November 10, 2011


The Islamists Are Coming: But democracy and piety aren't always contradictions. (ROBIN WRIGHT | NOVEMBER 7, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Political Islam is today defined by an increasingly wide spectrum. And no one vision dominates. Indeed, the Islamists' diversity -- when the strictly observant believe in only one true path to God -- is unprecedented.

The nonviolent parties fall in three main pivots on the spectrum. At one end, the Justice and Development parties (of the same name) in Turkey and Morocco reject the Islamist label -- and recognize Israel's right to exist, a barometer of coexistence or pluralism in practice. Tunisia's al-Nahda has the potential to be a model if it follows through in forming a coalition with two secular parties and honoring women's rights.

When I met with Ghannouchi, he spoke at length about aqlanah, which translates as "realism" or "logical reasoning." Aqlanah, he told me, is dynamic and constantly evolving -- and Muslims needed to better balance sacred texts and human realities.

In the middle of the spectrum are groups like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has sired 86 branches across the Islamic world since the 1920s and renounced violence in the 1970s. It had 88 members of parliament during Hosni Mubarak's last government. Its positions on women and Coptic Christians in politics and Israel as a neighbor are archaic; so is the undemocratic selection of its own leadership. But those policies have also alienated its own members.

The factors that generated the uprisings -- the young bulge, literacy, and the tools of technology -- have spawned diverse ways of thinking among younger Islamists, too. Ibrahim Houdaiby's grandfather and great-grandfather were both supreme leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. He became its best-known blogger in 2005. But Ibrahim also advocated pragmatism, internal democracy, less secrecy, religious tolerance, and women's rights.

"I had lots of debates with my grandfather," he told me. "One was over which comes first: freedom or sharia. My grandfather said sharia leads to freedom. My argument came from the Quran, which says, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion.' I said freedom comes first." Ibrahim eventually resigned from the Brotherhood over practical political differences.

Posted by at November 10, 2011 6:19 AM

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