Dr Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui – Political Islam and the Arab Uprising

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Political Islam and the Arab Uprising: Islamist Politics in Changing Time – Dr Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, Author, Published by SAGE

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Over the past few decades, Islam has emerged as banner for mobilisation of Muslims across the globe to assert its exclusive religious, cultural, political, social, and ideological identities  which has morphed Islam into a fundamental fear. In the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in Iran, it was taken to be a temporary phenomenon and a short stint of outburst of the oppressed masses but gradually it dominated the global political, strategic, and ideological discourse sparing none on the globe. In today’s ideological and political landscape, Islam has become a major horizon of religious political and intellectual fermentation throughout the world.

Political Islam can be defined and seen as a form of political and religious utopia acts as an ideological alternative and a deemed-blueprint to confront the invasion of modern doctrine of secularism, communism, socialism and liberalism. In another way, it is a form of instrumentalization of religion of Islam by an individual, group, or organization that pursue political objective by mobilising people in the name of religious and cultural identities.

The present book begins with a theoretical frame work to understand the origin, evolutions, variant trajectories, dissent and consent over its partial and complete application in the political and social structure of the Muslim world. It is an empirical account of political Islam which sees the phenomenon as socio-political, cultural, religious, ideological, theological response to the imported cultural and political model imposed on the Arab-Islamic world. The ideology of political Islam is well rooted in the act of  descent, opposition and resistance to modern global order bent upon not only opposing the existing ideology but replace it with an Islamic alternative which calls for freedom, dignity and sovereignty and stands against authoritarian secular modernity of west. Its adherents believe that Islam as a body of faith has much greater role to play in the modern catastrophic world and Islam has been deprived of a greater political role because of political and strategic collaboration between the Arab master-hegemon and the western political actors.

The quest for political Islam is not driven by religious concern but more it has been a cry in the crisis. It has always arisen as an attempt to provide a definitive answer for the existing political and religious predicament. It has been more a reaction rather than an action and stands for an ideological contestation with the far enemy and the near enemy, far enemy connoting the colonial master and near enemy representing the remnants groups of political and military elite of the Arab world. All the prominent advocates of political Islam have invoked religiosity of politics in reaction to external domination and internal cultural decadence and political oppression.

What has come as a litmus test for the Islamist and believers in political Islam was much-talked about and well-explained Arab uprising which in its early euphoric days was called the Arab Spring. One chapter in the book has been completely devoted to the Arab world and it has been discussed at length how the Islamist forces in the region reacted to the Arab uprising in its early weeks and months and how they geared up to participate in the electoral process in countries like Egypt and Tunisia which went through a successful political transformation.

The origin of Arab uprising can be traced in the social and political interaction among the political elites, the masses and the relationship between the indigenous rulers and western political master in the region. It is an outcome of a prolonged simmering in the region. This is a rebellion on the part of deprived masses to achieve dignity, freedom, social justice and national sovereignty. This upheaval is a response to utter despondence and a call for rejection of dictatorship, corruption and desire for independence. It represents the triumph of Arab Street over Arab elites and is impelled by shared vision of responsibility and accountability.

The region is at the crossroads of political and social transformation. Great uncertainties have enveloped the region and processes of transitions are still unfolding which are not resorting to identical routes everywhere.  This insurrection has pushed the region towards redefining its political landscape where every political group has been trying to carve out an independent space for itself. The Islamists have been at the forefront amidst the newly-examined political process after the Arab uprising. Both in Egypt and Tunisia, Islamists were the real benefactor and the uprising and in Egypt, the MBH trampled whole of the political landscape left over as a result of the departure of Mr. Mubarak. In Tunisia, En-Nahda, a replica of Egyptian MBH   did not achieve the parallel success of the MBH style but emerged as the first choice for the masses. The Islamists in both countries interacted differently with the emerging political and cultural realities and so the result was very much contrary to each other.

The victory of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt is itself a massage that political Islam will be a decisive factor in redefining the politics of the Arab world. Several shades of Islamic voices ranging from moderate to liberal to fundamentalist to conservative to fanatic have emerged that itself are creating a rift among the Islamists. The MBH and El-Nahda in Egypt and Tunisia respectively have already started sounding moderate while others like Salafist in Egypt are posing to be very conservative in its political plank. Islamists themselves have thrown a broader array of choice for the Arab masses that might bring about a sharp division among so called integrated ideology of political Islam. It seems that it is not Islamism that will shape politics but rather it will be politics that will shape the Islamism.

The present accounts primarily looks into the changes taking places in the political ideology of the Islamists and long term trajectory of political Islam in the aftermath of the phenomenon called Arab Spring. This is an account of examining the relationship between Arab Spring and political Islam and explores how political Islam will respond to the multi-layered developments taking place in the region. It is also narrative about the constitutional which is a hall mark of any democracy and it is nature of the constitution which informs the extent and degree of democracy a nation practices.

This book is divided into five major chapters and th4 first one is a laying out of the theoretical framework of enquiry focussing Political Islam. It is will be grounded in study of origin, and evolution of the phenomena called Political Islam. Meanwhile, it is an empirical  and investigative narrative of how the concept of social science employed in studying the religious arena and how a movement beginning with a call for restoration of religious values transformed into a rejectionist philosophy and emerged to be a conflicting ideology against both the western socio-political and cultural norm and ingenious political oppression.

Another chapter of the book is a highlight and a snap about the Quranic and theological context of Political Islam. This section deals with the some of the major writings of the proponent of Islamic politics in medieval time (period ranging from period of four Caliphates to Ottoman era) and how those writing and narratives have become a source of inspiration and a point of reference for today’s practitioners of the Islamist ideology.

Another chapter of the book is about the encounter between the Arab world and western world. This section focuses on the colonial context of political Islam in addition to focussing the different contours of responses to the western cultural and political onslaught and social and economic penetration. The responses to western imperialism consist of many shades leading to numerous discourses. Various streams of intellectualism emerge where some were of the views that Arab future lies in break from the past and imitation of the west. While  other were adherent to cultural past of the Arab and calling revival of Arab cultural heritage and there were other stream which ardent believer in the amalgamation of western modernism and Arab  past. It was this phase of confrontation in 19th and first half of the 20th century where one can trace the seed of the present day Arab Spring.

The chapter on the Arab uprising and future of political Islam constitutes the central theme of the book. It has discussed at length the origin and implication of Arab Spring for the Arab in general and Islamist forces in particular. This section is an exploration about the responses of Islamic forces across the region to the Arab uprising and deal with the intricacies of the newly adopted moderation in their political voices and attitude vis-a-vis their political opponent. This is a analysis of different shade of Islamic voices in the after math of Arab Spring and how Islamic party like Nahda of Tunisia is not shying away from entering into alliance with liberal forces and MBH in Egypt has no hesitation in condemning the extremist stances of Salafist. The present book is also brief account of how India should respond to the development taking place in the region and what are the interest and stake of India in the stability of the region. This chapter underlines the impact the Arab uprising on Indian foreign policy and deal with the extent of changes India may require in the after math of the unfolding political situation in the Arab region.

In conclusion it has been seen that Islamic political debate has always harboured a utopia of creating a state for itself but largely remained devoid of evolving a mechanism to achieve a civic-state in modern sense, promote the citizenry, establish a state institution, separate and distribute the power which is the mainstay of western liberal democratic state.

Arab Spring which offered a new breath of life to the suppressed and thwarted voice of political Islam for decades in different parts of the region. The Arab Spring imposed an opportunity on the Islamist to translate its age-old ideological rhetoric into the reality which had been never experimented or tested in the past with one or two exceptions. Thus far they had talked of Islamic political idealism in term of authority and power but deprived of an opportunity to transform it into a practical and existing reality.

This uprising offered an opportunity to accommodate the western political thoughts too in its exclusive political lexicon in order to expand the scope of classically engraved model of the state that has been ignored by their theorist.

But there are others like Salafist who are still adhered to the old classical sloganeering like the questions of the state identity and the application of the Shariah. Salafist agenda was swamped with the same issues before the revolution too and they are still harbouring the old classical view of Islam.


Dr Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui is a research fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi. He received his PhD from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where his dissertation was focused on Islamic Political Movements in West Asia and South Asia. His research expertise includes Islamic undercurrents in West Asian Politics and dynamics of development and modernization in the Arab World. His knowledge of the West Asian region is grounded in linguistic and Islamic perspectives, with particular attention to the historical evolution of the region. He is proficient in Arabic, Urdu and Persian in addition to being fluent in English and Hindi. He is the author of The Concept of Islamic State: From the Time of Caliphate to Twentieth Century: Pre-Ikhwan and Post Ikhwan Phase, published in Lebanon. He has presented papers in national and international conferences in India and abroad and contributed chapters in edited books. Before joining the ICWA, he was associated with the Ford Foundation.

SAGE India: https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/political-islam-and-the-arab-uprising/book254521
SAGE US: https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/political-islam-and-the-arab-uprising/book254521
SAGE UK: https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/political-islam-and-the-arab-uprising/book254521

© Dr Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui

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