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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.

Syria’s rebels’ premature harvest and the moral crisis of militarism

Syria’s rebels’ premature harvest and the moral crisis of militarism


ISIS fighters executing a civilian

On November 14, 2013, Abd al-Kader al-Saleh, commander of the powerful Tawhid Brigades, died. He was injured in an earlier airstrike that killed several of his group’s top leaders. In a matter of days, al-Tawhid Brigades—one of the armed wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria—descended into chaos. Its surviving leaders claimed that the Syrian army could not have carried out the deadly strike without inside help. They promised to avenge their leaders and purge the rebels of anti-revolution elements. At that moment, the seed of dissent among Islamist groups sprouted. 

A week later, more rebels, previously affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), formed new alliances. A month later, two new entities were formally announced: al-Jabhah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Front) and Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam). Before the end of December, a third coalition, Jabhat al-Thuwwar (the Rebels’ Front), was born. The other two dominant groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusrah (Nusra) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS; Da`ish), remained intact and separate. By this time, the FSA was in free fall.

The new rebel formations are a recast of old players in new roles dictated by political and diplomatic developments involving regional and global powers. The Islamic Front, for instance, was an alliance that brought together ideologically disparate groups: Ahrar al-Shaam (Jihadi Salafi inclination), Suqur al-Shaam and Liwa’ al-Tawhid (Muslim Brotherhood), Jaysh al-Islam (Salafi and former Muslim Brotherhood members with Saudi connections), and Liwa’ al-Haqq, to name a few.

Similarly, Jabhat al-Thuwwar consisted of former FSA fighters, secular groups, and local rebels groups, aimed to provide a counter-weight to Islamists.

Without doubt, the reshuffle among rebel groups was triggered in part by the prospect of the January 22 international meeting known as Geneva-2 proposed by the U.S. and Russia and sponsored by the UN. The meeting is intended to bring together representatives of the Syrian government and opposition as well as top diplomats from about thirty countries to develop a road map that could lead to a political solution to the bloody conflict in Syria. The majority of the powerful armed groups inside Syria refuse to authorize politicians from the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (the Syrian Coalition; Etilaf) and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB), to represent them or even participate. In fact, leaders from Nusra and ISIS have declared anyone participating in Geneva-2 “a legitimate target.” This context explains the mass resignation from the Syrian Coalition and the failure of the remaining members to make any decision about attendance and composition of the negotiating team.

On January 3, the Islamic Front and several other rebel groups launched armed strikes against ISIS. As of this writing, according to even pro-rebel Arab media, about 340 rebels have been killed and the inter-rebel clashes have spread to central and southern Syria. The Syrian Coalition has declared its support for the Islamic Front, accusing ISIS of carrying out an agenda that serves the regime. Al-Nusra, the official representative of al-Qaeda in Syria, proposed a truce among the rebels and blamed ISIS for creating an untimely distraction from the fight against the “Shi`i and Nusayri infidels.” 

ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani accused FSA and other Islamist fighters of conspiracy and collaboration with foreign intelligence. He specifically accused ISIS’s opponents of being “tools in the hands of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to prevent the creation of the Islamic state in Syria.” He threatened to track and kill all those who oppose ISIS, calling such persons “apostates and infidels.” A day earlier, al-Nusra’s Abu Muhammad al-Joulani had accused ISIS of murder, kidnapping, and theft. In the days to come, more infighting will take place and each of the rebel groups will release images and videos depicting the brutality of their opponents, validating earlier findings of war crimes and human rights abuses.

This turn of events is a preview of what could happen on a larger scale should the Syrian military and government collapse before strong substitute institutions are in place. Rebel groups may be fighting one another, but they remain united in promoting a vision of exclusion and a path to power by cruel force. The infighting among Syrian rebels substantiates the absurdity of the idea that military interventions and armed rebellions can produce stable, representative governments. Once violence is legitimized as a tool for political change, the rule of law and civil discourse are the first, but not last, victims.

It has been only seven days since the start of the infighting among Syria’s rebels, but the number of reports of summary executions, murder, and abuse of civilians at the hands of rebel fighters is troublingly high. One can only expect more images of horror and brutality in the next few days and weeks. The use of religion to justify killing people who belong to the rebels’ own sect (in this case Sunnis) proves their unlimited willingness to make war on others and, fundamentally, the moral failing of sectarian actors. This infighting justifies the fear people belonging to other sects, religions, and ethnicities experience when faced with an entity that sees a religious imperative to eliminate another. It has become evident that many of the rebels are not fighting the Syrian regime because it is authoritarian and undemocratic, but because it is religiously different. A war on difference is a war on diversity, and a war on diversity is genocidal.

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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.

Harsh Qatari Labor Conditions Move Center Stage As FIFA Debates World Cup

Harsh Qatari Labor Conditions Move Center Stage As FIFA Debates World Cup

By James M. Dorsey*
Controversy over conditions for unskilled and semi-skilled workers in Qatar involved in the construction of World Cup-related infrastructure as well as for flight attendants of Qatar Airways, the 2022 tournament’s likely official carrier, has moved center stage as world soccer body FIFA prepares to debate next week the Gulf state’s hosting of the 2022 soccer tournament.

FIFA’s focus is on whether to move the tournament from summer to winter because of Qatar’s harsh summer temperatures that can exceed 40 degrees Celsius. FIFA however will find it difficult to maintain a narrow concern for the welfare of players with no regard to the army of workers involved in constructing billions of dollars in World Cup-related infrastructure. Beyond reputational damage, the debate over workers’ rights and conditions increases the risk of FIFA being pushed to entertain depriving Qatar of its hosting rights, a move that would be perceived by much of the Muslim world as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.
International trade unions have for the past three years threatened a boycott of the World Cup if Qatar failed to improve labor conditions and accept workers’ rights to form independent trade unions and collectively bargain. The issue has taken on added urgency with a report in The Guardian that asserts that 44 workers had died in work-related incidents between June 4 and August 8 and that workers had not been paid, had their passports confiscated by employers, been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat, and that 30 Nepalese had sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal labor conditions.
Adding to Qatar’s problems, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) lambasted this week Qatar Airways, the country’s national carrier, as well as United Arab Emirates carriers Emirates and Ettihad for prohibiting employees from organizing and demanding better working conditions. ITWF said it would lobby the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is meeting in Canada to take action against the Gulf carriers. The union objects to stipulations in Qatar Airways contracts that oblige employees to obtain company permission before changing their marital status and entitle it to fire women employees as soon as they become aware of a pregnancy.
Union objections on the grounds that Qatar bans independent labor organizations forced the Gulf state earlier this year to withdraw its proposal to move ICAO headquarters from Montreal to Doha. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was quoted by Arabian Business as saying at the time: “If you did not have unions you wouldn’t have this jobless problem in the western world… It is caused by unions making companies and institutions uncompetitive and bringing them to a position of not being efficient. If you go and ask the politicians in most of the countries in the western world they would love to have the system we have: where the workers have rights through the law but they do not have rights through striking and undermining successful institutions that provide jobs to their knees.”
Qatar Airways was last year the target of an online call for a boycott by hundreds of Qataris who objected to its employment policies as well as the fact that it operates a shop in Doha that sells alcohol and pork to foreigners.
Qatar has responded to international criticism of its labor conditions by seeking to improve working and living conditions, including stricter enforcement of timely payment of wages, limiting the number of workers permitted to live in one room, planning a city for foreign workers who account for 94 percent of the Qatari workforce and enhancing leisure opportunities, including the creation of a soccer league for foreign workers.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee that is responsible for organizing the World Cup issued a Workers’ Charter earlier this year that pledged to meet international standards with the exception of the right to independent trade unions and collective bargaining. Qatar Foundation, the institution that funds educational and social projects, is working on a similar charter. It is also looking at streamlining recruitment to cut out middlemen and agents that charge onerous rates and are responsible for workers’ huge debt burden.
In a response to The Guardian story, the 2022 committee said: “Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in The Guardian’s report. There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner. The health, safety, well-being and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.”
Qatari executives note that one offset of the awarding of the World Cup is the fact that workers’ rights and working conditions are on the table and that steps are being taken to address the situation. “While construction on work relating directly to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has not yet commenced, we have always believed that hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar could be the catalyst for positive change, particularly for accelerating human and social development in Qatar,” the 2022 committee said. The committee said the government was investigating companies identified in The Guardian report.
Qatar has so far however refrained from steps to abolish the onerous Kafala or sponsorship system that makes employees virtually beholden to their employers a step that could convince trade unions and human rights activists that it is serious about reform. The Guardian report signals that on many of the issues such as timely payment, return of passports after completion of immigration procedures and access to water, Qatar is lagging in enforcement rather than in legislation and regulation.
The unanswered question is why Qatar has failed to tackle the Kafala system head on and allowed it to fester. Writing in Open Democracy, Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Qatar, noted that a majority of Qataris acknowledge that their country’s labor system is in desperate need of reform. Kafala, moreover, is disliked not only by employees but also by many employers because it makes them liable for whatever the worker does during and outside of working hours. Mr. Stephens argues that authorities understand the need for change but are not giving it the priority required to stop further damage to Qatar’s reputation.
Yet, at the same time, he concedes that conservative forces and at least some business circles oppose abolishing kafala. “Business interests are often the hindrance, and the young Emir, like his father will need to work hard to combat those companies, including many western entities that accept and propagate the system that stands against the interests of a majority of the country, local and foreign alike,” Mr. Stephens wrote referring to 33-year old Sheikh Tamim bin Khalifa Al Thani who became emir in June after his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, abdicated.
A recent study by researchers of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar concluded that the cost of maintaining the labor system went beyond reputational damage. The researchers concluded that Qatar would be near the top of the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) if adjustments were made for the country’s large population of migrant workers. With other words, the system undercuts Qatar’s soft power effort designed to project the Gulf state as a cutting edge, 21st century knowledge-based society.
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* James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split

by Ahmed Magdy Youssef*
 
Egypt’s last two weeks’ incessant events not only gripped the minds and hearts of the Egyptians, but they captured the interest of the national and international media as well.

For many Egyptians, mostly those who filled public squares across the country to demand Mr. Morsi’s removal and early presidential elections, the military’s intervention on July 3 was inevitable to save the most heavily populated Arab country from slipping into a civil war.

By contrast, Egyptian Islamists and other supporters of Mr. Morsi remain steadfast in their rejection of what they call a “military coup”, refusing to acknowledge the military-backed interim president Adli Mansour and his newly-appointed vice president and prime minister as legitimate. Mr. Morsi’s supporters have staged a series of mass rallies in Cairo, demanding the reinstating of the ousted president.

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split. To put it more pointedly, not only the state-owned media avowedly backed the military after Morsi’s ouster, but most of the Egyptian privately-owned TV stations and newspapers as well have embraced the military’s perspective.

It’s no secret to say that Egypt’s media landscape has never been non-partisan. The Muslim Brotherhood’s TV station – Misr 25 – and others run by their Islamist allies, in addition to newspapers like Freedom and Justice, official newspaper of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), were undoubtedly partisan. Additionally, being perpetually accused of aligning with the regime that rules, state-owned newspapers like Al-Ahram did partly side with Mr. Morsi before the 30-June demonstrations. On the flip side, most of Egypt’s privately-owned networks and newspapers were whole-heartedly in the anti-Morsi camp. Their dehumanization and demonization of the Brotherhood’s members and other Islamists, not to mention their disparaging of the pro-Morsi protests, has become engrained.

It all reached a crescendo on July 3 after the “popular” ouster of Morsi by the army’s generals. Under the expediency of restoring national order, the military-led authorities shut down Islamist-run TV stations, including Misr 25, and arrested their managers. Only the Freedom and Justice newspaper “survived” the media crackdown!

With only one tone dominating Egypt’s mainstream media, most of the national media outlets went berserk over what was called the “Republican Guard Massacre”. Last week, more than 50 pro-Morsi protesters were shot to death by the armed forces in clashes between the two sides in front of the Presidential Guards.

The aforementioned outlets not only have failed to acknowledge wrongdoing on the part of the military, but have directed their ire toward the victims, Mr. Morsi’s supporters, as well. By adopting the military’s viewpoint that revolves around accusing the pro-Morsi protesters of trying to raid the military’s facility, many Egyptian media outlets vindicated or even praised the “valiant” actions of the army!

This was further aggravated by some western media, such as The Telegraph, who published footage of an Egyptian photographer who chronicled his own death. The 26-year-old photographer from the Freedom and Justice newspaper was among the victims killed by the armed forces in the Republican Guard massacre’s incident. He had managed to capture the moment in which an army soldier with a rifle on top of a yellow stone building shot him dead! However, this footage was circulated only through different social network sites like Facebook. None of Egypt’s state or privately-owned television channels broadcast this footage!

In this polarized environment, many supporters of Mr. Morsi have resorted to Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel, alongside western networks such as CNN , to cater to their needs of seeing unabated coverage of the pro-Morsi protests, in addition to the dismissal of the opposition rallies.

Previously, Egypt’s state-owned and independent media outlets were drifting into two distinct camps; pro- and anti- Morsi. But, from the moment Mr. Morsi was ousted from the political scene, these two different viewpoints have been steered into one sole anti-Morsi direction. This trend, most probably, will continue for a while, till the Islamist TV stations reopen again, given their popularity, wide audience base and their traditional role as primary source of information for the Islamist camp.
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*Ahmed Magdy Youssef holds an MA in Global Journalism from Örebro University in Sweden. He has researched the media coverage of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and is currently monitoring the Egyptian media system through the national media watch group, Egypt’s Media Credibility Index (MCE Watch).

Iran New President: Breaking Hard diplomatic Moves of the Past

Iran New President: Breaking Hard diplomatic Moves of the Past

by Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr.*

Recent development in Iranian presidential election demonstrate that socio-economic forces in the country were invisibly making serious efforts to make sure that a newly- elected president will address the pressing economic hardship being experienced by Iranian people.

Such an economic hardship was a result of both Iranian previous government misguided economic policy and Western economic sanctions which targeted the Iranian economy. Therefore, the new administration in Iran must not only revisit previous economic policy and institute reform in its economy but also and most importantly should use a more moderate language in its foreign policy.

With  a newly -elected president, Hassan Rohani, Iran will once again need to prove her worth in the community of nations. Rohani’s moderate tone has been welcomed by many countries in the world and should be the guiding instrument of the Iranian foreign policy in the coming years. Such moderate tone will no doubt bring domestic political reconciliation and economic opportunities for Iran. In addition to this, it can also strengthen social-cultural ties with other nations in the world and hopefully bring about an opportunity for Iran, USA and Europe Union to re-start nuclear talks.

Rohani’s major priorities during his term should include but not limited to,

* Setting a moderate tone of the Iranian Foreign Policy and continue dialoguing with other nations particularly with Iran’s neighboring countries. In response to the congratulatory remark of the Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayep Erdogan, Rohani emphasizes the need to ‘expand all-out ties with regional and neighboring countries.’ Such statement brings positive signals to other countries in the Middle East region that the Islamic Iran is ever ready to establish and maintain good ties with other friendly and peace loving nations. In his first press conference, Rohani also cited that Iran will engage in a “constructive interaction” with Britain to ease tensions in their diplomatic relations. Britain suspended diplomatic ties with Iran in 2011 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by hardliner demonstrators.

Rohani’s administration will no doubt focuses on but not limited to the following items mentioned below:

*Fixing economic problem in Iran. Rohani has inherited a falling oil economy due to series of international sanctions which have resulted to increasing inflation, currency collapse, and enduring unemployment. Iranian’s current economic problem is directly connected to its foreign policy particularly on nuclear issue by which Iran was under the pressure primarily from Washington and the member countries of the European Union (EU). The Iranian Minister of Economy in December said that Iran’s oil revenue dropped fifty percent due to the sanctions. In addition to this, Iranian currency lost more than half of its value in the past year which triggers an official inflation rate to 23. 3 percent in April 2013 from 14 percent two years ago. Rohani has to revisit the economic policies of his predecessor and address the root causes of the problem; and

* Resuming immediately the nuclear talks with global power. The nuclear issue can be said to be the center of all diplomatic efforts of the United States through the imposition of sanctions against Iranian Islamic government. Although sanctions have not deterred nor changed the behavior of Iran political elites in the past, they have produced deleterious impacts on the lives of ordinary Iranian people.  Thus Rohani’s election gives a fresh opportunity for both the United States and the Iranian government to work closely for the resolution of their long standing conflict to prevent more suffering of many Iranians.

There had been opportunities in the past where neither the United States nor Islamic Republic of Iran was able to take advantage. The case of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime (on various issues such as drug and human trafficking) and the Iraqi reconstruction period were just some of these opportunities they have failed to cooperate.

 If both governments are serious in bringing about solution to their constrained relations, then it is the proper time for them to start advancing once again the ideas of accommodation, talks and negotiations. Although changing the tone of diplomacy to a moderate one does not guarantee an immediate economic transformation towards a better one, it however opens door for diplomatic talks and hopefully reconciliation and better economic opportunity.

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*Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr is an Assistant Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Tehran, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Shahid Behesti, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran and Bachelor of Science in International Relations at the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies, Mindanao State University, Marawi City, Philippines.

Narratives of War in Islamic Societies

Narratives of War in Islamic Societies


Whose side is God on?
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: The so-called Arab Spring ushered in a new era of conflict that is transforming Islamic societies in unprecedented ways. In the past two years, peaceful protests ousted some of the most ruthless dictators of the Arab world. Then, violent rebellions destroyed communities in Libya and Syria, stifled the non-violent movement, and amplified sectarian tensions by interjecting God into some of the most gruesome conflicts. By looking at the Syrian crisis as a case study, in this article I explore the function of narratives in managing war and the nature and evolution of Islamism in Islamic societies.
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Those who think that the Syrian war could be ended by simply sending either side more weapons and more fighters are mistaken. Weapons are only tools of the battlefield. Now, as is has been throughout the history of war, the more important key to winning a war is developing a compelling narrative.
Over the past two years, each of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict has promulgated a different narrative to justify the war. 
 

 

Western and Arab officials have produced a narrative that characterizes the conflict as a struggle for democracy, with opponents of the Syrian government arguing that the regime is brutal and undemocratic to justify their intervention in the internal affairs of Syria.
The most formidable fighting groups among the rebels have espoused an Islamist narrative. Some contend that the Syrian regime is un-Islamic. Others argue that the regime has betrayed Arabs in favor of the Persians. A third group stresses the need to re-establish the Islamic caliphate. Generally, these armed Islamists want to overthrow the regime so that they can establish an Islamic government in its stead.
The Syrian government’s official narrative has evolved over time. Originally the regime contended that the protesters were violent outlaws challenging the legitimacy of the state. Once the peaceful uprising turned violent, the government’s narrative identified the rebels as foreign mercenaries and extremist nationals who are challenging the sovereignty of the state and advancing a Western agenda aimed at punishing Syria for supporting resistance movements.
Narratives provide a real function, but only as long as they are convincing and credible. They must be believable and must come from someone with an established reputation. For example, when judged by this standard, the Arab League’s official narrative is undermined by the fact that the strongest Arab opponents of the Syrian regime are known human rights abusers with no history of democratic governance. The credibility deficit in the official Arab position is beyond repair in the eyes of most Arabs, let alone outsiders.
The narratives rooted in religion provide some Syrian fighters as well as Salafi Jihadists from around the world with compelling reasons to fight. They are a key factor behind the strength of Jabhat al-Nusra and other religious groups, such as al-Tawhid Brigades, which are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But these sectarian narratives also come with caveats: the sharper the narrative in identifying the enemy (Shiites, Nusayris, Persians, non-Arabs), the more anxious and aroused members of this enemy become.
When fighters are consistently shown shouting “God is Great” (Allahu akbar) in all the video clips they release, the Syrian rebels are using religion to market their war. On cue, rebels shout Allahu akbar as they shoot at soldiers, they shout Allahu akbar as they bomb towns and neighborhoods, they shout Allahu akbar as they execute civilians and soldiers, they shout Allahu akbaras they slaughter captives, they shout Allahu akbar as they destroy religious sites, they shout Allahu akbar as they cut the internal organs of dead soldiers and chew on them, they shout Allahu akbar as they threaten Shi`as and Nusayris. In more than eight thousand clips produced by various rebel groups and examined for this and other studies, the name of God is invoked again and again to justify gruesome acts. They were certain that God was on their side even before Qaradawi issued his fatwa to that effect
By way of contrast, the clips which have depicted the brutalities of the regime and its supporters have not only been many fewer—mere dozens as opposed to the thousands released by the braggadocio-prone rebels–show soldiers and pro-regime militias carrying out their acts in the name of the regime, not of God. The rebels’ acts and statements have the effect of making God appear as cruel as the regime (or crueler).
While the Syrian government was clearly aware of the need for a compelling narrative, they did not want to create one that would amplify their hostility towards religious groups. Government officials were keenly aware of the danger of alienating more people, especially Sunni officers still serving in the military. The Syrian government’s need to balance religious and non-religious rhetoric is partly dictated by the fact that the regime is dominated by secular Arab nationalists with little in the way of religious credentials. For this reason, the regime sought to enlist the support and services of Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose leaders had been sheltered in Damascus for years when all other Arab regimes shunned them.
To this end, the Syrian government reportedly asked the leaders of Hezbollah to mediate an arrangement that would keep the Palestinian Islamists in the government’s camp. However, enticed by money from Qatar and emboldened by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt, Hamas’s Damascus-based political leaders refused to help their Syrian benefactors. They told the Syrian government that Hamas needed to be able to engage diplomats from around the world on behalf of the Palestinian cause. Contending that the closure of some diplomatic missions in Damascus made it hard for them to achieve that goal, they relocated to Qatar. 
Although other Palestinian factions (mostly secular ones) did side with the Syrian government, Hezbollah was forced by the facts on the ground to themselves provide the religious credibility the Syrian government needed in order to legitimize their fight, especially against their Islamist opponents. 
Thus, on May 25, 2013, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hussain Nasrollah, provided a new narrative that would allow “resistance fighters” to engage in the war in Syria. He declared that Syria’s true friends–Hezbollah, Iran, some Palestinian resistance factions, and Russia–would not allow Damascus to fall into the hands of the Israeli-American-Takfiri alliance. 
This new narrative for the Syrian war reshuffled religious and political priorities and distinguished between the political and the religious discourses, forcing Sunni Islamist groups, many of whom were allied with the Party, to relinquish their neutrality. Nasrollah’s new narrative identified the enemy in a way that resonated with many Sunnis, Christians, and Shiites who felt threatened by Salafi extremism. Referring to the gruesome videos released by Syrian rebels, he declared that the fight is now “against the eaters of human flesh, the mutilators of corpuses, the slaughterers of children, the desecrators of graves, the takfiri haters.” The word takfiri refers to a person who holds that Muslims belonging to sects other than Sunnism, secular Muslims, and non-Muslims are non-believers who must be killed unless they convert to their brand of Islam or pay poll tax. Nasrollah characterized the war in Syria as a just and necessary battle to protect Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Druze, and all other people condemned by takfiris. In other words, he framed it as a non-religious war against outsiders and against those who use God to judge people’s faith.
Within days of this declaration, states and religious institutions from around the world reacted. Europe decided to lift the arms embargo on Syria and allow countries to ship weapons and money to the Syrian rebels. Russia threatened to supply Syria with S-300 defensive weapons to prevent “hotheads” (Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s description) from intervening militarily. The Geneva 2 peace conference that was being planned with the hope of negotiating a political solution to the Syrian conflict is now unlikely to happen soon, if at all. These are all significant developments partly in reaction to Hezbollah’s declared direct intervention in the Syrian crisis. 
But the most significant outcome of this event is the realignment of religious scholars along these newly redrawn fault lines. Hezbollah’s declaration severely irritated the backers of the Syrian rebels, especially the Salafis of the Gulf region. Consequently, the Qatari rulers called on their prized asset, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, self-styled leader of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and de facto spiritual leader of the global movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, to authorize a holy war against Shi`as. Preaching from the main Doha mosque in the presence of Hamas’s political chief Khaled Meshaal, Qaradawi renamed Hezbollah the “party of the devil,” and declared Shiites enemies of Islam. He called on all Sunni Muslims from around the world to head to Syria for jihad. He claimed that he had been a victim of an elaborate Shiite conspiracy that had deceived him. He admitted that the Saudi (Salafi) scholars were right and he was wrong: “Shi`as are worse infidels than Jews and Christians,” he insisted.
During the first week of June, al-Qa`idah released a statement from its replacement leader, Aymen al-Zawahiri, calling on Syrian rebels to unite behind the banner of Islam to defeat the Alawites and the Nusayris. He reasoned that the war against the Shi`as is necessary in order to re-establish the Islamic caliphate and to open the path to liberate Palestine.
Not to be left out, the Saudi Mufti, Abdul Aziz Al al-Shaikh, released an official statement in which he condemned Hezbollah for killing Sunni Muslims, supported Qaradawi against those who criticized him for authorizing a sectarian war, and highlighted the achievements of the Kingdom under “the wise leadership the of the servant of the two holy places, King Abdullah.”
Not all Muslim scholars agreed with Qaradawi and the Salafi scholars. For instance, the Tunisian Islamist and co-founder of Ennahdha, Abd Al-Fattah Mouro, criticized Qaradawi and warned against his sectarian declarations. Sheik Maher Hammoud, a Sunni Lebanese scholar from Sidon, is another supporter of Hezbollah. He was recently attacked by gunmen in a car who fired on him as he walked from his home to the mosque–an assassination attempt he stated could be linked to his Hezbollah stance. 
Many analysts are crediting the training of Hezbollah fighters and the new weapons from Iran for the recent success of the Syrian military. That analysis ignores the more important factor–the power of the narrative of war. Hezbollah may have contributed some trained fighters, but its major contribution is the new narrative that is giving the Syrian troops and its supporters a more potent and resonant purpose–one rooted in the religious and nationalistic discourses. 
Some predict that Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria will cause sectarian strife, diminish Hezbollah’s standing in the Arab streets, and cause more loss of life and property. The reality, however, is likely to prove quite different from these uninformed predictions. 
Sectarian conflict has been present for at least thirty years—since the 1979 revolution in Iran. The Gulf States support of Saddam’s war on Iran was, at its core, sectarian. Salafism has always included doctrinal edicts (`aqidah) that are sectarian and hostile to Shi`as. The hostile doctrines were not simple pronouncements; they were implemented in the real world. Since the 1990s, nearly 50,000 civilian Shi`as have been killed or maimed by suicide bombers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq at the hands of Jihadi Salafists. To argue that sectarian violence will start in Syria as a result of Hezbollah involvement is to deny the reality of this ongoing strife. In Syria alone during the past two years, 41,000 of the more than 80,000 people killed were from the Alawite community. In other words, sectarianism is already deeply embedded in Arab societies.
Like many other Sunni scholars, Qaradawi showed sectarian tendencies before the uprising in Syria began. He warned against the threat of Shi`a expansion in Sunni lands (al-madd al-shi`i) and advised that legal and cultural restrictions be imposed to limit the spread of Shiism in Egypt and North Africa. Despite his claim that he has supported all people rising against unelected Arab rulers, when the wave of the Arab Spring reached Bahrain, he declared it a sectarian uprising and sided with the Sunni rulers.
These significant changes are forcing Sunni and Shiite Muslims to think about their alliances and reconcile their politics with their religion. 
The Muslim Brotherhood might undergo the most radical transformation as a result of the new narrative. In the past, as an opposition group, the global Muslim Brotherhood, with all its affiliates in the Middle East and North Africa, has portrayed itself as a principled movement that is incorruptible. Living on the margins of power and not burdened by the responsibilities of governance, the Muslim Brotherhood projected a clean image and avoided being perceived as compromising or politically opportunistic. When its main branch took power in Egypt, however, the Brotherhood was exposed for what it is–a political movement that is interested in power and, like any other party, willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. 
The Muslim Brotherhood’s squeaky clean image became compromised when it reneged on many promises in a very short time. For instance, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders have broken two key promises–not to compete for more than 40 percent of the seats of the Egyptian parliament and not to field a candidate in the Egyptian presidential elections. Politics is eating away from the group’s credibility, as will be reflected in the next elections. Moreover, since it took over the presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood has run the government with a single goal: consolidating its power. Its global reach is now challenged from the left and from the right, by liberals and conservatives. But the biggest challenges are those affecting its credibility and base of support. Hezbollah’s new narrative is challenging its cohesion as a global movement and the Salafis are challenging its religious credentials at home.
Ultimately, the Muslim Brotherhood and other pan-Islamist movements are struggling with the new reality borne out of globalism and modernity. The Syrian crisis exposed the risks that come with global movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. As a pan-Arab and pan-Islamic movement, the Brotherhood has failed to take into consideration the specific circumstances of each country that do not fit the mold of universalized politics. Modernity is similarly challenging the most conservative strands of Islamist movements. For example, the Salafis have always condemned electoral democracy as an alien, un-Islamic institution. But the Arab Spring that ended the rule of Mubarak in Egypt forced them to abandon that belief in order to form a political party and contest the parliamentarian elections, two acts that contradict their long-held claim that people’s sovereignty (marja`iyyat al-sha`b) is illegitimate.  
Without doubt, the Arab Spring has been a transformative event—not just because of what it has achieved, but because it ended fear and created new discourses. The end of fear means that oppression and authoritarianism will never go unchallenged again. The new discourses means that political and religious narratives must be refined. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolts have differentiated Islamists into Salafi and non-Salafi groups. The Syrian crisis brings more differentiation within both Salafis and non-Salafis. The reported division and vocal dissent within the ranks of Hamas is just one example; the split within the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is another. 
Led by two charismatic leaders, Dr. Rahil Gharaybeh and Nabil Alkofahi, a group from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has defied the group’s leadership and established a new coalition with other social and political groups under the banner of the Jordanian Initiative for Construction—nicknamed Zamzam. The Brotherhood’s leadership threatened to punish all members who go against the group’s directives. This conflict may result in the breakup of the Muslim Brotherhood into smaller Islamist groups and political parties.
In my estimation, the emerging internal dissent is birthing a new paradigm, an era of pluralism, not in Arab societies at large, but within what has been erroneously seen as monolithic Islamism. Plurality within Islamism will enrich the political discourse, elevate the debate on the role of religion in politics, and diminish the absolutist supremacist discourse espoused by ultra-conservative groups. Without diminishing the brutality suffered by innocent Syrians, the silver lining in the Syrian crisis is that it has exposed the opportunism and utilitarianism espoused by some religious and political factions.
The Syrian crisis merely uncovered the disguised hate and masked prejudices some religious leaders have espoused for a long time. It has also succeeded in highlighting the dangers of mixing religion with politics in a time of war. It is one thing to be partisan during peace time, but it is totally another for partisans to tell their followers that God is on their side in a war that is destroying everyone and everything in the most ungodly way.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. 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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