Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Brotherhood's fiasco in Egypt will change future of Islamism

After the dismissal of Mohammed Morsi, the future of political Islamism across the region is now not at all clear.

With the removal of the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamism in general, is undoubtedly at a turning point. The question is typically being cast as a binary: is this "the beginning of the end" or "the end of the beginning" for the Islamist movement? Even if, in the final analysis, this proves a misleading question, it nonetheless articulates a precise and instructive framework for what is at stake.

Many observers have no doubt that this is the beginning of the end of the Islamist movement, at least as it has been traditionally structured and as a dominant ideology in the Arab states. According to these observers, if the oldest Muslim Brotherhood party cannot maintain popular legitimacy in Egypt after only one year in office, then the ideology itself simply isn't a practicable model for governance anywhere.

Sunni Islamists will invariably fail in power because Islam is a religion and not an actual political ideology. Islamism doesn't have the intellectual heft, breadth or depth to suggest any answers to most policy questions. It essentially boils down to a set of religiously conservative social attitudes. It only takes a short while in office to reveal that.

Moreover, the very qualities that made the Brotherhood so effective as an opposition group - secrecy, discipline, streamlined hierarchy and a paranoid suspicion of all outsiders - proved crippling in office. They never made and, this argument holds, can never make the transition from an oppositional party and secret society to an open, effective and governing movement capable of consultation, conciliation and compromise. Mr Morsi's downfall therefore marks the beginning of the end of a project that was never actually realisable.

Others retort that this perspective ignores the undeniable depth, strength and resilience of the Brotherhood. This is a heavy blow and setback but, they suggest, it represents the end of the beginning for the region's Islamists. Islamists have learnt from the previous mistakes and will again following Mr Morsi's downfall. The group remains well positioned for any future elections, because of both their strong constituency and the continuing fragmentation of their electoral opposition.

It's not surprising that the Brotherhood would experience hiccups during their first time in office but they are not going to go away. Instead, they will regroup and return strongly to the fray, possibly more powerful and effective. And, the argument continues, both Egyptian and regional Islamists have already proven capable of learning lessons and adapting.

There's an element of truth to both positions. Political Islam is never going to go away in Muslim-majority societies. The only questions are: what will it look like, and how effective and popular will it be? But the failure of Egypt's Brotherhood to maintain popular legitimacy and power bodes ill for the future of traditional Sunni Arab Islamism and the prospects of producing effective, legitimate governance.

The most likely long-term effect of this Islamist crisis is a gradually, perhaps rapidly, developing split within the movement between those who stick to traditional approaches and a latent - or, as sociologist Asef Bayat would argue, already emerging - post-Islamist trend. There is significant evidence that such an ideological split is already underway, mere days after Mr Morsi's downfall, given open disputes among Islamists throughout the region about the extent to which the Brotherhood, at least partly, brought this upon itself.

An emergent post-Islamist orientation would retain the essential Islamist trait of reclaiming the centrality of Muslim identity. But it would no longer misread Islam as a political ideology. It would not look for policy prescriptions in faith and apply "Islam has the answers" to the detailed, technical problems of governance. Instead, this emerging or potential post-Islamist trend returns Islam to the realm of identity and values, rather than law and policy.

Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the Libyan National Forces Alliance, which thrashed Islamists in the party section of the Libyan legislative election, might be seen as an exemplar of where a post-Islamist political stance might situate itself vis--vis religion and society. Mr Jibril never allowed Islamists to outbid him on Muslim piety, insisting he was as devout and observant as anyone else. But he argued he was more patriotic than the Islamists, who were aligned with both a regional movement that does not put Libya first, and foreign powers, specifically Qatar. And he strongly made the case that Islam was too holy to be sullied with the profane world of politics. If the Libyan election was any indication, this hybrid, experimental and perhaps prototypically post-Islamist stance resonated strongly with the public.

However, such new trends might - at least initially and especially if they primarily emerge out of the existing Islamist movements - retain a greater emphasis on social conservatism than Mr Jibril's non-Islamist or post-Islamist rhetoric.

It remains to be seen how viable a hybrid of Islamic identity with nationalist sentiments and social justice concerns, and a due regard for the rights of individuals, women and minorities can be in the present Arab political environment. And it's not clear how unified or coherent such a movement would prove. But the potential appeal of a post-Islamist brand of politics in the Arab world seems clear.

If Mr Morsi's downfall marks the beginning of the end for traditional Islamism as a failed experiment, even by forcing its own adherents to learn and adapt, then much of the Arab political space it has occupied may give way to precisely such a post-Islamist movement.

Hussein Ibish isa senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a columnist for Now Media and blogs atwww.ibishblog.com

On Twitter: @Ibishblog

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 The Retreat at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa will screen IPL games on request. Lee Hoagland / The National

Top five places to catch an IPL game in the UAE

Enjoy all the 20/20 cricket action at a sports lounge near you – whether in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Dubai

This April 17 don’t take our word, we’ll take yours

Have a catchy caption for our picture above? Share it with us.

 Fans braved long queues and early morning hassles to buy IPL tickets in person rather than buy them online, such has been the enthusiasm for the tournament. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Love it, hate it but IPL is too big to be ignored

The tournament steamrolls its way through life perennially from the throes of extinction to the prospect of expansion; alive one moment through its on-field spectacle, dying the next because of another off-field wrangle.

 An employee plays the game Flappy Bird at a smartphone store in Hanoi. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP

How Flappy Bird made app developer $50,000 a day

The game propelled the unknown Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen to rock-star status.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world today

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National