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Political Islam and the intoxication of power

Dr. Amal Moussa

Published: Updated:

I chose the expression “intoxication of power” to replace the more common and idiomatic expression “lust for power” because the state of political Islam in the Arab-Islamic world had surpassed the realms of dreams and the desire to govern to actual governance as they move from simply being the opposition of the regime to constituting the regime itself. This was done through the ballot boxes and the democratic game in the last decade in two countries; Tunisia and Egypt, in what the political Islamic movement’s representatives in the two countries called the Arab Spring.

Thanks to popular protests, whether in Tunisia or Egypt, political Islam has been able to respond to the lust for power and drink its wine, not because power is intoxicating per se, but because there are different practices of governance; some rule with diligence and wisdom while others yielded to the luster and glamor of power, becoming intoxicated, inattentive, and blind to the clear signs all around them. Intoxication and power have one thing in common; mindlessness. Alcohol takes away reason and judgment while power, for some people, removes all reason and leads them into indulgence and chaos.

Of course, we cannot fail to note the political Islam movements’ hijacking of the Arab revolutions. In theory, there is no shame in riding the wave of a moment and participating in the new political sphere that is being formed. However, it becomes quite a shameful act when the revolution is merely expedient for other ends, not the ones for which the people revolted. If we were to take Tunisia as an example, we see that the people revolted for employment, dignity, and freedom, but the new regime did not care for any of them. It also should be mentioned that none of these demands can be met without the other two because they are organically linked; either a response or a failure to respond.

As for the Tunisian political Islam and its biggest representative, Ennahda Movement, enacting chapter 80 was a definite sign of failure because it had treated governance as a completely inebriating beverage that eliminated any trace of reason. But why are we focusing on Tunisian Islam’s mindlessness, developments, and the situation of the country after a decade down to the decisions of Tunisian President Kais Saied on July 25th?

First of all, there is a fact that must be noted, namely that the Tunisian people singled out Ennahda following the events on January 14th, 2011 with a special political treatment, they trusted it and wanted to take revenge on the Ben Ali regime by choosing and electing it and betting on the idea that Islamists “fear God,” a phrase that was circulating among several Tunisian groups. Hence, we agree that Tunisians have given Ennahda a relative majority in the elections of the National Constituent Assembly, with 89 of the 217 parliamentary seats. For the record, not all of Ennahda’s votes at the time were from its bases, it was elected by non-Ennahda voters. I would like to add that these votes were given to an Assembly, whose role was to write Tunisia’s post-revolutionary constitution, doubling the confidence it received. This confidence is due to moral representations of everything that can be associated with religion as a source of values and ethics.

The problem is that Ennahda’s win of a relative majority in 2011 has caused it to lose its mind, ignoring the issue of credibility. All the focus was on the political legitimacy in the sense of electoral victory while neglecting that the win was for the sake of governance. And governance was aimed at satisfying voters’ expectations and fulfilling their demands for employment, development, and dignity. Ennahda chose to practice politics outside the expectations of its voters, drifting into poor consensuses, open maneuvers, and contradictory stances. The most serious stance was its announcement during its 2019 election campaign, in which the movement stated that it would never cooperate with Nabil Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia party. Yet, they reached a consensus after the election’s results. The Heart of Tunisia supported Ennahda so that it can rule the Assembly of the Representatives of the People.

The intoxication of power made Ennahda ignore the seriousness of not keeping promises, which damaged its mental image. The movement missed many signs, which confirms its mindlessness, even the lack of any tactical reasoning, with the aim of maintaining the movement’s presence.

One of these signs was the continued and significant decline in the number of voters who elected Ennahda, and if we are to do a graph, we will see the continued decline of the chart from 2011 to the 2019 elections; the movement won 89 seats in the 2011 elections while in the 2014 elections, the number of seats fell to 69, then 52 in the 2019 elections, not to mention the decreasing popularity of the movement and its leaders in opinion polls. The movement’s gradual intoxication of power and mindlessness prevented it from seeing the red light many times and decoding the messages of the voters who steadily regained their votes.

The sign that declared the movement to be completely irrational was when the Shura Council Speaker demanded the prime minister to pay compensations to freedom fighters and the Heart of Tunisia in the middle of the Coronavirus crisis and as the death toll of Tunisian lives was increasing. The Speaker made his demand in a moment of crisis as the country was scrambling to secure oxygen while economic analysts spoke again of Tunisia’s poor rating in Tunisian financial circles.

The Shura Council Speaker Abdelkarim Harouni set a deadline on July 25th. Tunisia was supposed to celebrate its Republic Day on that date, but due to the accumulations of mindless governance and the drop that overflowed the cup, i.e., the compensations - it was the day of enacting Chapter 80 and its interpretation to the extent of freezing the Parliament, lifting the deputies’ immunity, and dismissing the prime minister.

The first conclusion following the Tunisians’ experience with political Islam, including part of the movement’s affiliates, is their failure to govern and their political obstinacy over true consensus and satisfying Tunisians’ demands for employment and dignity. But there are fundamental questions that require introspection, including the fact that political Islam has failed to govern as have other non-Islamist parties. The accusations against it are shared with other parties, i.e., it failed politically and did not fail as a project and as an ideology. Political Islam, through its ruling experiment in Tunisia, rules and leaves aside ideology (the declaration of separating religion from politics) and engages in a bid with modernist elites to ensure participation and good socio-political negotiation. It also implements a policy in which it is keen to showcase its savviness, maneuvers, and politicization in everything that ensures it is the strongest player in the game of power. However, what the movement is keen to apply and showcase only serve to undermine its power.

The second conclusion here is that saying that the movement has failed politically is not the same as saying that it has failed ideologically.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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