justified his actions as a means of “saving the state”. and society ”.
A scholar with no real political experience, Saied provided no roadmap to restore the country’s democracy or remedy its many socio-economic ills. Instead, on September 29, he appointed another inexperienced politician, also an academic, Najla Bouden Romdhane, to form a government. Saied’s choice to select a woman for the post – making her the first Arab female prime minister – was likely designed to communicate a progressive political message, and to buy more time, but towards what end?
Examining Saied’s political program since July, The Economist asserted that the Tunisian president had “announced little of an economic program, apart from rudimentary plans to fight corruption and use the proceeds to finance development.”
Saied’s strategy to reduce inflation “is to ask companies to offer discounts,” according to the London-based publication, which is hardly a radical reorganization of a country’s devastated economy.
Frustrated by the failure to translate Tunisia’s nascent democracy into a tangible difference that can be experienced in the daily lives of ordinary, unemployed and impoverished people, Tunisian public opinion has gradually changed over the years. This small nation, which in 2011 had sought salvation through democracy for itself, now links democracy and economic prosperity.
According to an opinion poll carried out by the Arab Barometer in July 2021, three quarters of Tunisians define democracy in terms of economic performance. Since the desired results have not been achieved under a succession of governments that have ruled the country over the past decade, a similar number, 87% of Tunisians, supported their president’s early decisions to sack the country. parliament. Perhaps they hoped that Saied’s measures would reverse the entrenched economic crisis. However, as it becomes clear that Saied does not have a clear plan to take Tunisia away from the tragic path of Lebanon and other failed economies, protesters once again take to the streets, demanding the restoration of democracy and the return to plurality.

Deterministic vs dynamic politics
When the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in early 2011, it seemed that the fall of dictators and the rise of democracy were inevitable; Some also appeared to be the rise of Islamic parties, which have, indeed, recorded substantial victories in various democratic elections across the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – founded by the country’s Muslim Brotherhood Movement – won 37% of the vote in the 2011 legislative elections; The Moroccan PJD won more than 25 percent of the available seats in parliament, while Ennahda won 89 of the 217 seats.
Back then, it was common to discuss Islamic parties as if they were all branches of the same ideological – indeed, some say – even political movement. “Political Islam” has become synonymous with “Arab Spring”. Some saw it as an opportunity for “moderate” Muslims – marginalized, exiled and often tortured and killed – to finally claim what is rightfully theirs; others, namely Western Israeli and right-wing intellectuals and politicians, decried what they saw as an “Islamic winter”, claiming that democracy and Islam would espouse anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiment again. bigger.
Often absent from most of these discussions is the national context, in which all Arab politics, whether Islamic or otherwise, operates. In Morocco, for example, King Mohammed VI played his own political game to ensure the survival of the monarchy in the era of democratization. He quickly brought the Islamists closer to him, offered a veneer of democracy, while retaining virtually all aspects of power.
Although it will take time to come to a conclusive analysis, it is possible that the fall of the PJD was the result of its willingness to compromise on its stated principles in exchange for a very limited share of power. Indeed, at times it seemed that the Islamic party, elected to keep the country away from the domination of a single individual, served the role of the king’s official political party. This was manifested in the acceptance and approval by the PJD of the normalization of Morocco’s ties with the State of Israel in December 2020.
The recent defeat of the Islamists in Morocco, however, should not be seen as a crisis of political Islam, as the latter is a constantly evolving theoretical concept and open to various interpretations, often radically opposed, by different scholars and under different historical contexts. contexts.
While the PJD, for example, signed the king’s normalization with Israel, Ennahda vehemently rejected it. Indeed, each Islamic party appears to behave according to different sets of priorities that are unique to that party, its socio-economic background, its political objective and, ultimately, its own unique interests.
Causes of optimism
Instead of resorting to abstract notions and generalizations, such as “the fall of the PJD (being) the last nail in the coffin of political Islam”, an alternative and certainly more sensible reading is possible:
First, most Arab voters, like voters around the world, judge politicians on the basis of performance, not hype, slogans and chants. This is as true for the Islamic parties as it is for the socialists, the laity and all the rest; and it applies to the Middle East as well as to the rest of the world.
Second, Morocco is a single political space that must be analyzed separately from Tunisia, and the latter from Egypt, or from Palestine, etc. While it is theoretically good to speak of political phenomena, generalizations cannot easily be applied to everyday political results.
Third, the fact that the PJD is quietly withdrawing into the ranks of the opposition and that Ennahda is undergoing a substantial overhaul are all indications that the Islamic parties have, not only in theory but in practice, accepted some of the main pillars. democracy and constructive plurality: democratic alternation, introspection and introspection.
Those who take comfort in the misconception that political Islam is dead recall, in their self-delusion, Francis Fukuyama’s theory of the “end of history” following the disintegration of the Union Soviet Union and the temporarily unchallenged rise of the United States as the world’s only superpower. Such provisional thinking is not only irrational, but is itself the result of ideologically motivated wishful thinking. In the end, the story stayed in motion, as it always will.
While the Justice and Development Party, Ennahda and other Islamic parties have much to think about, we must remember that the future is not shaped by deterministic notions, but by dynamic processes that produce constantly new variables, therefore results. This is as true in North Africa as it always will be in the rest of the world.

– The writer is a journalist and editor-in-chief of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. www.ramzybaroud.net







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