Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Are Islamists faster to Democratize?

It is phenomenal how organized Islamic groups in the Middle East are fast to respond to democracy processes. It poses so many questions.

The Palestinian parliamentary elections, first in decade, prompted me to think in this direction and ask why Islamists are fast to encompass democracy. The sweeping participation of Hamas leaves me mesmerized. Does this group believe in democracy more than so many autocratic governments in the Middle East that call itself secular? In 1996 Hamas boycotted the elections. In 2006, they are the first to give up weapons before entering polling station to vote. Late Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat remained in power until the last day of his life. And he claimed to be secular!

That reminds me of Sunni Iraqis who believed that by boycotting January 2005 elections,they will have weight. They realized they were mistaken and quickly reversed their decision in the following elections and turned into political participation.

Hamas’s participation is sign of confidence in the democracy process and not in the explosives' belts and suicide bombers. They are showing more trust in democracy when they have the choice to terrorize their people by imposing themselves like so many autocratic governments in the Middle East.

The dramatic development was last week when Hamas declared its readiness to negotiate peace with Israel through a third party. That was a strange announcement; especially that it comes few days before the elections. Hamas, which is branded as a terrorist group by U.S., has to denounce and remove the idea of demolishing Israel from its Charter to give credibility for its seriousness to move on with peace efforts. But if it accepts negotiating peace with Israel, this means that it is acknowledging Israel as a state and neighbor. That will put Arab leaders in a very embarrassing situation, because Arabic press is always glorifying Hamas's stance from Israel.

Another statement today that made it clear that Hamas wants to be part of a peace process is when one of its leaders said if we won seats we will ask for the portfolio of the ministries of services like health and education and leave international affairs to Fatah movement to negotiate the peace with Israel. Apparently, they are not at ease negotiating peace with Israel but they do not mind.

I honestly find this a big transformation.

It is the same transformation, the Muslim Brotherhood (banned Islamic group in Egypt) is witnessing. I am surprised how they are quickly responding to democratization. They are faster than our government. They denounced Iranian President’s statements for wiping out Israel from the map unlike one of the Egyptian government writers who showed admiration to the Iranian President statements. The Muslim Brotherhood’s members of parliaments are so active to uncover the Egyptian government corruption in the press and they talk to the people to get complaints from citizens. Last week, they joined the world's appeals to release Jill Carroll, who is kidnapped in Iraq by armed Islamists. In Egypt, the MB are asking for unified law for building mosques and churches on the basis of equal citizenship between Copts and Muslims, following the recent attacks on Copts in Luxor. This is really big.

The Sunnis in Iraq who believed in armed resistance, now want to join the Iraqi police and army to combat terrorists.

I find that with little openings for democracy, Islamic groups are responding and faster to join the democratic processes. On the other hand, U.S. President George Bush sends open invitation for democracy and freedom to the US allies in the Middle East and he gets almost no response.

However, I see that the participation of Islamic groups or movements is another success for the Bush Adminstration. The engagement of these groups in democratic processes is much better than their isolation that leads to suicidal terror. Giving them hope for a better future through freedom and justice will purify by time their ideologies of hatred that was formed because of oppresion and dictatorship. The new conditions will give the chance for people to think freely to choose what they want. Political Islam emerged because of the lack of so many forms of freedoms. If jobs were created, economies are liberated and poor peoples were able to choose a decent life, the role of the political Islam as panacea for all problems will disappear. Life rewards will not stand at the step doors of heaven but in life.

The Scene of the police that is helping the voters to find their ways to polling stations was in the Iraqi elections and I applauded it before. And now I am applauding the Palestinian police as well by insisting on having this photo here. Only in Egypt, police kills voters.

First photo: A supporter of the Fatah movement chants slogans and waves party flags after polling stations closed for the Palestinian elections in Gaza City January 25, 2006. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Second Photo:Palestinian policeman helps an elderly woman as she arrives to vote at a polling station in Gaza City January 25, 2006. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

Last Photo: Supporters of the Islamic group Hamas celebrate the results of their group in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in the West Bank town of Hebron Wednesday Jan. 25, 2006. According to an exit poll by Bir Zeit Universityt Hamas took 39.5 percent of the vote in the elections on Wednesday and the ruling Fatah Party 46.4 percent. (AP Photo/Nasser Shyoukhi)


At 12:10 AM, Blogger Gateway Pundit said...

Another great post at Freedom for Egyptians. I do enjoy your optimism. I hope you are right about Hamas. It will be a difficult transition for the (terrorist) group to transform into a body that can disagree on ideas and not resort to guns.

But, I do hope for the best. We will see.

At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Alaa said...

that is a very good post, thanx.

the thing to realize is we can't just trust any group to remain democratic (secular or religious, armed or not), we need to quickly establish mechanism's of protecting democracy.

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, as always. I too am optimistic and you couldn't have presented the argument for that viewpoint any better. It's great to hear news of the MB moderating their ways; we'll have to see what Hamas does now - especially with their militant wing. As a counterexample, Hezbollah in Lebanon, despite their success in elections last year, has kept their militia and their militant stance toward Israel.

The vote gives a voice to the populace who previously had no voice - the so-called "Freedom Deficit" the Bush Administration talks about in the ME. Before an election, it's really easy for a party or candidate to talk, but, afterwards, it's a much more difficult challenge to deliver - this is the challenge currently in front of Hamas. Fatah, for it's part seems to be betting Hamas will fail by not being eager to enter into a unit government with them (although it's probably also a negotiating tactic for the scenario where Hamas would desire to form a unity government w Fatah to increase their government's credibility with world governments and put pressure back on Israel to move forward with peace negotiations).

As Alaa and many others have said, it really depends on whether the process of voting itself can be protected - democracies are based on the idea that governments change based on ballots, not bullets - and that losers aren't immediately branded criminals and executed. Can previously militant Islamists accept that principle and avoid abusing their new found power to become the new status quo - avoid becoming a new force for corruption, initimidation, and oppression?

I am optimistic, but always in the back of mind I remember that Hitler and the Nazis came to power through the ballot also - and they used their new found power to eliminate the very democratic mechanisms that brought them to power.

As the PA is largely dependent on foreign aid and the Middle East "Quartet" of the US, EU, UN, and Russia are all for Hamas moderating their stance - coupled with internal pressures from the fact that the Palestinians themselves seem tired of the seemingly endless violence - leaves me hopeful that Hamas will come around.

And it's good to see some ME countries focus on corruption - this seems to be a real problem across the region holding economies back. Any country that sets an example on how to beat back corruption and free up the economies to grow at a healthy rate will not only reduce the conditions which foster Islamic radicalism but also put even greater pressure on the remaining regimes which continue to oppress their people.

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous DemoBlogger said...

Very interesting analysis. I have again linked to you on DemoBlog. Best, Mary

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Egypeter said...

Hey FFE - I think this last post is a little too optimistic. I have reservations about Islamist gains, whether Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Hamas in Palestine.

The MB calls for equal laws for Christians and Muslims regarding church and mosque construction was quite confusing. I read about first on your blog and wondered how they could say something like that when it is counter their beliefs. I have linked an article from the only Coptic Newspaper, Al-Watani (The Homeland), in Egypt on some of the ideals that they were founded on. This is the MB that I am aware of and that has been the source of many of the sectarian problems that currently plague Egypt. It's actually a book review. It's quite interesting, and hardly reflects a poitive vision moving forward with the MB. Egypt needs a secular government.

Here's to peace and freedom for all Egyptians.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

Days will come to tell what will happen with the overall Hamas victory. There are so many possibilities, one them is a civil war. But I do not see what happened is totally bad. It could be a chance for change.

I agree with you on the mechanism only in case if democracy is truly established unlike the false democracy we are living in Egypt.

We need to build credibility in democracy, so if we see positive signs made on behalf of the MB we need acknowledge that. They are there, and we cannot ignore them. But this also does not deny the fact that there are extremists at their camp. I m an optimistic like you and I ll always stay hopeful for the best to happen. I will always repeat that the Bush Administration is the biggest contributor to the changes that are happening in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the victory of Hamas was a backfire on Fatah's corruption and thirst to be in power.

Demobloger (Mary),
Thank you for your continuous support!

I understand your concerns being an Egyptian Copt. I am with a civil secular state based on democracy. But I want to assure you that the Muslim Brotherhood is not one wing as always described. There are some moderates. I am not defending them and they have committed so many crimes in Egypt’s history, but disincluding groups from the democracy process is itself dictatorship and oppression. Let everyone stand in a fair election with the full participation of all voters, I bet you the Muslim brotherhood will have no weight. Egyptians do not go vote. Same standard is applied on Egyptian Copts, are you happy with marginalizing Egyptian Copts? Everyone must stand equal as long as our consititution gives us this right.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Egypeter said...

Thanks for responding FFE. I'm sure there is a wide range of idological difference within the Muslim Brotherhood ranks. They have been around for a very very long time in Egypt since 1928 so they've had time to try and figure out what works. They are trying to transform from a fundemetalist group, and a past filled with violence and terror, to a group that has aspirations of ruling Egypt. They've gained so much popular support lately and now hold a sizable bloc in the Egyptian parliament. They are definitely the largest opposition bloc while the secular parliamentarians hold only a few of the 444 seats. The MB, with a reputation for providing social services, just like Hamas, have gained a lot of credibility on the street. When you combine that with a despotic regime and poverty you can see why they have been successful in spreading their ideology.
While there may be some "moderate" elements within their organization there are also fanatical elements as well. If past history is any indicator, which I think it is, the MB has been a disturbing force between Muslim and Christian relationships for the last 3/4 century. There have been numerous cases when violence has flared b/w MB followers and Christians, many of them in upper Egypt. And I can assure you that no Copt in Egypt would place his/her trust in the Ikhwan. The ultimate aim, and I don't think any MB parlimentarian would disagree, is to implement Sharia. Where would that leave Egypt? Sharia law leaves no room for the "other."
Know I know FFE that you are for a civil secular government. And that all political ideologies need to be represented for a true democracy that includes ALL groups. Of course these are all wonderful things but when you combine the Coptic political repression with the surge, politically, of the MB you can understand the concern.
The system isn't working. I am for banning religious parties in Egypt. You see, now the Islamists in Egypt have the Ikwan to represent their political interests even though they are officially "banned." The Christians in Egypt have no such thing. They do not have a political party that represents their interests. And I agree with the church that they should not form a politcal party. This idea has been tossed around in the past, but the church understands that religion HAS NO PLACE in politics. Egypt needs liberal secular parties to form not conservative religious ones. Relgious parties would further divide us while secular ones could unite us. This is the way it used to be in Egypt but now times are changing and it's really disconcerting. Muburak has only himself to blame. It's apparant that Muburak has done an incredible job of stifling these types of political parties from forming while turning a blind eye to the growth of the MB. He knows that he's a buffer to the MB in the eyes of the U.S. It's his plan on how to stay in power. Muburak vs. MB, and the U.S. will pick Muburak every time.
But the U.S. is starting to get fed up with him. Two billion dollars holds a lot of sway and there's a lot of talk America will consider cuts in that aid if he doesn't get serious about reforms...we'll see.

And did you read the Watani article...what'd ya think? I'm also been checking out the Ikwan's English website ever since I heard about it here on your blog.
Do you read Mona Eltahawy's articles? Ahe's an awesome Egyptian journalist who actually got summoned by the Minister of Interior and the SSI for her writing. She's really interesting and interviewed the MB before the elections...check out that article and her site.

Thanks and take care.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I am always cautiously optimistic when any group chooses the democratic route to power, but that is, after all, the easiest of the three challenges they face. What makes me cautious is wondering if they will meet the harder challenges; whether, once in power they will govern democratically, and whether, were they to be voted out in a future election, or see the likelihood of their being voted out, they would willingly surrender power. That will be the tests for Hamas, and for other movements that gain power democratically. Certainly many groups have passed it in recent years, but others have failed.


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