x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Islamists discover compromise

When Islamist parties become pragmatic, it's hard to tell liberals from radicals, an Arabic-language pundit says. Other topics: a new president in Tunisia, and absurd elections in Syria.

After election successes, pragmatic Islamists make it hard to tell the liberals from the radicals

"The Egyptian scene is confusing us!", columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashid wrote in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

"We no longer distinguish Islamists from liberals," he went on, "and we no longer understand the Salafis and the Brotherhood as we once thought we did."

The Salafis in Egypt, like the majority of Salafis everywhere, are interested in social affairs according to a strict interpretation of the religion. Women's issues - women's place and value in society as well as every little detail of women's lives - are at the top of their debates. But despite their radicalism, Egypt's Salafis surprised everyone by promoting a female candidate for their Annour party in the elections.

That candidate, Insaf Khalil, replaced her headshot with the picture of a rose during her electoral campaign. But, surprisingly, the sheikhs of the Salafi group asked her to display her picture, which boosted her popularity.

In the days leading to the second phase of the elections, an Annour official won attention by saying that if his party won the elections, they would not shut down banks or ban access to beaches for women and men.

This is an example of a Salafi representing the far Islamic right in social issues at a time of the intense controversy that usually accompanies elections.

On the political level the far right is represented by groups such as the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, and movements such as Annahda in Tunisia.

Upon winning the elections, the head of Ennahda, Rashid Al Ghanoushi, flew immediately to Washington, not Mecca, where he visited a strategic institute known for its close affiliation with Israel. There, Mr Ghanoushi showered his audience with assurances. He promised to avoid criticism of Israel and he expressed his support of a Muslim's right to convert to another religion. He added that he is in talks with secular politicians to join his government.

Most importantly, when asked about the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, he confirmed that the Palestinian issue is the last of his concerns, for in Tunisia there are a million unemployed citizens.

"We have undoubtedly entered a new era overflowing with talk that has yet to pass the test of implementation," opined the writer. Do the Salafis in Egypt truly believe in women's rights and their equal role in society? Will women be able to venture out and compete in elections and work in parliament? Will the group truly approve of commercial banking and open beaches? And are Islamists really convinced that ensuring jobs takes priority over freeing Jerusalem?

"The truth will be what stands the test of experience," he concluded. "We may have been wrong about these radical groups who were denied authority on the grounds of their extremism, but then again they may only be a group of cunning political foxes."

Free open vote marks a new start for Tunisia

For the first time in the history of Tunisia, the representatives of the people elected a president of the republic with a majority of votes in an atmosphere of democracy and transparency - and in a live broadcast on the national satellite channel, said the editorial of the Tunisian daily Assahafa.

The election of Dr Moncef Marzouki didn't come as a surprise. It was the result of a consensus among the three parties that form the parliamentary coalition. The process leading to his election confirmed that the democratic transition is coming along according to the will of the people's representatives, including the opposition bloc that practised its democratic right to object and boycott the election.

"In a historic moment, Tunisia has definitely broken with the tradition of bogus elections with pre-rigged results," the paper said.

With the new president named, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) completed its deliberations over a bill to temporarily regulate public authorities. In an unprecedented move, amid a fiery Assembly debate, the president's privileges - which gave the country's two former presidents vast authority and eventually led to their total monopoly of every aspect of life in Tunisia - were trimmed in favour of additional authority for the prime minister, as is the case in parliamentary regimes around the world.


Syrian regime shown to be fully out of touch

The scene in Syria is getting ever more confusing, as shown by the Syrian regime's decision on Monday to open ballot stations for municipal elections, in a scene that emphasised the complete schism between the regime and the facts on the ground, said Al Watan Online, the website of the Saudi daily, in an editorial.

"The stubborn Syrian regime presses ahead as if the crisis is a normal, casual occurrence, which doesn't match the Syrian forces' recent besieging of Homs and their threats to 'invade' the city in an effort to quell protests," said the article.

As the general strike continues to expand across Syria to include even Damascus, the uprising is inching closer to the regime. Nonetheless, the authorities insist on holding local elections as if they were oblivious to everything around them.

As we await the Arab League's ministerial meeting on Saturday to look into Syria's response to the League's observer mission proposal, anything could happen, especially if the government decides to invade Homs.

"The Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy. The only viable solution it has now is to find a secure exit for itself as long as that is possible. The Syrians are not about to stop their struggle now and any formula for a solution must relate to the real world."


* Digest compiled by

Racha Makarem