x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

How extremists are damaging Islam

Dr Khalifa Ali Al Suwaidi notes that extremists have taken away the core value of tolerance. Other topics in the Arabic-language media: constitutions and the Egyptian presidency.

In its most straightforward sense, extremism means moving away from the middle, and this in itself is one of the paramount predicaments that plague so many Arab nations, said Dr Khalifa Ali Al Suwaidi in an opinion article for the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad.

Extremism in the Arab world didn’t come out of the blue. Many factors and actors, mainly religious groups and totalitarian regimes, have come together to shape it, he added.

Moderation is instinctive and intrinsic to human beings. The shift from instinctive moderation to unnatural extremism is inculcated and impressed in people by education and practice.

The writer went on to describe practices among religious communities and certain Arab systems that have contributed to the proliferation of radical mindsets.

“The extremist way of thinking is built around a rejection of other ways of thinking or of the possibility of multiple aspects to one issue. Although the concept is present in the essence of Islam and was characteristic and representative of the ancient Islamic civilisations, effective implementation has derailed Islam away from its core value of tolerance,” the writer suggested.

Islam declares people’s right to choose their religion. “Religion can’t be compulsory,” says the Quran. This freedom of expression and thought is one of the essential pillars for building a civilisation.

“Generations living under Islamist rule grow up to respect and abide by a single opinion, that of the supreme leader or the emir. Anyone who dares to break away from general obedience is shunned and excluded from the group,” Al Suwaidi added.

The same is applicable for some Arab partisan regimes where a single, everlasting party monopolises all aspects of thought and creed, never to be doubted. Audacity to question it warrants you accusations of treason and the most severe of legal or non-judicial sanctions.

Approaching people on a presumption that they are mindless and know only what they are taught is another one of those practices conducive to extremism. People are robbed of the right to seek out knowledge and practice the kind of logical, critical thought that has contributed immensely to enriching the human story throughout ages.

In the age of accessible news and multiple perspectives, some Arab states continue to adopt a “dumb media” policy that speaks to presumed simpletons rather than intelligent human beings.

“This too has widened the gap between citizens and their rulers and pushed them to forsake the middle and migrate to one extreme of the other,” he explained. “Governments that treat their peoples as idiots sentence themselves to extinction.”

No matter how enlightened, mindsets are generally fixed in time and place, they don’t necessarily fit every time and place.

Why El Sisi is the right president for Egypt

All indicators lead us to believe that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi will run in the presidential elections in Egypt. Most indicators say he will win, and some say that this will not satisfy some internal and ­external parties.

The majority of Egyptians see Field Marshal Sisi as the best option, labelling him as a strong and loyal saviour of the people. “These qualities alone make him a popular leader like the legendary great leaders who ruled through symbolism rather than actual achievements,” wrote Abdullah Al Otaibi, a columnist in pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Field Marshal El Sisi’s strength is not only linked to his personality or to the public’s admiration. A third factor of high importance will surely impact any future presidency. It may be a positive factor, but it may also negatively effect his plans for democratisation. It is: how will he solve the dilemma linking the military council and the presidency?

He cannot ask the army to return to its trenches in daily political declarations, nor can he easily ignore the constitution.

“I believe Egypt’s next president will submit to a political and economic ‘Army Republic’,” the writer said. “He will parallelly have to work on dismantling the link between the Egyptian army and both internal and foreign politics ... The president that is most capable of bearing such burden and reaching such achievement is Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi.”

Constitutions are just reflections of society

Nothing is sacred in politics, including constitutions – no matter how many oaths are taken upon them, argued Abdel Rahman El Rashed, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab daily Asharq El Awsat.

Constitutions have always been written and rewritten, then burnt and re-burnt. It is of utmost importance to remain ­realistic, as constitutions and regulations, political and civil, are produced by humans and reflect society’s culture and history.

The first constitutions in the Arab world reflected exceptional cultures, perhaps due to colonial influences. The next constitutions were further enlightened, because the governing elite copied and improved on those of the colonialists. Such was the case in ­Tunisia under Habib Bourguiba in 1959. The Egyptian constitution reflected the state of the military when they came to power.

Tunisia’s constitution has been described as the best civil constitution across the Arab world. It has been approved by both Islamist and Liberals and has received a remarkable amount of votes – close to unanimity. In Egypt, the constitution has been criticised on the grounds that it was not based on “Sharia”, although it was more Islamist than that of Tunisia.

“Building a nation is a long and complex journey, one that results from culture,” he concluded.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk