The Muslim world has now witnessed several instances of a former dictator being exiled under threat of prosecution or actually being forced to appear in court to face charges arising from illegal actions performed while dictator. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has fled to Jedda, in Saudi Arabia. Sayf al-Din Gaddafi is awaiting trial in Libya. Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa are facing trials in Egypt. This kind of outcome is rare. No one from the old Apartheid regime in South Africa was ever tried, despite their brutality, though they sometimes had to confess their crimes in order to avoid being prosecuted. But that former dictators are being replaced by parliamentary elections, and are mostly facing the music in a court of law, is a sea change in the politics of the Arab and Muslim worlds.
It is so odd that Musharraf went back to Pakistan, where he would have been impeached by parliament had he tried to stay in office in August of 2008 after he had been forced into relatively free and fair parliamentary elections. Musharraf had high-handedly dismissed the supreme court justice Iftikhar Chaudhury in 2007, and then dismissed the whole supreme court later that year because they stood in the way of his becoming a civilian president (the Pakistani constitution says that the president must have been a civilian for two years before assuming office, and Musharraf wanted to go straight from his uniform to a presidency for life). I treated the Musharraf years and his ouster by thousands of angry protesters in my book, Engaging the Muslim World. Dick Cheney was Musharraf’s biggest backer.
Musharraf had been army chief of staff and made a coup against the then elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose Muslim League may well win the coming election. Given the reestablishment of the power of the Sharif family in Punjab, it just seems weird that Musharraf thought he’d be able to just to come back and run for office as if nothing had happened.
Musharraf has been barred by the courts and election officials from running for president, and several serious charges have been brought against him. Where will his case be decided? Ultimately, before the Supreme Court, by Iftikhar Chaudhury and his colleagues, whom Musharraf had tried to dismiss summarily. I saw this coming as soon as he announced his return. Why didn’t he? Was he given assurances by someone high in the Pakistani government, who then reneged on them?
Musharraf had by fiat jailed or exiled large numbers of people, including human rights activist and feminist Asma Jahangir, so he is now getting a taste of his own medicine.
In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has been sent back to Tora Prison as he prepares to face new charges in a retrial for his past crimes.
One can argue about how democratic are the governments that replaced the dictators. Pakistan has been plagued by corruption and poor governance, and a seeming inability or unwillingness to get a handle on the security problem. But its civilian government, elected in 2008, served out a full 5-year term for the first time in Pakistani history. The Pakistani judiciary has emerged since 2007 as one of the more upright of the country’s institutions, and is clearly promoting a rule of law. Moreover in Pakistan, unlike in Egypt, the forces of political Islam did not come to power after the overthrow. Political Islam parties such as the Jama’at-i Islami typically get only 3 or 4 percent of the vote, and their biggest tallies have been no more than 15%. While Taliban bombings and other forms of insecurity plague the country and especially harm Shiites, Christians, Ahmadis and Sufis, the government is gradually fighting back against the far-right Muslim vigilantes.
Former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was brought to a courtroom on Saturday for the beginning of his retrial on charges of ordering hundreds of peaceful demonstrators killed in January and February 2011 during the revolution against him.
The trial was abruptly postponed, however, when Judge Mustafa Hasan Abdullah recused himself. He had been involved in previous trials of Mubarak-era officials and is viewed with suspicion by much of the public as overly tied to the old regime.
Only small crowds had gathered outside the courtroom, and there seems to be little interest any longer in Mubarak, as Egypt has moved on to other problems– a faltering economy, the rise of the Religious Right, and continued youth and worker activism. Egyptians used to be arrested for criticizing Mubarak, and were sometimes tortured or given long jail sentences. Now, he is a minor side show.
The selection of the new pope was carried out by a conclave of elderly men, and the only candidates were men. The new pope is a staunch social conservative who opposes women’s ordination as priests and women’s right to control their own bodies and limit family size, key issues for women’s health and well-being. It is no wonder that the church hierarchy is so tone deaf on women’s issues, since its highest counsels are all-male.
1. Women’s right to reject marital rape
2. equal inheritance rights for women
3. equality of men and women within the family
4. allowing women the choice of mate (implying that Muslim women could marry non-Muslim men), abolition of polygamy and dowry
5. Depriving men of the right of unilateral divorce and giving discretion to judges as to whether to grant a divorce; equal sharing of communal property after divorce.
6. Removal of restrictions on women’s travel and work that depend on permission of their male guardian
7. Right of a woman to marry another woman.
8. legalization of abortion and provision of free contraception
9. equal rights for illegitimate children with legitimate ones, and civil rights for adulterous wives
10. Equal rights for gays
While the religious forces in Italy, Egypt and Russia may have differed somewhat on which of the draft principles they most opposed, all three underlined that they are partriarchies and that patriarchy as a form of government is alive and well and maybe even strengthening in much of the world.
The Brotherhood’s reading of Islamic law is mindless fundamentalism and literalism, often involving an ignorance of medieval Muslim beliefs and practices (in the area of abortion, e.g., or toleration of forms of homosociality).
Like the new pope, the Brotherhood considers gay rights an abomination. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis said of Argentina’s gay marriage law, “”Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Egypt’s National Council for Women rejected the Brotherhood statement and insisted that full rights for women is, too, compatible with Islam.
Some two thousand angry youth in Port Said attempted to block ferries and sent speedboats into the canal zone, aiming at disrupting shipping in the Suez Canal on Saturday (they failed), while in Cairo soccer ruffians angry about a court verdict set fire to the HQ of the Egyptian Soccer Federation and to a nearby police club. The new round of violence was sparked by an appeals court ruling on soccer violence from a year ago, but was wrought up with post-revolutionary passions and divisions in Egypt.
Since these events were predictable, President Muhammad Morsi’s inability to prevent the violence was seen by many observers as a sign of his weakness and lack of organization. Policing in Egypt is in crisis because many police feel unfairly treated in post-revolution Egypt, saying they are blamed for trying to keep order, and many decline any longer to do so, staying in their barracks on a kind of work slowdown. Many of these police spent years repressing the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now come to power, and so don’t have good relations with their own president.
In February of 2012, a massive soccer riot broke out at the Port Said stadium, in which more than 70 people were killed in a stampede. The ultras or soccer ruffians of the visiting al-Ahly team were known as stalwarts of the 2011 revolution against the Hosni Mubarak regime. (Soccer ruffians are always having run-ins with the police and security officials, and therefore formed a natural ally of the revolutionaries, often organizing to guard Tahrir Square.) The suspicion was that Port Said officials and the Ministry of the Interior, tied to the old regime, had paid the Green Eagle ultras who support Port Said’s al-Masri team to attack the al-Ahly fans who had come from Cairo, as a form of payback for the revolution. In essence, the Green Eagles were charged with playing the reactionary role in the Egyptian Revolution of Benedict Arnold in the American, or of the Vendee in the French.
I had personally suspected that the theory of the soccer ruffians provoking the riot and stampede as revenge on the al-Ahly ultras for the revolution was a conspiracy theory. But the Egyptian courts took it seriously. This winter, the court sentenced many of the over 70 accused Green Eagle ultras to death, and also found some security officials guilty.
In the appeals verdict that came down on Saturday, however, the police were largely let off the hook (only 2 of 9 accused were sentenced), while 21 of the death sentences were reaffirmed and 28 other accused soccer ruffians were acquitted. The result pleased no one. Port Said, which has been in virtual rebellion since the initial verdict, saw more protests at the port on the canal, as the army moved in to provide security and the police in the city were virtually decommissioned because of charges of systematic brutality against demonstrators.
Egypt Independent has a smart run-down of how the various Egyptian newspapers and political tendencies are covering the fires and violence.
“the opposition says it is withdrawing from parliamentary elections scheduled for April…
The Brotherhood government under Morsi has not placated Egypt’s powerful working class, which has seen its wages decline. The demonstrations that have roiled Port Said, a Suez Canal city of 600,000, for the past month are rooted in part in discontent among longshoremen and other workers. These disgruntled laborers are organized, agitated and disillusioned with the Brotherhood, which tends to favor private business. The workers are therefore a voting constituency in search of a party. If the labor-left politicians stay home, so will the workers, and the Brotherhood will win. The same can be said for other vital constituencies, including students and youth, women and the Coptic Christians (the latter are some 10 percent of the population).
The opposition has shown that it is very good, on occasion, at holding large rallies. The crowds have forced Morsi to back off some of his controversial decrees, but only some of them. Ultimately, demonstrating is not a policymaking tool, certainly not in an environment in which regular elections are being held. The same energy and skills necessary to mobilize people to camp out in tents in city squares must now be turned to getting out the vote for parties and candidates that will take the side of the people, of students, workers, women, minorities and liberal Muslims, in the country’s evolving politics. Throwing in the towel now will simply hand Egypt to the Brotherhood and the Salafis, guaranteeing a continued turn to the right in legislation and ongoing political polarization and instability.”
Saturday, there were massive protests throughout Portugal against Scrooge policies by the government, which have so destroyed the country’s economy that 2% of the population has fled abroad for jobs in the past 2 years alone. On Friday, Greek workers staged a huge general strike. In Italy, anti-austerity feeling made grumpy comedian Beppe Grillo and his party the swing vote in the new parliament. Grillo may single-handedly destroy the Euro zone. European newspapers rather amusingly demanded that Grillo now ‘take responsibility’ and ‘tell us what he wants.’ He is a contrarian comedian. It would be like having Robin Williams or Tracy Morgan as the swing vote in Congress, with the press hounding them for their agricultural policy and asking them about the dangers of deflation. But Grillo’s ascendancy, while less alarming than the resurgence of the Greek far Right, is a manifestation of the rejection by the Italian public of the long dreary road prescribed by the ‘troika,’ (The International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the Central Bank), of further government cut-backs, reductions in minimum wage, high unemployment, no hope.
Reducing the state budget at a time of economic contraction is the opposite of what the great economist John Maynard Keynes prescribed. When the economy is in the doldrums, the businesses are skittish about investing their money, and so keep it in the bank. The only force, Keynes argued, that can and will risk putting a lot of money into the economy during a deep recession is the government. Of course, the government has less money at that point, too, since tax receipts are reduced. So it will simply have to spend money it doesn’t technically have, i.e. go into deficit and print extra paper money. The extra paper will, obviously, lose some of its value. But that loss can have benefits, too, since it will make the goods produced by the country less expensive abroad, and spur exports.
This argument is straightforward for most countries, and it is mysterious why European and some Middle Eastern governments reject it. It is complicated in the US by the position of the dollar as a reserve currency and by the fall of manufacturing to only 20% of the US economy. The former means that large budget deficits don’t necessarily reduce the dollar’s value significantly, because the US only holds about a third of the world’s dollars and there is a lot of confidence in its value. The latter means that even when the dollar falls against the yen or euro, the jump in exports is limited to a fifth of the economy and domestic services don’t get much of a boost. But actually these peculiarities of the US economy are not arguments for austerity; on the contrary, the reserve dollar allows the US to do stimulus without as much pain as one would otherwise expect.
Instead, the Tea Party has forced the US into an artificial crisis with the ‘sequester,’ taking $100 bn. a year out of the economy for the next ten years, which will cut half a point of economic growth and harm workers, keeping unemployment high– not to mention the harm it likely will do to medical research, higher education, etc. That this austerity is being pursued by the GOP in part in hopes of disillusioning voters with President Obama in his second term is fairly obvious, but it is also in order to protect the 2003 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, 80% of which have been retained. Sequester, as usual with these things in the US, is actually a tax on the middle classes to benefit the wealthy, since it preserves undeserved tax cuts for the latter by reducing government services for the former.
That austerity does not work economically should be clear. But that it creates populist discontents that are shaking southern Europe and could derail Middle East democratization is even more alarming. The world needs stimulus, not Scrooge government if it is to pull out of the crisis kicked off by corrupt bankers in 2008.
The headlines this week were full of stories from the Muslim world about Muslims attacking the Muslim religious Right, whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Jama’at-i Islami in Bangladesh. The rise of the religious Right in politics is producing a backlash throughout the region. Part of the backlash comes from secularists of Muslim heritage. But a significant part of it comes from believing Muslims, who oppose the sectarian and authoritarian approach of the religious Right parties, or who are uncomfortable with some of their stances toward longstanding Muslim religious practices, such as spiritual visits to the shrines of Muslim saints (a practice condemned by Wahhabism, Salafism, Talibanism, and other religious-right currents).
Nationalism plays a role in Muslim “anti-Islamism,” since many on the religious Right in the Muslim world have pan-Muslim concerns.
Thus, the Jama’at-i Islami in Bangladesh opposed the 1971 secession of that country from Pakistan. In that bloody struggle, Pakistani troops committed atrocities and some Jama’at leaders were accused of aiding them. A vital youth movement of critics of the Jama’at has been demonstrating for months demanding trials for those accused. The sentencing this week of leading Jama’at figure Delwar Hossein Seyedee for his role in 1971 atrocities satisfied the critics of the Muslim religious Right in that country, but provoked Jama’at riots that left dozens dead.
In Egypt in the past few months we have seen Muslim crowds attack and sometimes burn provincial headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not clear who exactly is behind these acts, but that they are of Muslim heritage is certain.
The Jama’at-i Islami in Pakistan still suffers reputationally for having allied with coup-maker Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1970s and 1980s, and Tahir al-Qadri’s Sufi-based Mizan ul-Qur’an is attempting to supplant it. (He has reinvented himself as a relative liberal, condemning violence and terrorism of the al-Qaeda/ Taliban sort, while the Jama’at, though not itself for the most part violent, has been reluctant forthrightly to condemn these tendencies). Many Pakistanis vote for parties opposed to the religious Right. The Urdu-speakers of Karachi support the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is secular-minded. Most Pakistani Pushtuns voted for the National Awami Party, a party of Pushtun sub-nationalism that opposes the Taliban and the religious Right.
I don’t like the term “Islamism,” which was promoted by French scholars in preference to the American “Muslim fundamentalism,” since they thought the latter too Protestant in inspiration (it has no exact counterpart in French, where “integrisme” is sometimes used by analogy from ultramontane, hard line Catholicism). I think “Muslim fundamentalism” is better because, as the Chicago University project on fundamentalisms showed, it allows us to see the phenomenon in the context of similar movements in other religions. Moreover, I think the term is confusing because it is too close to “Islam” per se, and I don’t agree with figures such as Gilles Keppel who see the “Islamists” as unusually “pious,” implying that they are the real Muslims. Secular-minded Muslims who are nevertheless believers, and Sufi mystics, are also “pious,” and I don’t think social scientists should be deciding who is a better Muslim.
“Political Islam” has been proposed as an alternative, but if it implies the fundamentalist groups, it is also inadequate. In Egypt the Wasat [Center] Party and now Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Fotouh’s Strong Egypt are a form of relatively liberal political Islam to the left of Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Sufis are entering politics (many in Egypt supported Wasat).
That is why I suggest the usage, “Muslim religious Right” for righting, fundamentalist religion in politics. It seems to me to fit the major such movements, such as the Jama’at-i Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, and it allows us to put religious politics in the Muslim world on a spectrum– from secular, to religious but liberal or progressive, to traditionalist (Sufis), to, well, the religious Right. We see the same spectrum in the US, with secular (many Unitarians), religious but liberal (the National Council of Churches), traditionalist (many Catholics, Lutherans) to the religious Right (2/3s of evangelicals, many Pentecostalists, etc.). In the US, the groups on the left of the spectrum vote for the Democratic Party on the whole, whereas those on the right tend to vote for the Republican Party. In Egypt, the groups on the left support the National Salvation Front coalition, whereas those on the right support the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) or Nur (Salafi).
Secularism, forms of ethnic nationalism, tribalism, and the religious Left and Center all serve as countervailing forces to the religious Right parties in the Muslim world, the politics of which is becoming more polarized along these lines. But the resulting struggles look familiar if compared to those in the most religious of the industrialized democracies, the United States.