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Islamic Societies

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

While the Turkish president celebrates his re-election, we can reason that the results point to a difficult future for Erdogan and his party, due, in part, to Erdogan’s rhetoric that emphasized personality over ideas and loyalty over concern for the nation. 


1. Erdogan’s party lost its majority. In the re-do votes of November 2015, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 316 seats. It only needed 276 seats to form a majority government on its own. It should be noted that during the earlier June elections, the AKP also lost the majority and Erdogan ordered a redo to regain it. This time, too, the AKP needed 300 seats to have a majority in the parliament that would back up decisions by the executive president. It secured only 295 seats. The AKP is now at the mercy of its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which won 11.1% of the votes, entitling it to 43 seats. This is a first for the AKP since 2002.

2. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), increased the number of its MPs from to 59 to 67. The pro-Kurdish people party, whose leader is imprisoned on “terrorism” charges is now the third largest party (based on the percentage of votes) in the country. It would be highly damaging to Turkey’s standing in relations to civil and human rights to continue to persecute its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş.

3. Despite the loss of majority, Erdogan managed to keep the AKP party together thus far. However, the loss marks a hard ceiling that the AKP cannot breach. During the past 15 years, the AKP benefited from the election law rule that allowed them to fold-in seats of political parties that did not reach the 10% threshold. But it never won a true majority. Now with the emergence of a second center-right party, the IYI Parti, it will be even more difficult for the AKP to win a governing majority on its own. Therefore, the future of the party will remain closely tied to the performance and standing of Erdogan.

4. The election results show that, while Turkish citizens are highly mindful of the importance of elections (86% turnout), Turkish voters are consistent in voting for their party. This fact should worry Erdogan because his agenda will be checked by the leader of the MHP. Although the MHP controls only 43 seats compared to AKP’s 295 seats, the
MHP party leaders are likely to ask for some key posts in the next administration. The health of this alliance can be checked by the outcome of the negotiations for cabinet positions.


5. Although the AKP remained united during this electoral test, there are signs that show that a strong Islamist party is likely to emerge in the future should Erdogan continue his erratic foreign and economic policies. While Saadet party performance was poor, the fact that it garnished 1.3% of the votes without fielding any of former AKP possible defectors signal the potential for the emergence of a plurality of Islamist-leaning political parties. We believe that that will be good for the health of Turkish democracy.

 

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Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

On August 25-17, more than 200 Sunni Muslim scholars from around the world convened in Grozny, Chechnya, to answer the question: who are the Sunnis? Representing the most prominent Sunni institution of learning and religious guidance, al-Azhar, the Grand Imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, opened the international conference with a statement stressing the importance of reclaiming the true teachings of Sunni Muslims (Ahl al-Sunna wa-‘l-jama`a), which, he argued, have been corrupted by extremists and terrorists. This important event did not receive wide coverage because of the coordinated attack by religious and political leaders of Saudi Arabia who contended that the conference was meant to exclude Wahhabi Salafism
The conference is important because it started a conversation within the Sunni community about issues made taboo by Wahhabi Salafists and their political patron—the Saud family that rules Saudi Arabia. The kingdom used its huge wealth to redefine Islam by building religious institutions that preached Wahhabism disguised as Sunni Islam and publishing books on Islamic traditions that are derived exclusively from Salafism.

Saudi religious clerics accused the organizers of the conference of “dividing Muslims” and placing Salafism outside Islam. It is important to note, however, that the scholars attending the conference did not define who is “Muslim” and who is not. The conference‘s stated aims was to define Sunnism and religious groups that historically shaped Sunni Islam. Wahhabi Salafist scholars, on the other hand, preach that only Sunnis are Muslims and all other groups are deviant, heretic, and/or apostate. Scholars attending this conference, however, reject conflating Sunnism with being Muslim to the exclusion of all other religious groups:
Sunnis [Ahl al-sunna wa-‘l-jama`a] are the Ash`arites and the Maturidites in terms of theology (i`tiqad), the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi`ites, and Hanbalites in terms of law (fiqh), and Sufis who adhere to Imam al-Junayd’s path in terms of ethics and practices.
This definition excluded Wahhabi Salafists from being Sunni simply because Wahhabi scholars disagree with it: Wahhabi Salafists consider Sufis (and followers of all other sects that are not Sunni) to be deviant, heretic, non-Muslim. It is that belief of exclusion (takfir) that is fueling and justifying the killings, beheadings, and civil wars. 

Saudi Arabia worked its sources to discredit the conference internationally. The Secretariat of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy(IIFA), part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (formerly Organization of the Islamic Conference), which is controlled by the Saudi rulers, released a press release defining Sunnis, in meaningless broad terms to appear inclusive: 

The IIFA Secretariat also believes that the Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who testifies that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, who respects the companions of the Messenger of Allah, who has high regard for members of the Prophet’s household and loves them.

The IIFA affirms that Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who believes in the articles of faith, who is certain about the pillars of Islam, who does not deny any information that is self-evidently part of Islam,  including making lawful what is prohibited by religious law such as killing.


For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sunni Muslims are challenging the ideology that sustains the genocidal wars waged by groups like al-Qaeda and its derivatives who are waging wars with the intent to purge countries from people who are not followers of “true Islam” as they define it.

Islamic societies, including Sunni and Shia ones, need to interrogate some of the sources of modern Islamic teachings and practices. A conference like the one held in Chechnya is a good start. It constituted a legitimate voice directed at those who want to monopolize Islam in the name of orthodoxy and other labels of exclusion and racism.



Conference communique and recommendations:


Chaos and anarchy in the Middle East: How did it happen?

Chaos and anarchy in the Middle East: How did it happen?


Takfīris‘ path to their “caliphate” is soaked with the blood of Muslims
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*


The most important event of the summer might end up being ISIL’s (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) declaration that it has restored the caliphate. For the second time in the past two decades, Salafi Islamists have gained territory and resources to establish a communal entity reflecting their idea of an Islamic state. In the mid-1990s, the Taliban, aided by Saudi and Arab fighters led by Bin Laden, routed fellow Mujahidin to establish the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. The Emirate ended when U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Two weeks ago, ISIL, aided by frustrated Sunni Arabs and former Baathists, led an armed assault on the northern provinces of Iraq, linking them to territories in Syria under its control.


Gaining new territories that are rich in natural resources like water, oil, and gas emboldened ISIL fighters. They now think that they have the military power, economic resources, and ideology to form an independent nation that is governed by their version of Islam—so-called true Sunni Islam. However, the problems they faced immediately upon the declaration signaled the level of disconnect between ISIL ideologues and the reality on the ground. Even the most ardent supporters of their brand of Islam have complained that ISIL’s reinstatement of the caliphate is an error.

Theological and legal concerns aside, the terms of the declaration make it impossible for ISIL to co-exist with its neighbors and other Islamist groups. ISIL’s caliphate is born in a state of war with everyone. Its leader, self-appointed Caliph and Commander of the Faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that the aim of his Islamic caliphate is to “erase national borders, destroy democracy, rid Muslims of deviant elements, and stand up for [Sunni] Muslims.” Most significantly, he stated that “all other Islamic factions, groups, movements, organizations, and parties are obligated to pay allegiance (bay`ah) to him or face death.” Furthermore, given that Muslims have never been ruled by a single political authority since the Islamic civil wars of the seventh century CE, it is safe to say that this caliphate is born dead.


The rise of ISIL is, however, a rebuke to some governments (mostly from the West and the Gulf states) who embrace violence in order to bring about regime change. It is also a confirmation that violence and war will always lead to incurable social division and brutal strife. These realities are manifesting themselves today in Syria and Iraq and in the emergence of sectarian extremist groups like ISIL. Three other key factors have contributed to the rise of ISIL and groups like it: the illegal invasion of Iraq, the militarization of the uprisings in Libya and Syria, and the appeasement of the undemocratic sectarian regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.


Violent extremism was allowed to thrive when it was confronted militarily but not ideologically. That was both a logical and strategic mistake. Logically, one cannot end an undesired behavior by embracing it. That is, one cannot say that violence is abhorrent, yet use it to achieve one’s goals. By supporting violent groups in Syria, the West and its allies legitimized the very tactics used by ISIL to achieve its goals in Iraq. Strategically, by using violence to eliminate sectarian extremists instead of confronting the rulers and religious authorities in countries that espouse violent sectarian creeds, the West essentially chose to deal with the effects but not the roots of the phenomenon. The solution is to ask countries whose institutions teach hate, supremacy, and exclusion to reform and to respect human dignity. Without addressing the root of the problem, the rulers of countries that embrace the takfīrism will soon be engulfed by the same elements they have produced, tolerated, employed, and/or exported.


ISIL’s reinstatement of the caliphate and its leader’s call to “Muslim scholars, soldiers, and scientists to migrate to the ‘state’” might be a positive development in that it ended al-Qaeda and forced Zawahiri, Bin Laden replacement, into early retirement, created internal strife among Salafis–the stream of Islamists that feeds takfīri fighters, and exposed them as a cross-border threat. ISIL’s action may also result in freeing the rest of world of the preachers of hate and the messengers of death when they migrate to live under the uncompromising justice of the sword and the total surrender of their free choice they want to impose on others.
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PS. Caliphate is the governing institution that ruled Islamic societies since the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The caliph is the head of such a government. The qualifications, form of governance, and terms of relationship between the ruler and the ruled differed from person to person and from dynasty/clan to another. After the death of the third caliph `Uthmān, the legitimacy of caliphs became contested and often more than one caliph ruled different regions and different community.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Niyaz, brilliantly and deliberately building bridges through time, space, and cultures

Niyaz, brilliantly and deliberately building bridges through time, space, and cultures

(Music and band performance review)
 Members of the band Niyaz are similar to the music they produce: stunningly eclectic. They represent different ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds. Their music resurrects ancient arts and give life to words spoken in different tongues.
Their songs seamlessly transition from Persian, to Urdu, to Kurdish, to Turkish, to Arabic. Azam Ali’s voice and Tanya Evanson’s dancing allow one to experience music in multitudes of ways. One could actually see the music, feel it, and hear it. The mix make Niyaz’s music complex but supremely soothing, transformative, sensual, and uniquely uplifting. Niyaz blends Sufi mysticism, poetry, and Middle Eastern folk songs with masterful acoustic and modern electronic sounds, incorporating Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Indian influences.
As a group of diverse backgrounds, members of Niyaz share an unmistakable commitment to social justice issues, co-existence, and human dignity. That commitment is reflected in their selection of poems, art work, and words in general. For instance, one of their successful albums is the collection called Sumud – an Arabic word meaning steadfastness or steadfast perseverance. The word was selected to honor the Palestinians perseverance in the wake of the Gaza War. Azam Ali reflection on this choice:
Every human being should inherit the right to live with dignity and freedom upon the land on which they are born. We have now traveled across the world, and those experiences have affected the journey that we are on and the direction we’ve taken on this album. We’ve performed in the Kurdish parts of Turkey during times of major conflicts, as well as other parts of the Middle East. Obviously that has affected this project. We wanted to focus on the ethnic and religious minority groups in these regions, because they have really struggled to maintain their identity. It started from us wanting to tell our story, and it has evolved into this humanitarian social message, embracing regions around Iran.
Whether they are singing in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Kurdish, or Turkish, the Sufi touch is ever present. The Islamic mystic touch is further highlighted by Tanya Evanson’s magical dancing. These songs art part of a performance that took place at the University of Iowa. The band featured:
Azam Ali (voice, frame drums, dulcimer)
Ramin Loga Torkian (multi-oud, kamaan)
Didem Basar (kanun)
Gabriel Ethier (keyboards, programming)
Kattam Laraki-Côté (percussion, voice)
Tanya Evanson (dancer)
Watch/Listen/Share: Program PlayList

How different are the new constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt?

How different are the new constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt?


How different are the new constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt?

The two countries transformed first by the Arab Spring now have new constitutions. The two countries are similar in many ways. Yet, the processes of producing their respective constitutions and the substance of each document point to the forces that made these legal documents similar in some areas and different in others. In both cases, it took more than two years to reach this point, underscoring the difficulty the drafters of the two documents have faced.

Notably, the Tunisian constitution was drafted by an elected body (Constitutional Assembly), whereas the current version of the Egyptian constitution was “edited” by an appointed committee after the deposition of the post-revolution (elected) president Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian constitution, however, was endorsed by Egyptian voters, while the Tunisian constitution was adopted once it was endorsed by the majority of the members of the Constitutional Assembly.


Another distinction is the substantive organization of the two documents. The Egyptian constitution is organized conceptually, dealing with matters of the state, society, economy, culture, rights and responsibilities, rule of law, and then governing institutions. The Tunisian constitution’s organization is rooted in institutional functions. That is, the framers of the constitution first defined the foundational principles (al-mabadi’ al-`ammah) that ought to guide the work of state institutions and the rights and freedoms (al-huquq wa-‘l-hurriyyat) that must be protected and managed by the state.  The Tunisian 39-page document is decided by this conceptualization of the function of governing institutions, while the 64-page document produced by the 50-member constitutional committee is a statement about the critical areas of public interest (muqawwimat al-mujtama`) and then a declaration about the role of power and authority institutions (al-sulutat) in managing these areas.

The organizational difference resulted in different areas of emphasis and state functions. The public interest focus adopted by the framers of the Egyptian constitution led to a strengthened role of the state and a diminished space devoted to civil society institutions. The drafters of the Tunisian constitution seemed more interested in limiting the power of the state and the separation of its branches.

Below, a brief summary of key statements about controversial areas as addressed in the Constitution of Tunisia and the Constitution of Egypt.
Constitution of Tunisia
Constitution of Egypt
System of Governance:
Islamic, Arab, Republic (1 & 2)
Islamic, Arab, Democratic Republic (1)
Shari`ah:
No explicit statement about Shari`ah.
The principles of the Shari`ah are the main source of legislation (1, 2 & 3).
State and Religion:
State is civil institution; state is the overseer of religious affairs, protector of religious freedom and thought; state ensures that places of worship are not used for partisan purposes. State shall prohibit and prevent takfīr and enticing hate (2 &6).
No explicit mention of the “civil” nature of the state; the state shall fund al-Azhar, which is said to be an independent institution tasked with Islamic religious affairs; Christians and Jews rely on their respective traditions to manage personal status laws and choose their spiritual leaders (2, 3, &7).
Citizenship:
Citizenship, which is acquired through birth or affiliation laws and redefined by the legislature; citizenship cannot be revoked.
Anyone born to an Egyptian father or mother is entitled to citizenship (6).
Women rights:
State guarantees the rights of women to equality in all areas, including their being represented in election-based positions (21, 40, & 46).
State guarantees the rights of women to equality in all areas (11).
Military:
The President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Members of the armed forces are politically neutral, barred from all partisan and political activities.
The President is the Supreme Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The Defense Minister is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
Human dignity
Dignity is protected; torture is prohibited.
Dignity is protected; torture is prohibited.
Branches of Government:
Parliament whose members are elected directly by the people
Parliament whose members are elected directly by the people.
President elected for five years; can run for only one more term (75).
President elected for four years; can run for only one more term (140).
Head of government is from the party or coalition that wins the majority of the seats in the parliament.
The president names the head of government, if the government is not endorsed by the parliament, then the party or coalition that won the majority of the seats in the parliament will name the head of the government; if not endorsed again, the president shall dissolve the parliament.
Judiciary:
The judiciary is independent authority; the institution is managed by the Supreme Council on Judicial Affairs, consisting of four committees, which are staffed mostly by elected judges.
The legislature is independent authority; most judges are appointed by the president.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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