The Stagnant Nature of Ideology

The Stagnant Nature of Ideology

Mostafa Zein |

The fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I represented the end of political Islam’s dream of a return to the caliphate. Nationalist political parties thus spread in the Arab World, which had just emerged from the tyranny of sultans who had ruled in the name of religion for centuries. Even Turkey itself rebuilt its state on nationalist bases, and succeeded in keeping large parts of Syria on the eve of World War II in 1939, in exchange for remaining neutral.


After years of the rule of nationalist, or national, political parties, Islamist movements have returned, in the age of “awakening”, to demand the rule of Sharia Law, and the return to the caliphate. Yet they are being confronted with the reality of the presence of minorities and of nationalist sentiment wherever they have been able to rise to power. In Turkey, for example, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) inherited a system of government based on a chauvinist form of nationalism, in addition to Ottoman history, which combined nationalism with religion. And when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to forcefully impose a certain code of conduct associated with the Muslim Brotherhood on citizens who had voted for him in order to get rid of the rule of the military, he was confronted with a reality different from the ideology he had been trying to spread. He found himself having to imprison dozens of journalists, political activists, Kurds, Alevis and people from other minorities, in addition to Islamists with secular and nationalist leanings.


Erdogan paved the way for imposing his authority by declawing the army, when he jailed dozens of its leaders on charges of plotting for a coup against the government, and appointed men loyal to him as Chiefs of Staff. He also strengthened the police and the gendarmerie with advanced weapons, so as to make of them a parallel army he could use to confront those who would oppose him, as he did in Taksim Square. And despite his profound belief in political Islam and its role in “educating society”, Erdogan also believes that spreading “his revolution” in the region requires striking the chord of nationalism as well.


Iran represents another model of Islamist rule. The Supreme Leader, or Vali-e-Faqih, is tantamount to a caliph, and the function of modern state institutions – the parliament, the cabinet of ministers, the presidency, the defense of the constitution, etc… – is to implement the plans he devises. In other words, they represent the link that connects him to the masses of the faithful. Everyone remembers the number of struggles fought by the regime of the Islamic Revolution against nationalist trends. Yet in spite of this, Tehran waged the war against Iraq on both nationalist and religious bases.


The Islamic Republic too combines religion and nationalism.


Models of Islamist rule in Arab countries – such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – differ from the Iranian and Turkish models for many reasons, the most prominent being perhaps the fact that these two powers have emerged only recently, in addition to the weakness of Arab nationalist sentiment in the three countries, which had been under “isolationist” rule for a long period of time.


In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to “Brotherhoodize” state and society. It is profoundly “Brotherhoodizing” the state by appointing officials to the vital centers of the civil administration, from the smallest districts and up to ministries, the judiciary and every sensitive position. And it would not be unlikely for it to control the army and security forces in the years to come, exactly as Erdogan has done in Turkey. In other words, it is trying to completely reshape the state and the country’s public opinion on ideological and political bases that have nothing to do with religion, which is why it is clashing with nationalists, patriots and political parties, not to mention Coptic Christians. And here we are, a few days away from a popular movement of protests, to which millions of Muslims are expected to participate, against attempts to “Brotherhoodize” them and to “Brotherhoodize” state institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood is also preparing to confront this movement with its own millions, and no one can guarantee that the two sides will not clash.


The societies we have been discussing are Muslim societies that have evolved with time and have become part of the modern age, while the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood did not evolve, and has instead delved deeper into a remote past, trying to restore it in its every detail – details which are unknown and are not fit for every place and time.


The “Brotherhoodization” of state and society implies seeking after eternal rule that does not recognize the alternation of power. And what are the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims of democracy but a deceptive slogan?