How to inoculate the Arab Spring countries against extremist groups

Several Arab writers have highlighted the crisis of political Islam and rise of violence in the region after the Arab Spring.

In an opinion piece carried by the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej, Abdelilah Belqziz observed that as political Islam has reached a deadlock in the Arab world, amid extremism, violence, power struggle and failure in office, some commentators are envisaging a “different political Islam” akin to that of Turkey.

Christian democratic parties in some European countries are a good example of the harmonious combination of the principles of religion and democracy. But the Turkish experience is intentionally cited because it comes from a similar historical and cultural background and thus refutes the assumption that Islam-inspired Arab parties are doomed under any circumstances, he argued.

However Turkey’s Islamists were the product of a reform movement dating back to the 19th century that is ongoing and has been invigorated since in the 1950s. Parties from the time of the Welfare Party, Virtue Party through to the AKP have convinced many at home and across the world that their political platform was based on a harmony of faith and modernity without manipulation.

In stark contrast, political Islam in the Arab world began with a decisive break with the Nahda (renaissance) ideas of the 19th century. Also, while Turkey’s Islamism has grown under secularism and modernity, political Islam in the Arab region has grown under tyranny, in an atmosphere of cultural decline and religious institutions interfering with both private and public lives, the writer opined.

In the London-based Asharq Al Awsat, Yusuf Al Dayni warned that a rise in violence looms large over the post-uprising Arab world, not only from Al Qaeda and its affiliates but also from Islamists who rose to power after almost a century after they first emerged. Islamists had taken office in Egypt and elsewhere after they had shifted their radical goal – establishing a Caliphate – to a gradual method using the principles of democracy.

Now that they have failed in both, the fear is that the region will see a cycle of violence, especially amid an escalating economic crisis that could cause many political players and the endangered middle class to gravitate towards violence.

In the pan-Arab paper Al Quds Al Arabi, Dr Ali Fakhrou stressed that civil society can play a decisive role in surmounting the stalemate in the Arab world but will need a strong popular will to establish justice and beat tyranny, extremism, ignorance and sectarianism.

There is an urgent need for civil society to become sufficiently independent and powerful to interact with the Arab public and counter the deep state. This of course is no easy task. Decades of tyranny and deep-rooted social ills have turned many Arabs into marginalised, self-defeating people, which partly explains the weakness of civil society organisations in the region.

In Al Ittihad, the Abu Dhabi-based sister newspaper of The National, Abdel Hamid Al Ansari warned against a growing wave of extremism taking over the Arab world, noting that extremism has gone from being marginal but is now spreading even among the youth. This would not be a bad thing if extremism was adopted to defend major causes such as freedom and justice but instead extremists are obsessed with unimportant issues such as niqabs, beards, and gender segregation. Worse, they seek to impose their beliefs on others.

Mr Al Ansari said defeating religious extremism requires three steps: excluding extremists from sensitive positions in the government, the education sector and the media; enhancing the role of religious scholars and intellectuals to deconstruct extremists’ doctrines; and immunising young people against extremist ideas by instilling in them a sense of critical thinking and rationality.

Shafiq Nazim Al Ghabra wrote in the pan-Arab Al Hayat that mistrust runs deep at all levels of the Arab world. Leaders and business owners fear the people’s demands, thinking that these are just a prelude to snatch power. The military and politicians are apprehensive of each other and mistrust is present even within the opposition.

This increases the odds of eliminating opponents, especially on the part of those in positions of power. The fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was inevitable after corruption and favouritism had taken their toll on those countries, exacerbating a lack of reform, failure to make concessions and a weakened middle class.

The time is ripe for all players in the Arab world to think differently. Those in power have either to adjust to new situations and accept to share power or risk losing it all, in a region that is hungry for justice, equality and change, he said.

Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni