Burning Questions about Political Islam and Democracy, by Eugenio García Gascón

The failure of political IslamAfter the 2011 revolutions, it emerged as a possible and even viable government option, it may be due to several causes, but two clearly stand out among them: foreign interference and the lack of a effective socio-economic project to get the Arab countries out of the autarchies that they have ruled for decades. The strategies in two countries where Islamists came to power, Egypt and TunisiaThey were never well defined, as if their leaders thought problems would solve themselves effortlessly.

Have the Islamists learned their lesson? Would they take a second chance? First of all, a second chance would need to be presented, something that at the moment seems difficult, both in Egypt and Tunisia, although the future is always unpredictable. In both countries, qualified voices within the Islamist current have been heard demanding a deep reflection on failure and that they acknowledge that major errors were made that generated mistrust in broad sections of the population.

Since Islamists became involved in the political sphere, starting in the 1980s, issues related to democracy have arisen that are important to determine. Democracy is not only about respecting the results of the ballot box, but respect who is not like you, something that many Islamists seem not to have understood, in the same way that the nationalist currents that sprout in Europe have not understood either.

In the specific case of Islamism, these issues concern mainly the public and individual liberties, to women’s position and the situation of the minorities, especially religious ones. At first it seemed that the Tunisian Ennahda movement would respond satisfactorily to these challenges, but the events of the summer of 2021, as well as those of 2013 in Egypt, where Islamists were forcibly removed from power, indicate that the debate has not been resolved. in a satisfactory manner and that it is necessary to continue to deepen the essential issues for democracy.

It is remarkable to note that political Islam identified directly or indirectly with the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence without nuance and without fissures, even after being forcibly removed from power, something that at the time raised strong apprehensions. In the Egyptian case, it displays a very explicit pacifism and it is interesting to note that, unlike what happened in the past, does not place so much emphasis on the identity issue, a scourge that political Islam shared with current European nationalisms. It is not that there are no identity voices, but rather that they are a minority and even marginal, which represents a notable advance with respect to sclerotic European nationalisms.

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In the case of both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Tunisian Ennahda movement, the two streams emphasize the need to resume democracy and return to constitutional legitimacy, but at the same time they insist that self-criticism is essential, as well as, in the case of Ennahda, apologizing to the people for the mistakes made.

The fact that neither in Egypt nor in Tunisia political Islam has decisively addressed socio-economic issues constitutes its great mistake that helps to understand its failure, at least in part. Furthermore, some analysts have indicated that political Islam that emerged from 2011 presents a liberal ideology or even neoliberal, which has nothing to do with the Islamist current that in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s appealed to social justice as its basic and priority principle. It is this central issue that perhaps most clearly indicates that political Islam is today an immature ideology that should debate these issues before becoming an acceptable alternative to autocratic regimes.


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