The following is an edited transcript of the eleventh in a series of Capitol Hill Conferences convened by the Middle Fast Policy Council. It was held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 4, 1996, with Council president George McGovern moderating.
MUMTAZ AHMAD, professor of political science, Hampton University
The director of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the University of Chicago, Professor Martin Marty, often refers to the reductionism of "nothing-buttery" about fundamentalism and political Islam, meaning that "Islamicists are nothing but crazy people," for example, or "political Islam is nothing but.." and then whatever you wish to add. I will try to avoid such "nothing-but'' reductionism and to highlight some general themes related to political Islam and democratic norms.
The question about political Islam in today's symposium be several questions. First, a loyal opposition presupposes a democratic order, a legitimate government, a shifting majority-not the kind of frozen and permanent majorities we see in several countries of the Muslim world, where, for example, the Baath party has been ruling Syria and Iraq for more than 40 years, the Arab Socialist Union of Egypt has been ruling the country for 45 years, and the Golkar party of President Suharto has been in power for 30 years in Indonesia.
A loyal opposition has to have some incentives and opportunities to come into power someday through free and fair elections. If there are no incentives, if the opportunities are not available, then we simply cannot talk about the possibility of a loyal opposition. Therefore, before we demand that the Islamicists prove the authenticity of their credentials for democracy, we must first ask the Middle Eastern regimes about their democratic credentials. We must first raise the question, what are the prospects for democracy in Middle Eastern societies? We know that the prospects for democracy in these societies will depend not only on what the Islamicists do and think about democracy, but, to a much greater extent, on whether the Middle Eastern governments are going to open up their systems for political participation and periodic elections-not the kind of elections we have in Egypt, where there is only one candidate for the presidency.
We have similar presidential elections in Indonesia, where there has been a sole candidate for president for the last 30 years. Both of them win with the usual 95 percent of the popular vote. Only Saddam Hussein can beat them, with 99.9 percent of the popular vote. How many rulers in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Islamic world came to power through democratic elections? And what right do they have to describe the Islamicists as a threat to democracy, as if there had been democracy in these societies before the Islamicists came on the political horizon and posed a threat to its existence?
Suharto came to power when I was an undergraduate at the University of Karachi 30 years ago. He has seen eight U.S. presidents come and go. Qadhafi and Asad came to power when I was a student at the American University of Beirut Hosoi Mubarak has been in power for 15 years and plans to stay there as long as he can. The usual pattern of the change in regime in these societies has been by either the natural death of the rulers or their assassination. How can there be a loyal opposition in a political system where rulers are glued to power for life and the opposition has no hope of ever coming to power, where even peaceful opposition is hampered, harassed, jailed, tortured and deprived of any opportunity to express its views. not to speak of the opportunity to share political power?
The second question is, loyal to whom? To the incumbent rulers who have come to power through assassinations, coups, hereditary privileges and staged elections? Obviously, neither the Islamic nor the secular opposition political groups would be loyal to such rulers. Loyalty to the system is another question. The answer is again no, because the consensus on the legitimacy of the existing political system has yet to emerge in many of these societies.
There are, however, cases where Islamicists accepted the system and decided to play by the rules of the game, but then the rules of the game were changed in midstream.
Election laws were changed in Egypt, in Algeria. in Jordan, all to prevent the Islamicists from coming to power. When the Islamicists won 90 seats in Indonesia in 1971 in the first-ever parliamentary elections, after the new order began under the leadership of President Suharto, the rules were changed to provide that thenceforth 33 percent of the parliament members would be nominated by the president, and 28 percent of the parliament would be nominated by the regional governors. The situation of the Indonesian parliament recently was described by Yousuf Hasyim, one of the leaders of the Islamic party, Nahdatul Ulama He said that the members of the Indonesian parliament are governed by four Ds. The first is dalang, which means "come." The second is duduk, which means "sit down." The third is dian, which means "quiet, please!" And finally, duit, which means ''have some money." This is the way the parliament is run in Indonesia, and it is no different from the way other parliaments are run in several of the Middle Eastern countries.
Despite this, Islamic parties have tried throughout the past three decades in Indonesia, and in several other Muslim countries, to work within the system, within the constitution, within the legal framework. The irony is that the legal framework keeps changing, to their detriment. They have faithfully abided by all rules of the game and have acted as a loyal opposition. But how tragic, ironic and paradoxical it is that, in order to protect "democracy" and "rule of law" from the potential threat of the "authoritarianism “of political Islam, the regimes in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia have resorted to military rule, military courts, restrictions on political freedoms, and detention of thousands of political dissidents without charge or trial.
In the case of Egypt, more than two dozen people have been executed by the military court without any appeal whatsoever. These are gross violations of human rights. These governments now want to be judged by their Western allies on the basis of a comparison with the hypothetical alternative, a supposedly much more repressive Islamic government that may come into power if they are weakened. These governments also seek, and they think that they deserve, a special dispensation from their Western allies because, first, they are facing a special threat, and, second, they are saving the West from the menace of political Islam.
The question whether political Islam can become a loyal opposition is not a theological question. It is a sociological question; it is a political question. The answer will not be guided by Islamic theological doctrines or other religious considerations. It will be determined by the political and social conditions that exist in Islamic societies. Contrary to popular perceptions in the West, Islamists-or Islamic fundamentalists, as they are known here-are not the ulama, theological hairsplitters and dialecticians. They are not jurists either. They are political animals par excellence.
We must also not forget that political Islam is only one religious, intellectual, ideological and political alternative in Muslim societies. There is a great deal more taking place in the Islamic world that, unfortunately, remains unreported by CNN or The New York Times. These religious and intellectual alternatives, which are equally, if not more, Islamic and legitimate, may become an important challenge to political Islam, which became popular in the 1980s. Liberal and modernist Islam is one alternative that can emerge as a potential challenge to political Islam. Also, from the traditional religion, a more quietistic, nonpolitical revival is taking place in South and Southeast Asia that is becoming a major challenge to the monopoly of political Islam in Muslim societies. Then there is a Sufi revival in Turkey, Central Asia, parts of North Africa, and even in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in countries of Southeast Asia. Finally, there is always the possibility of a backlash from the ulama, the traditional Islamic establishment, which feels threatened because of the rise of political Islam. There is a strong possibility that establishmentarian Islam may join hands with the forces of the state to fight against the rising tide of political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, these nonpolitical Islamic movements remain understudied by Western scholars and unreported by CNN.
As for political Islam, we can make a distinction between two types of movements. One comprises the mainstream, moderate Islamic movements. Here I would include the Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan, the Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh, the Refah party of Turkey, the Nahda party or the former Islamic Tendency movement in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan, the PAS party of Malaysia and the Nahdatul Ulama of Indonesia These are either operating, or are ready to operate if given an opportunity, in a peaceful, legal, constitutional and democratic manner and participate in the political process like any other political party in their societies. I have no doubt that they can become a loyal opposition. In fact, some of them - Refah in Turkey, Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, PAS in Malaysia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan - are already acting as the loyal opposition.
Then we have the Islamic fringe, the radicals, the militants, the violent ones, the clandestine Islamic groups involved in domestic and international terrorism. We will not go into the question of what has actually caused these movements to resort to violent means. But among the Middle Eastern and North African societies of today, Algeria, Egypt and now Israel are the main targets of these shadowy Islamic groups. It is obvious that we cannot expect them to become a loyal opposition, at least in the short run, or unless the political conditions in their respective societies change drastically.
As for the moderate variants of political Islam, I don't see any risks involved in allowing them to compete freely in a democratic political arena First, when the actual competition for the symbolic production of meaning takes place within the political arena, ideological positions often become diluted with compromises. Second, in democratic politics they will have to make alliances with other political groups and actors and forgo some of their pet ideas. When the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, which was the harbinger of Islamic revival in that country, joined the secularly oriented ruling party UMNO, it had to abandon several of its pet Islamic projects. During the 1980s, when the Islamic Tendency movement in Tunisia joined the main trade-union party, UGTT, the Human Rights League, the Socialist Democratic party, and even formed an alliance with the Popular Unity party and the communists, it had to forgo several of its Islamic demands. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood joined in the 1980s with the Wafd party, which is basically a secular liberal party. The Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan has a long history of forming alliances with other political groups from the center right to the extreme left and communist parties. The Jamaat-i-Islami in Bangladesh recently formed an alliance with its former enemy, the Awami League, the political party that calls for the hanging of the Jamaat's president. The Refah party of Necmettin Erbakan, which recently won 2 I percent of the votes in the Turkish elections, in all of its previous incarnations-the party’s name was the Milli Nizam party, then the New Order party, then the Milli Selamat-formed alliances with all major secular national parties. The reason they had to change names so many times is that, after every military coup, their party was declared illegal and the leaders were sent to prison. But it kept reviving under different names. In each of its reincarnations it was ready to work within the system.
The question is, what kinds of compromises have these Islamicists had to make in the process of gaining participation in a democratic polity? Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, for example, had to accept Ms. Fatimah Jinnah as the presidential candidate for an Islamic state. Remember, the founder of the party, Sayyid Maududi, had written in his earlier works that a woman cannot become the head of an Islamic state. But because of his joining with other political parties, he had to revise his stance. In 1988, the Jamaat-i-Islami accepted Benazir Bhutto as the head of an Islamic government. If not for the 20 votes of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Khalida Zia, a woman, would not have become the prime minister of Bangladesh. Refah and all its predecessors accepted Turkey's secular constitutional framework. And Necmettin Erbakan, who is not a new kid on the block, has promised that he will preserve the Turkish secular constitutional framework. The Nahdatul Ulama party in Indonesia even dropped the name of Islam from its platform and incorporated the secularly oriented five state principles known as Panscilla.
These examples clearly demonstrate that, once the Islamic groups are allowed to operate in a free, democratic process, they are willing to compromise. They are even willing to forgo some of their fundamental ideological requirements. Unfortunately, however, the Islamicists are in a Catch-22 position. If they reject democratic methods and adopt revolutionary paths for capturing power, u in Iran, they are immediately and naturally called rebels. and the entire coercive apparatus of the state is unleashed to suppress them. If, on the other hand, they accept and adopt the democratic process, participate in elections, and in some rare cases (Algeria 1992) win the elections, then they are accused of "hijacking'' democracy. Following the dictum of "nip the evil in the bud," they are suppressed all the same.
There is another Catch-22 for Islamicists: If they form tactical alliances with other political groups-as all politicians do-as they did in Tunisia, Pakistan, Bangladesh-then they are called opportunistic, power-hungry turncoats. If they do not do so and remain aloof from the rest of the political groups, then they are ideologically rigid, stubborn, unyielding and exclusionary.
Yet another Catch-22 for the Islamicists is that if they offer a comprehensive program for Islamic change, they are immediately dubbed as totalitarian, in that they want to control all aspects of social, economic and political life. On the other hand, I very well remember that immediately after the FIS was suppressed by the military crackdown in 1992 in Algeria, there were several commentators on American television who claimed that the FIS had no program. Their political program was very vague, very superficial. They had just a brief outline of what they are going to do in Algeria, which means that these parties are ill-equipped to deal with the problems of their societies.
It is often pointed out that the Islamicists' commitment to democracy is not genuine. Islamicists profess acceptance of democracy either to gain acceptance and legitimacy in the international arena or to gain some tactical benefits in domestic politics. I have two observations on this statement First, as Dankwart Rustow has stated, "A distasteful decision once made is likely to seem more palatable as one is forced to live with it." He gives two examples to illustrate this process, what he calls the "habituation" process of democracy. The first example he gives is from the Swedish Conservative party, which transformed itself from an antidemocratic movement in 1918 to a full-blown democratic movement in 1936. After two decades, those leaders who had grudgingly accepted democracy in the formative phase either retired or died and were replaced by a young generation of leaders of the Conservative party, who had a genuine commitment to democracy. Similarly, in Turkey, the present generation of politicians in the two major secular political parties understands democracy more fully and accepts it more wholeheartedly. But let us look at the founders of these political parties. What was the nature of their commitment to democracy? The founders of these parties accepted democracy because it was the need of the time.
So it appears that the very process of democracy institutes a process of Darwinian selectivity. And this selectivity is always in favor of convinced democrats. Even if we consider the profession of democracy by the present leadership of Islamicists as tactical or opportunistic, there is reason to believe that the very process of working within a democratic framework will transform this opportunistic commitment to a more substantive and effective commitment among the next generation of their leaders and supporters. I must also add here that even this habituation process cannot ensure an effective commitment to democracy on the part of Islamicists unless they see democracy as supporting their needs and offering them incentives and opportunities for political empowerment.
There is yet another political prerequisite to ensure the prospects for political Islam or any other political force to become a loyal opposition: an effective and meaningful decentralization of political authority and devolution of political power in Muslim societies. We do know that in a federal democratic system, one can easily avoid a zero sum game in which the winner takes all. In such a system, one can multiply winners; federal, state and local electoral democracy is a multistage voting process. So a party may Jose at the national level but win at the state or local level. At the national level, an Islamic party may play the role of a loyal opposition. But at the state or local level, simultaneously, the Islamic party may become the government, and the party in power at the national level may become the loyal opposition of the Islamic party at the state level.
Those who have been following political developments in Malaysia over the past two or three decades will testify to the interlocking relationship that has emerged between the ruling UMNO party at the national level and the Islamic party that has come to power in at least three states over the past 25 years. Recently, I visited the state of Kelantan, where the PAS has formed its government the second time around. The first time they won 99 percent of the state assembly seats. In fact, they had to make sure that at least there was one member in the state legislature who belonged to the opposition political party. Otherwise, there would be no fun. PAS has again come to power in Kelantan. The UMNO, which is a broad-based party that rules at the national level, acts as the loyal opposition at the state level. At the national level, OMNO is in power and the Islamic party (PAS) is acting as the loyal opposition.
In Pakistan during the mid-1970s, during the rule of the father of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, there were two provinces, Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan, both bordering Afghanistan, that had governments controlled by Islamic political parties. In Turkey, we know that the Refah party won elections in several important cities and towns, including the seat of the mayor of Istanbul. In all of these cases, it appears that Islamicists developed a stake in the system. They had the opportunity for subordinate-level power sharing. They developed a vested interest in the preservation of the democratic order that had given them the opportunity of coming into power. And they were quite seriously engaged in what American public administration calls IGR (intergovernmental relations): negotiating, compromising, bargaining and revenue sharing with the secular party in power at the national level.
I will not go into detail as to the ideological and theoretical positions of the various Islamic ideologues on democracy. We all know that the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, Sayyid Maududi, who has a tremendous influence on the ideological training of all Islamic movements, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to North Attica, was a great champion of democracy and democratic process. In fact, when the Muslim Brotherhood, in its early phase, was involved in clandestine activities, Maududi met the leaders and workers of the Muslim Brotherhood and advised them to abstain from indulging in violent activities. Maududi is categorical on this issue. He believed that any change brought about by revolutionary methods-assassinations, palace conspiracies, military coups-is not an Islamic change.
According to him, the means must be as ethical as the ends. Similarly, the head of the Al Nahda movement in Tunisia, Rashid Ghannoush is probably the most important champion of the pluralist kind of democracy. He goes so far as to say that an Islamic party cannot and should not by to force Islamic ideas down the throats of people: "Our job is to preach our message in a peaceful legal and democratic manner. If people accept our message and vote for us, good for I.JS and good for them. If they reject us, we will respect their choice."
An Islamic publication from England, Encounter, has reprinted in its recent issue an official statement by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt in which they have categorically accepted a pluralist political system, without reservation or qualification. They are saying not only that Islam approves of democracy, but that Islamic movements can survive and prosper only in a context that allows pluralist political groups to operate. In fact, I would argue that even if we believe that the commitment to democracy on the part of the Islamic movements is not substantive or effective but only instrumental, it should still be respected. Islamic movements have suffered most under military dictatorships, never under democratic conditions. It was because of the military coups in Turkey that three times the Refah party in previous incarnations was declared illegal, its leaders put in jail and tortured, and one leader condemned to death. It was under the military leadership of Suharto that the Islamic movement suffered most It was under martial law that the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan was sentenced to death-the sentence was later commuted to imprisonment It was also under the military leadership and martial-law rule of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in Pakistan that the Islamic political movement was banned. Only a democratic process allowed them to operate freely and take their chances in a competitive political struggle.
Democracy is thus viewed by Islamicists as a guarantee for their own survival. Therefore, they will be the first to stand up and champion the cause of democracy. It is only in free and democratically oriented political frameworks that they have been allowed to operate in Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan and Bangladesh but not in Egypt, Tunisia or Algeria We are, of course, not talking here about Iraq, Syria or Libya There is absolutely no way one can have a loyal opposition against Muammar Qadhafi or Saddam Hussein or Hafiz al-Asad.
I. WILLIAM ZARTMAN, Jacob Blaustein professor of International Organization and Conflict Resolution and director of African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
Can political Islam become a loyal opposition? It's a loaded question. If it becomes an opposition, will it be loyal to a political system? Dr. Ahmad has done well to focus the question first of all on the democratic nature of the regimes in which we are presupposing this opposition. The question also can be reversed. If Islamic movements become loyal, will they stay an opposition? We haven't asked the question, Can political Islam become a government party? We are stretching our tolerance by asking whether it can become an opposition. The question assumes that it will stay nicely in an opposition position if it gets there. Underlying this is a broader question that also has many aspects. What we are really asking is, Can political Islam become democratic? Can Islamist parties act as democratic parties?
Democracy is a broad and sometimes elusive topic. First of all, do we mean representative democracy? Is an Islamist party representative? Does it have some kind of popular support behind it? Is it nonviolent, since the basis of democracy is, after all, political competition, not violent competition? If an Islamic party enters into the political competition, will it avoid violence? Does it accept an alternation of power? That is, does it accept that if it becomes elected, it can be voted out of office-the negative verdict of democracy? My colleague suggested that, given a chance, Islamic parties are democratic. I think I quote correctly his saying that we can hope that if there are opportunistic leaders, they will be replaced by democratic leaders. Democratic politics can't rely simply on hopes of that kind. Is an Islamicist party in North Africa capable of accepting a negative verdict of democracy as well as a positive verdict?
Finally, a curious question that we don't always pose but we should in connection with this topic: Is an Islamicist party capable of being secular? Will it accept the judgment of the population as to who should rule rather than the judgment of divine inspiration? Again, my colleague said that this is a political and social question, not a theological question. But what makes the question problematic is that we are dealing at times with people who say that they are theological interpreters and that God has told them what the right way is. They are therefore acting in the name of God, according to divine directives. Therefore, democracy is heresy, as Ali Bel Hadj of Algeria has said.
The idea that an ignorant majority could vote for something other than the party of God is an unacceptable notion because it shows the apostasy, in fact, the weakness, the impious character of the population who would vote for the wrong representatives. We have also been told that some of the leaders - Maududi - have said that the end justifies the means. But if the end is to accept God's directive to come to power, then all the means towards that end are good.
We have to broaden our consideration of what is democratic much more than we do in talking about political parties in many established democracies. A Muslim country does not necessarily have Islamicist parties or parties of political Islam by the very fact that it is Muslim, any more than a Christian or Judeo-Christian country such as the United States has religious parties by the very fact that we have a particular religious heritage. Being Muslim doesn't mean that all parties in the country are therefore dedicated to political Islam.
To move on to the situation in North Africa, Morocco has a multiparty political system within a monarchy; that is, power is held by the king. But within that monarchy, there is political competition and there have been more or less free and fair elections at more or less regular intervals for more than 30 years. Morocco also has a tradition of folk Islam rising up from time to time behind local saints and preachers, and challenging the urban, established, indeed monarchial, position of Islam. Historically, when this challenge has become too severe to the religious-political establishment, it gets hit over the head. It often takes the form simply of a local saint But it disappears as a major political movement There is a tradition of dealing with Islamic challenges to the established order in Morocco, where there has long been a fundamentalist party. Istiqlal, the nationalist party, a party issued from the nationalist movement, was a party led by ulama, among others. with a very strong sociopolitical tradition. Morocco has long had an experience with movements of this kind. The king is the head of religious practice and is, in fact, descended from the prophet Most people believe this. The genealogical tree is not completely filled in, but it is a generally accepted myth/fact
In Morocco, therefore, as a result of all this, Islamic parties are not authorized to take part in elections. There are no Islamic parties. There are, however, a number of Islamic movements that are kept under various degrees of control, and perhaps curiously, in the company of the other states in the Muslim world, pose relatively little threat to the established political system. This does not mean that personal revival or Islamic feeling is any less present in Morocco than anywhere else. One finds young people in universities and out of school adopting the visible signs of a Muslim revival, or increasing references to Muslim aspects of their social life. But the political movement or movements, as is typical of Morocco, are under both benign and severe control, as the occasion might demand.
Whereas under the king in Morocco all is pluralist, Tunisia, as has already been suggested, has a unified Islamic movement. Although there is no king in Tunisia, it is a small country with a large city, and much of life is centralized. Hence there is a unified Islamic movement, also not recognized as a political actor. The Islamic movement in Tunisia, the Movement of the Islamic Way (MTI), appeared in the '70s and into the '80s as the only irrepressible expression of political opposition to the monolithic rule of President Bourguiba. So, despite its illegality, it had a legitimacy that came from the absence of political discussion in Tunisia The more it grew in this legitimacy and attracted people to its ranks, the more it was repressed by the Bourguiba regime. The more it was repressed, the more it turned to violence as a means of political ion.
After the arrival of President Ben Ali in 1987, the movement supported the regime change and looked to be recognized as a political actor. It was not, although the issue was debated in the Tunisian government for quite some time. Rather, it was put under increasing control and suppression. It split. Part of the movement was again expecting to be recognized as a legal actor and political party. It was not The repression continued. The movement earned out a number of excesses, which the Tunisian public found shocking. In both its political position and its use of violence. It has generally been not only controlled but also delegitimized within the current Tunisian society. Tunisia is trying to move along the way of democratization, and there is a small representation of secular opposition parties in its parliament The Nahda movement. the unrecognized Islamic movement, remains outside the system and relatively weak.
In Algiers, the situation is very different, although it had much the same origins. In Algeria, the only place where one could express political feelings and opposition under the FLN regime of Chadli Bendjadid, or even before that under Boumedienne at the end of the '70s and into the '80s, was in the mosques, particularly in the local informal mosques that people constructed in order to look for political as well as religious space. The Algerian regime showed its weakness in the riots of 1988, and in order to try desperately to broaden its base introduced a new constitution which allowed for political pluralism.
The Islamic movement, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), then was recognized by the government despite a constitutional ban on religious parties. The FIS was legal but unconstitutional. If we debate the democratic position of the FIS and continue an unending debate over the 1991 elections, we have to remember that democracy is also the rule of law, and that the FIS was in a very ambiguous position in regard to Algerian law. The FIS was long made up of two currents, a political current and a militant, violence-oriented one. Even before the cancellation of the elections of '91, which the FIS was on its way to winning, those two currents manifested themselves and struggled for leadership. Before the elections were cancelled, there were military actions, paramilitary actions, violent demonstrations, as well as political activities. We know what happened. The elections that were called in 1990 were won largely by the FIS on the municipal, decentralized level. Based on that position of power, the FIS then went on to gain a sizable vote in the beginning of the 1991 elections. After the cancellation, with the political way closed, the military wing then took over in the FIS.
Other organizations grew up-the Islamic Salvation Anny and the Islamic Armed Groups, which were outside of the control of the political wing. They gradually broke up into smaller groups, now sometimes even simply local bandit groups more or less operating in the name of Islam and subject to intense repression by the government Algeria's civil war has continued for a number of years. But a major change was brought out by a revolutionary event in the Arab world: the multicandidate presidential election of 1995-the only multicandidate presidential election that the Arab world has seen, in which the incumbent was elected in a relatively free and fair election that drew a relatively large participation. I think we can compare it to de Gaulle's election in 1958, an election of support by Algerian people who said, Get us out of this mess; we don't really care how. The leadership has not gotten Algeria much out of the mess. The repression and violence continue, although perhaps at a somewhat reduced level.
Algeria is struggling with the proposition of effectively opening its political system, not just to multiple candidates for presidential elections, but to a wide spectrum of multiparty participation. Currently, the regime is considering restoring its ban on political parties that bear an Islamic label, as in the example of the other two countries of North Africa. Can these movements become loyal oppositions if they are recognized as political parties? We have to first of all recognize that their position as loyal opposition depends on their recognition. And, of course, their recognition depends on one's presumptive answer to that question, Can they become loyal opposition parties? It is very unlikely that they would be recognized at all in Morocco, although a certain Islamic language can become a greater part of some parties' vocabulary. It was once, as I said, a debated issue whether the political parties-MTI or the Nahda-would be recognized in Tunisia One might hazard a guess that in Tunisia the movement has been so weakened that a renamed version probably could function as a loyal opposition. In Algeria, in the 1995 elections, the second largest number of votes went to the candidate of the Hamas, Sheikh Nahna, who stood for a party that claimed the role of a loyal opposition. If the proper changes in the name were made, Algeria could well see an Islamic party as part of its opposition.
The question becomes then not simply would an Islamic party be recognized, but what would keep an Islamic party in the position of loyal opposition. What would keep the moderate leadership moderate in an Islamic party? Here I think it is important to recognize that political Islam is a socioeconomic movement Political Islam is an answer, as we have seen, to a lack of welfare and well-being. alack of economic growth within the societies that we are looking at Political Islam is also a political movement, a response to the absence of open discussion and political activity, a refuge for people who cannot express themselves politically in any other way.
The political systems in all three countries have opened up to a large extent, so the political reasons for the formation of Islamic movements in North Africa have become less pressing. The way to keep the leadership of an Islamic party moderate is to remove from it the natural supporters of extremism among the unemployed, the people who come out of school without any future, the people who can't improve their life, find a job, and find housing from the current programs of the government. The way to keep a recognized Islamic party in loyal opposition is to remove the socioeconomic causes that provide it with supporters of extremism out of a desperate mass of poor people.
But, as I said, this is a loaded question, and it applies differently to different parts of the region. In North Africa, we are talking about the recognition of a party and its possibility of playing an opposition role. In Sudan, the question is the reverse, for the Islamic party is in charge of the government The question is rather, can it become and indeed become again, a loyal Islamic opposition party rather than a party that permits no loyal opposition within the country and represses people who do not follow its idea, not only of politics, but indeed of civilization. The National Islamic Front (NIF) was behind the military coup in 1989 that brought the military regime to power in Sudan. This regime has been waging war against its own people in the south, where a third of the population is not Muslim and refuses to live in a system that declares itself governed by Islamic law.
The regime also bans political activity by other parties. Sudan, as we know, has long had government and opposition parties based on Islamic sects and in some sense by Islamic political parties. So the question in Sudan is, How does one set up a political system that works by democratic rules, in which those who have known and exercised repressive power now accept to play a loyal democratic game? Contrary to what has been asserted sometimes-that if participation in politics were allowed, Islamicists would act as good democrats--1 would suggest that the Sudanese situation is much more difficult to resolve.
Can Islamic parties become loyal opposition parties in Northern Africa? A qualified yes, if the state is led by a force committed to respect for the rules of the game, democratic rules, whether that force be a king, an army or a judiciary (much more acceptable in our sense of values) that is committed to the respective constitutional principles. To simply open up the political system and then to expect a force that moves in to fill that vacuum to play by democratic rules in the absence of some counterforce as the source of accountability to democratic rules, is, I think, to be naive about politics. Yes, Islamic movements can become loyal opposition parties if the political wing is in control of the movements. That is, not only if those who believe in the political rules are running their party, but if they are strong enough in their control of their movement to be able to hold off those who would like to use them as front men and install nondemocratic rule in the name of a religious principle-Islam or whatever it may be. But here we are talking about Islam as the religious principle that bans democratic exercise. So, a qualified yes, in a tricky political world.
Q: Professor Ahmad, there are many observers in Turkey who agree that the military regime actually turned the other way and supported the development of Islamic politics as a counterbalance to the communists. If you look at the number of mosques built, the numbers just exploded. This runs somewhat contrary to what you have said - that during the military regimes, Islamic politics suffered the most.
DR. AHMAD: This does not necessarily contradict what I suggested earlier, that at the time of every military coup the Islamic party was declared illegal and deprived of participation in the political process, sometimes along with other parties and sometimes alone. There is some truth to what you have said. Several observers have noted that during the 1970s strife in Turkey between the extreme right and the extreme left, the military did encourage the moderate Islamic groups to merge into the political process in order to counter the communist threat However, it is very important to note that Ozbudun, a well-known Turkish political scientist, in a very interesting study gives full credit to the Islamic Refah party led by Erbakan, which stayed away from all kinds of political terrorism and violence during the late 1970s. In fact, during the 1970s, his was the only political party that kept the channels of communication open with all major political forces. While the two major political parties were not even on talking terms with each other, it was Erbakan who became an intermediary and played a very constructive role.
Refah has promised that it will not reopen the question of Turkish secularism. In fact, Erbakan has said that he will preserve the secular constitutional framework of the Turkish political system. And as you know, he cannot use the name of Islam in his political platform and manifesto. But the party only talks about national goals and moral ideals, the code name for Islam. Despite all of these precautionary measures, Erbakan knows very well, and I think everyone in Ankara knows, that Refah cannot come to power without a prior understanding and negotiations with the military establishment in Turkey. There has to be some understanding reached between the military and Refah about the nature of Turkey's relationship with the West, the nature of economic policies, Turkish policies toward the Middle East and, much more important, the integrity of the secular constitution and Turkish political system as they relate to Islam. These are the fundamental issues on which Refah and the military establishment will have to come to some consensus. Only then would the military establishment allow the Refah party to name the prime minister or form the cabinet or join a coalition government.
Some of the comments that I saw immediately after the Turkish election results were announced were to the effect that with Necmettin Erbakan and the Refah party winning 21 percent of the vote, a new Khomeini has emerged on the Islamic horizon. We tend to forget that, when we talk about Erbakan, we are talking about a team player, a man who has been an integral part of the Turkish political establishment for the last 35 years. He and his parties have been a part of almost all coalition governments or have been acting as loyal opposition during this 30-35- year period. He has been the deputy prime minister of Turkey. We are not talking about a Khomeini, who, previously an unknown figure in politics, suddenly lands in the capital city and conquers all.
Q: Professor Zartman, do you believe that there is anything inherent in political Islam that would make it more difficult to become a loyal opposition than say political Christianity as a loyal opposition in the United States, political Hinduism as a loyal opposition in India, political Judaism as a loyal opposition in Israel-or, for that matter, communism as a loyal opposition in France or Italy?
DR. ZARTMAN: Yes and no. Let me take the last part of your question first, because I think that when we ask about the democratic nature of a political/religious movement, we're reviving again the same kind of question that we faced of how to treat a communist party. That was a debate that went on for a long time. As long as communist parties in Italy after the great divide of '48 were able to rule a couple of cities but not pose more of a problem, that was fine. But if they threw a larger challenge to the political system-in which they might be elected by democratic means and then cancel democratic means of election thereafter-that raised legitimate problems to which there is no clear answer for democrats. Does a democracy allow holding suicide elections, in which the victor has declared beforehand that he will end democratic practice? I’m afraid that we have gotten off of that question-except for the '48 election in Italy-by not being challenged by the crucial event
Is political Islam any more dangerous than political Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism or whatever? It depends on what one means. If one means in a party in ....which people are inspired by religious values, I am all for it I wish people were more religious, and I think religion has a good deal to tell us about how we practice our politics. In that sense, Islam is no different If, however, we mean a political movement that has gotten the word by revelation straight from God as to how things should be run and considers anything that isn't that way an affront to divine order-and that is the m e that is carried by more political Islamic leaders than Jewish or Christian political leaders-then Islam is different But, when we talk about Islamic movements, there is nothing particularly Islamic about them. We are talking about religious movements of a particular type and the challenge they pose to a democratic system.
Q: If you were advising the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority on how to deal with political Islam, specifically with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, what would your advice be?
DR. AHMAD: The Israelis didn't ask for my advice when they were encouraging Hamas in order to counter the power and influence of the PW. Now, when the chickens are coming home to roost, they are asking for advice on how to deal with Hamas. I think they should look into their own old intelligence files on how they started encouraging the radical Islamic alternative in order to break the PW’s monopoly over Palestinian politics. This has been well documented by both Israeli and Palestinian authors.
There are several things that will soon emerge on the Israeli political scene. If the peace process that the Israelis have signed with the Palestinians goes smoothly and remains on schedule, then there is a strong likelihood that the radical Islamic alternative will be sidelined. If the Israelis reach some kind of agreement with the governments of Syria and Lebanon and leave southern Lebanon-to which the American media habitually refer as "Israel's security z.one"--a major cause of violence on Israel's northern borders will be eliminated.
I think these two developments would weaken the radical Islamic movement, and they would be effectively sidelined. Third, the recent summit on terrorism in the Middle East, which was attended by President Clinton, will also bring about greater cooperation among all the parties that have been adversely affected by the consequences of terrorist activities. This increasing cooperation at the governmental and intelligence levels will weaken or narrow down the area of operation of the radical and fringe groups within Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East Fourth, I think their financial sources are also being very closely monitored and are drying up. My feeling is that 10 or 15 years from now the Israelis will be talking with the leaders of Hamas the way they are talking today with Yasser Arafat, who until recently was considered a terrorist.
DR. ZARTMAN: The best way to deal with Hamas is to undercut its appeals, at least the legitimate parts of its appeals, by not only keeping the peace process going, but also by making sure that within the results of the peace process the Palestinian entity arrives not only at a sound political position, but at a sound economic position and can provide employment and benefits for the needs of its population, particularly its young population.
Q: I am from the Egyptian embassy. One thing I strongly agree with is that these movements champion democracy and view democracy as essential for their survival--but, of course, only until they come to power, as Professor Zartman said. Once they do that, the litmus test is whether they will allow the opposition to function. The two cases of Iran and Sudan have demonstrated that they have oppressed the opposition.
Second, in the case of Egypt, we might not have a Westminster democracy, but I think that the government has begun a strong democratic process that allows free and fair elections, multiparty systems, freedom of the press. And I think that the opening up of the political system has allowed these movements to express themselves in ways that they could not have if the system were closed.
Third, you said that they are willing to operate within the legal system. Obviously they have not done that because in Egypt we have banned religious parties, and they do not operate there.
Finally, it is important to look at the problem of violence and to address it not only by police measures but, as Professor Zartman said, by socioeconomic measures. We are confident in Egypt that with the economic reform process this problem of extremism will gradually disappear, and the process of democracy will be further entrenched.
DR. AHMAD: I hope that your predictions come true and that Egypt is able to solve its problems. Egypt, like Algeria, is a demographic bomb, and there are several economic and social issues that have allowed Islamic movements to become more popular and influential. However, I do not agree with your assessment of the Egyptian political situation. It appears that President Mubarak has lumped together the radical, clandestine, militant, violence-prone Islamic groups with the moderate Muslim Brotherhood. As you know-it was reported in The New York Tunes and recorded by Amnesty International-hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested just before the elections. Many of them were in their 70s and 80s. When they were tried, none of them was accused of being involved in any violent activities. More than 50 of them were given prison sentences from three to five years. It is true that the people who were executed all belonged to clandestine Islamic groups, but they were executed by the order of the military courts, which allow no appeal.
Then a new press law has been issued in Egypt. All human-rights organizations, including international organizations, have condemned it as repressive. Let me also remind the audience that long before Salman Rushdie was issued a death edict by Ayatollah Khomeini for writing a book, Sayid Qutb was hanged in Egypt for writing a book. He was not accused of actually being involved in any violent activity himself. In fact, he was in jail when he wrote the book. He was charged with promoting ideas that were considered subversive to the Egyptian political system. Unfortunately, at that time, nobody championed his cause or defended his right of freedom of thought and expression.
I do not compare Egypt with Syria or Iraq; Egypt is still an open society. And I have great respect for the Egyptian people's struggle for freedom and democracy. Egypt is the intellectual leader of the Arab world; people look toward Egypt. But what is happening recently in Egypt is not the opening up of the system or democratization. When we say to the Islamicists that we will not let you participate in elections because we suspect that, if you win the elections, that will be the last election and you will dismantle the democratic apparatus, it's a very odd statement It presupposes that there is already democracy in Egypt, Algeria or Tunisia and that the Islamic movements, if they come into power, will subvert these flourishing democracies. What is the alternative? The alternative to Islamicists coming to power is military dictatorship or an authoritarian, one party system that we see in several Middle Eastern societies. So I don't think that one can justify denying the Islamicists who have won elections from coming into power only because they might turn out to be dictators, while dictators are already in power in several Muslim societies.
Q: I am from the USIA. I wonder if the United States has not at times misunderstood the lack of democratic bent of some of these groups. Are we assuming that anything with the word Islamic in it is reactionary?
DR. AHMAD: Not all Islamic movements are fundamentalist; not all fundamentalists are political; and not all fundamentalist political movements are violence-prone. I was in Dhaka in January last year when the Tablighi Jamaat held a convention near there. More than one million Muslims gathered at that conclave, the second largest after the Hajj. Similarly, last year there was another congregation of this group near Lahore, Pakistan. More than 1.5 million Muslims attended from all over the world. This is Islamic revival. These are people who are totally nonpolitical. They are trying to reawaken Islamic consciousness as a personal virtue. Thus, there are various kinds of Islamic movements that are becoming important actors in Muslim societies.
DR. ZARTMAN: Your question suggests that it is necessary to repeat again that there is a vast array of opinion and political positions among groups that are made up of Muslims, or even that use the word Islam in their name. We are well advised to look at what they say about themselves as we deal with them. Let me just throw in one more point Dr. Ahmad said that we express concern about Islamic movements that might come to power merely because we suspect they might adopt an antidemocratic position. I think it is important in politics to listen to what people say and take them initially at their face value. I quoted Ali Benhadj, and Abassi Madani in Algeria as well said that after the elections they would let any party test the elections--any party which follows ''the Way." That Way restricts seriously the kind of open political system that is being promised. When we are told that political competition will be limited, I think that is prima facie evidence of something.
Q: I am a Turkish journalist We know the Turkish Islamic Party, Refah, has outside financial sources in Iran and Saudi Arabia. What is Saudi Arabia's purpose in pushing Islamic groups against Turkey and the secular government?
DR. AHMAD: I am not aware of the external financial resource base of the Refah party. But if they are actually getting money both from Iran and Saudi Arabia at the same time, they must be very smart In Afghanistan, when some Islamic groups tried to do that, they were not successful. The Saudis said that if you are also getting money from Iran, don't expect any support from us. In the case of Turkey, obviously, the Saudis' interest has been to have the Turkish government take more interest in Middle Eastern developments, especially in view of the fact that Turkey has common borders with Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia has strategic interests in Turkey, not necessarily ideological interests. There were stories that when the five Central Asian Muslim states became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran were competing to win the hearts and minds of these newly liberated Muslims.
As you know, Necmettin Erbakan has been a member of the Saudi-sponsored Rabita Alam-i-Islami for a very long time. He had a close personal relationship with King Faisal. But right now, I do not know of any relationships between his party and the Saudi authorities. The Iranian government has never had any sympathy for Erbakan.
Q: I am from the embassy of Tunisia You said that Rashid Ghannoushi, the head of Nahda in Tunisia, is a champion of moderation. But Ghannoushi was planning assassinations and violence in the country and against its symbols. I think moderation is in contradiction to these actions. The government has allowed this movement to participate since the change of government in Tunisia in 1987, to participate in political life, and to sign the National Pact, which is a kind of act that organized political life. But after that, this movement turned to violence. Every day there were strikes and violent acts. Without the Nahda now, we are one of the most secure and peaceful countries in the region and in Africa.
DR AHMAD: I don't want to belittle what you have said. But as we all know, your statement here is the official position of a spokesman for the Tunisian government It was your duty to say so, and you put the point across very well. However, Amnesty International’s recent report indicates that there are 35,000 people in jail without trial. But I would defer to Professor Zartman because he knows much more about Tunisia than I do.
DR ZARTMAN: One minor correction: Neither the Nahda nor the MTI signed the national pact There was an independent spokesman, Bhiri, who was known to be close to the movement, who signed the national pact Neither movement could have signed the national pact at the time because it was not recognized by the Tunisian government.