In some GCC countries and many other Arab states where Islamists are endeavoring to play a bigger political role, you may feel that this is the time of the Islamists.
The Islamists themselves believe that this is their time, or rather the time of “political Islam.” We have to make it clear that “Islam” here does not mean the religion or the Muslims; it means the political groups who use Islam as a name, only like some other partisans give their political parties names as the “nationalists” or “liberals.” These are mere names being used by political groups, but do not at all mean that the others are infidels, traitors or slaves. The name is just an attractive slogan to ensure the groups who use it with popularity, legitimacy, immunity and power.
The matter is not the Islamists’ right to the presidency if they win the elections, as has happened in Egypt and in Tunisia before.
The problem is the interpretation of history that is in the making now. When Muhammad Mursi won the presidency of Egypt and took the oath before the Constitutional Court, his victory was echoed in our region not because he had won the elections but because he took over power.
Some people were confused over the meaning of that moment. Some of the Islamists, and their opponents also, considered it the beginning of a rule that is no different from the military one. They believe that Mursi and his companions may sleep on it for another 60 years until they are forcefully ousted.
The Islamists considered this to be their moment in history. Safwat Hijazi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, joyously said: “This is the time of the United Islamist States.”
Some people understand the new system of power transfer according to their old pattern of thinking: Ruling is looting. This is also the opinion of those who are angry about the victory of the Islamists and deny them the right to rule. I have an opinion on this matter, which is an old one.
I believe the contemporary Islamists are important for the development of the concept of the state. They can contribute to the building of a system of rule that will achieve stability and progress.
The reason behind the failure of Egypt was that the revolution of 1952 that brought the military to the rule canceled all other powers including the Al-Wafd Party and the Islamists. The understanding of some of the Islamists to the state emanated from their duel with Mubarak and the other presidents before him. They are therefore unable to absorb the civil nature of the state, which is neither religious nor military.
If the Islamist group respects the concept of the civil state that their candidate Mursi has won through the polls, their chance of coming to power will be larger than that of the others. If the Islamists turn their back on the civil state like Hamas did in Gaza, they will lose all their gains. Egypt will then enter into a conflict, and nobody will know when it will end.
I do not imagine that the Egyptians who toppled a totalitarian military rule will succumb to a religious rule that will impose one system of rule on them. It is not true that people will accept everyone who raises the slogan of Islam and bow to him sacredly. The Al-Qaeda organization has used the motto of Islam and failed.
The rulers in Sudan used the banner of Islam and also failed. Iran is the largest example of those who used the cover of Islam and failed. The Iranian rule is using the name of Islam while in fact it has all the shortcomings of the rules of Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi in Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
The Tehran rule has nothing to offer but repression, persecution and management failure. We should not forget that what is happening in Egypt is a liberal democratic change, not a system of Islamic caliphate.
After much deliberation, the Islamists of Egypt named themselves the Freedom and Justice Party. This is a liberal name, expressing the clever understanding of the Islamists to the new political culture. It is also expressive of their knowledge that those who took the initiative, risked their lives and threw Mubarak out of the window were the students of Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, and not those of Azhar University.
Those students who were among the first to go out to the streets against Mubarak did not vote for Mursi during the just-concluded presidential elections. The failure of their favorite candidate Ahmed Shafiq in the elections does not mean that they do not constitute a large chunk of the society. In fact, people who voted for Shafiq were just a little less than half of the legible voters.
The current political system in Tunisia is a liberal one, just like the one in Egypt, although the rulers in both countries are Islamists.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on July 4, 2012