By Mohyeddin Sajedi
15 May, 2012
A prominent Iranian political analyst, Mohyeddin Sajedi writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran. A former director of IRIB branches in Beirut and Damascus, Sajedi is a frequent contributor to Press TV.
Islamist figures that have taken office in Arab countries or are close to it are faced with many questions whose answers will have a profound effect on the situation of Islamism in Arab and non-Arab countries.
Islamists differ in terms of organization or priorities from country to country. While Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood were ready from the beginning to run for president, their counterparts in Egypt, at first, kept away from power and had no plan to introduce a candidate.
It is for the first time in contemporary history that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi figures are shouldering responsibility for running their countries with regional and international powers observing their behavior.
It will seem at a first glance that Islamists - both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis - will give the highest priority to running their countries. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to find solutions to social and economic problems in order to strengthen its power base. Salafis want to begin with the implementation of Sharia law. Their main difference is over domestic priorities, not foreign ones. Legal frameworks in Egypt and Tunisia are capable of settling that dispute. Both groups are unanimous about postponing determination of priorities in foreign and economic policies, as well as in relation with the West and Israel.
More than one year after revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, there are still concerns about the remnants of past regimes. Due to lack of a single leadership, the revolutionaries do not dare to purge the big group and the risk of the restoration of past conditions or preventing deepening of the revolution still exists. Who says that the remnants of past regimes are easily ready to remove from power? Who can say that the West, as the main supporter of former Tunisian and Egyptian dictators, Zine al Abidin Bin Ali and Hosni Mubarak, is not supporting them in order to use them as a pressure lever against Islamist politicians?
Although Arab revolutions give priority to internal issues, regional and foreign issues are challenging them. Will giving guarantees to the West about immunity of its interests or continuation of relations with Israel make the West treat Islamists with leniency and prepare itself for a new experience in Arab countries? If Islamists remain silent about the West’s interests at present, what can guarantee that they will stand up to those interests in the future?
How is it that Rashed al-Ghannushi, leader of Tunisia’s al-Nahda party, announces in Washington that his main priority is Tunisia and he wants nothing, but to make Tunisia’s experience a success story, but joins the axis of anti-Syrian governments and allows the “Friends of Syria” meeting to be held in his country?
How can Ghannoushi join this movement but refuse to see Tunisia confront Israel? At the Washington Institute, he said the Tunisian Constitution does not forbid relations with Israel. What example is the Ennahda Movement setting? The Islamists in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are uncertain about their future policies: How will they rule? Will they implement the laws of religion? Will they recognize the rights of non-Muslims?
But maybe these are not the main concerns. The Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia insist that there is no ground for concern and they are not going to enforce religious law all at once. They will try to form coalition governments. They will respect the civil rights of religious minorities.
This tendency squares with their social and economical priorities. The group that most protests against the Salafi school of thought for the immediate implementation of religious laws and removal of minorities from executive posts is the Muslim Brotherhood. Salafis do not constitute the majority in the revolutionary parliaments and have so far not been able to implement their agendas.
The main thing negatively affecting the future of the Islamists is efforts to please the West. There is nothing wrong with the principle of negotiations with the West and the US, but what is concerning is the subject of these talks and their timing. Nobody has any doubts about the health of the elections in these countries or that the Muslim Brotherhood will secure a majority in parliament.
The problem begins where, for example, Ghannoushi travels to the Washington Institute, which staunchly advocates Israel, and makes clear that he does not seek to unite with any Arab state or Palestine and stresses his differences with Iran and the Islamic Revolution and the movement started by the late founder of the Islamic Republic Imam Khomeini.
There is no doubt Tunisia is not Iran and the Tunisian revolution is not the same as the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Ghannoushi is not like Imam Khomeini, but how do these issues concern the West? Why is this powerful Tunisian movement so insistent on reassuring the West?
Former Egyptian and Tunisian dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who lacked popularity and legitimacy in their respective countries, were forced to travel to Washington and Paris to secure their legitimacy from abroad. What need does the Ennahda Movement have for Western backing? Should the Islamists in Tunisia and Libya seek to reassure the West to fend off allegations of extremism and ward off economical sanctions?
The main issue is the source of legitimacy: religion or the people? The discussion is over the agreement or conflict of these two sources. The Islamists are past this issue, but they should not be concerned about gaining legitimacy from abroad. The objectives of the people’s uprisings in the Arab countries were to become independent and respect. These goals will not be achieved by consulting with the West, which supported the previous regimes and turned a blind eye to the suppression of Islamists prior to the revolutions.
Egypt has a more sensitive situation due to its geopolitical status, its role in conflict with Israel and historical background in two Islamic and Arab fields. Many news articles are released about meetings between US officials and the Muslim Brotherhood after the revolution and after the parliamentary elections and on the threshold of elections. Did the Americans apologize for providing the Mubarak regime with full support during these talks? Or maybe they invited the Muslim Brotherhood to play the Western democracy game and not touch the Camp David Accords?
Why should Islamists keep silent about the Camp David Accords? Why do they regard this accord as an international agreement which should be respected? If little protest is heard from Islamists, it is in response to Washington’s threat to cut financial aid to Egypt. Essam el-Erian threatens that this pact is based on the US assistance for Egypt and contradicts Islamic principles accepted by the Muslim Brotherhood.
What “moral model” does the Muslim Brotherhood, as the biggest and most popular Arab and Islamic movement, show? The group has easily breached its commitment about refraining from introducing a candidate for the presidential election without providing any convincing reason. Will the group’s “economic model” be the same as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?
If the revolutions were made by the West, they would have respect. If the West had full command of all affairs, it would not allow such revolutions to take place. It was the West that sat back and the Islamists and regional people were those who came to the scene. In fact, Islamists who resisted against the hegemony of the US, Israel and the West’s allies and overthrew them played a role in weakening US control over the Middle East. This is the West and not Islamists which should have concern. The West urges Arab Islamists to not set up an opposition front. The West’s main concern is this: for how long will Arab Islamists keep themselves away from the anti-West front. Islamists in Arab countries should improve their ties with other Muslim states. If relations with Iran and powerful non-Western countries are strengthened, the US and Europe will immediately draw joint economic plans with these new governments and apologize for their past.
There is a possibility that in case of the Islamists’ tendency towards the non-Western front, the US and Europe will seek to impose sanctions against them. This may be the cost that Islamists must pay. Islamists are at the head of the front that is against the interests of the US, West and Europe and they want to bring dignity and independence to their nations. It will be surprising, if the West does not lay siege to them and punish them.