Islamic movements need a comprehensive internal review to assess their political experiences over the past years and decades. This assessment should not stop at a single incident, but instead expand to include all contemporary experiences in order to come up with the necessary recommendations to pave the way for the required reform. Unless this happens, the presence of Islamists in politics will gradually disappear, especially in Arab countries.
The argument that the Islamists have always used to justify their failures is that they were not allowed to participate in governance, nor to implement their vision of it. They also claim that they are always subjected to a fierce war by repressive traditional regimes in the Arab world, or that they are facing systematic campaigns and plans by the US and its allies in order to thwart them, oppress them and frustrate their audience. This claim may be true in some cases, but it cannot be generalised to all experiences.
The question of whether Islamic movements succeeded or failed has recently resurfaced after the Moroccan prime minister signed the normalisation agreement with Israel. This has destroyed the most important foundations upon which the Islamic movements were built – the principle of rejecting the settlement process and the insistence of boycotting Israel. This, in fact, caused a sky-high rise of the Islamic movements since the beginning of the nineties of the last century – that is, since the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference – which was one of the symbols of the collapse of the socialist-communist camp, and one of the indicators of the rise of US imperialism. At that point, the Islamists were the only ones who refused to bow down to Washington. Thus, the Islamic movement benefited from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) direction towards settlement and the disappearance of the left-wing forces. This allowed the Hamas movement (the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) to seize the Arab and Palestinian public, backed by the Islamic movements in the Arab world, all because of its adherence to the slogans of refusing to surrender to the occupation and calling for the liberation of Palestine, the need to outlaw normalisation and to boycott the occupiers.
The argument that the Islamists are subjected to, or have been subjected to, is a conspiracy that prevents them from succeeding in government and political action, and may be true for some cases. In Egypt, for example, everyone knows that the late President Mohamed Morsi was not allowed to rule the country even for one day. There was a deep state that was more adept and skilled in political action than a group that, for seven decades, had been banned. So, Islamists quickly ended up killed, imprisoned or as fugitives. This case, however, cannot be generalised or applied to other experiences.
In Sudan, the Islamic movement ruled the country and the people for three decades, resulting in the president ending up in prison. In Jordan, the Islamic movement has been involved in political work on the largest scale since 1989, including its participation in the government with five ministers in 1991. It recently lost many seats in parliament with only 10 per cent currently, compared to 30 per cent in the past. In Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood participated through the Islamic Party in the Governing Council, headed by the American civil ruler Paul Bremer – a historical disaster for the Islamists. They were hoping to get a piece of the cake after the end of the occupation, and to participate in building the country and ruling the people. They ended up with a vice president of the republic, who was a fugitive sentenced to death. He abandoned them as soon as he assumed the position of vice president, so they were out of the political game, whether in his presence or absence. In Syria, too, there was a miserable early experience in 1982 which cannot be overlooked. It ended with those from the Muslim Brotherhood who remained alive, either in exile or prison.
Finally, the ruling Islamic party in Morocco slipped into signing the agreement to recognise Israel and normalise relations, thus committing a sin that erases all previous virtues and achievements. The only common denominator between these experiences is that they have not yet been studied nor reviewed, which is what the Islamic movement needs in order to clearly answer the question of whether it has failed or succeeded. After answering this, the causes of the failures must be identified. Unless this occurs, the Arab street will retreat from supporting political Islam and rallying around it.
The Islamic movement, and by this we mean the Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islamic movements in the Arab world affiliated with it, must hurry to organise a comprehensive and inclusive conference where matters are frankly and openly addressed. They need to study past experiences and consequences and look into their futures in politics. Otherwise, they must strip themselves of the robe of faith, so that their failures are not pinned to the Islamic movement.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 28 December 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.