Failure of the politics of pragmatism and compromise - lessons for the Ummah
The Arab uprising kindled hope for a new dawn and a break from tyranny and dictatorship. Whilst opinions on the ground reflect the various political shades and colours, the desire predominantly amongst the masses for Islamic rule is overwhelming. This rise in “Islamist” tendency in the region has been a source of tension in Western capitals as well as amongst the supporters of the old guards in the region. Egypt represents the epicentre of this struggle between the supporters of change based on an Islamic outlook and those who seek to ensure that Western domination and secularism subsist.
Following much tension in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, it was finally announced on 24th June that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi won Egypt’s presidential election through a narrow victory with just over 51% of the votes.
This article explores some pertinent questions in the face of this election “victory”. Will Egypt now witness an Islamic dawn under a new president? What is the real cost of this presidential triumph in Egypt? How should such political engagement be perceived in light of the Shari’ah? Indeed, are the actions of the “Islamists” in line with Islam?
The reality behind the election “victory”
Although Hosni Mubarak has been removed, it is common ground amongst observers that Mubarak’s regime remains intact. Since Mubarak’s departure, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has been the de facto ruler of Egypt. Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, together with the Al-Nour Party (Hizb Al-Nour), won the 2011 parliamentary elections, on 15th June the Scaf issued a decree that dissolved Egypt’s parliament in line with an earlier Supreme Constitutional Court ruling. This effectively nullified the powers of the Egyptian parliament and sent the “Islamist” parties back to square one.
What followed was similarly shocking for the Muslim Brotherhood, as the Scaf announced the re-establishment of a National Defence Council, formally putting the generals in charge of Egypt’s national security policy. The army and the infamous intelligence service (mukhabarat) now retain the powers to arrest, detain, torture and prosecute civilians without judicial warrants. The military’s overall powers in executive decisions as well as the detainment of Egyptians render the civilian rulers little more than symbolic figures.
In addition, the Scaf has formally announced that it will be in charge of drafting a new constitution for Egypt. With a dissolved parliament and the military effectively in charge of running the Egyptian state, the “Islamist” camp will very soon realise that despite their early hopes, the Mubarak regime is in reality still in charge. Little wonder that commentators have regarded the latest moves by the Scaf as a coup against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Thus, Mohammed Mursi’s presidency will be nothing more than a toothless executive post subservient to the dictates of the Scaf with his powers severely curtailed before he even takes office.
This bleak reality was aptly summarised by Anthony Cordesman, a former American intelligence official and now at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, “This is more an episode in an ongoing power struggle than a real election. It is unclear who will rule, who the real leaders will be, and who – if anyone – represents the people. What is clear is that Egypt is no closer to stability and a predictable path to the future than before”.
Some commentators have already likened this scenario to that of Algeria in 1992 when the military, with the blessings of France, dissolved parliament after the Islamic party had won the election. Only time will tell how the current quagmire will take shape. However, one point is very clear: the West is unwilling and unlikely to permit any Islamic rule so long as democracy and manmade politics rules the roost. Nor will America and Israel, so long as the status quo remains, allow Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel to be shred to pieces.
In fact, Mursi has already indicated that he would honour international treaties, which is a codeword to mean the treaty with Israel. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Israel perceives business as usual despite Mursi’s victory. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We expect to work together with the new administration on the basis of our peace treaty”.
Installing a toothless president is the military’s insurance policy against the Muslim Brotherhood’s “victory” and rule over Egypt. The events of the past few days demonstrate that the Scaf (no doubt with America’s blessing) has systematically removed the carpet beneath the feet of the “Islamist” camp. Therefore, little change, if any, to the old regime can be expected from the Muslim Brotherhood’s president.
The real cost of compromise and playing in the democratic game
The so-called “Islamists” vying for power through the democratic manmade system do so at the cost of compromising the well-established values and principles of Shari’ah. Moreover, these parties have repeatedly and publically sought to distance themselves from their Islamic roots since the Arab uprising begun. Whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt or Ennahda party in Tunisia, appeasement of the West has been the principal goal in their political engagement. To placate the West, Mursi has already indicated the possibility of appointing the former chief of IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, in a role within Mursi’s government. El-Baradei enjoys a cosy relationship with the Europeans and was previously paraded with tacit European support to replace Mubarak in 2011.
We can find similar examples in Tunisia. Demonstrating the art of compromise and pragmatic political attitude, Rachid Ghannouchi, one of Ennahda’s main leaders told the media recently, “We believe that all Tunisian people can survive peacefully within a moderate vision of Islam which can be compatible with democracy. Our vision of Islam is a moderate one and since 1981… we have declared that we accept democracy without any restrictions and we accept the decision of the people whether they come with us or against us. We accept the notion of citizenship as the basis of rights, so all citizens are equal whether they are Islamist or not Islamist”.
It is therefore evident that these parties are far from keen to implement the Shari’ah; rather, their principal aim is to reach the throne, by hook or by crook, and placating the West occupies a major part of their political discourse. Moreover, their pragmatic democratic politics leaves the Shari’ah at the mercy of the electorate and the West. Thus, it is not Allah (swt) but the West that would ultimately determine what, if any, elements of the Shari’ah is implemented.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss about the Shari’ah position towards democracy. Suffice to say that democracy is a manmade system that originated in Europe, and any system that makes man sovereign over the Creator, is a non-Islamic system, as Allah (swt) says, “The command (or the judgement) is for none but Allah. He has commanded that you worship none but Him, that is the (true) straight deen, but most men know not” [Surah Yusuf: 40].
As demonstrated in this article, the politics of pragmatism and compromise has not led to success in Egypt. In fact, the cost of participation in democracy far outweighed the gains. Notwithstanding the Muslim Brotherhood’s compromise of the Islamic principles, it has made very little practical gains from the political process. And in any event, so long as democracy survives, Islam will not be allowed to call the shots because the rules of the game are rigged by Western colonial powers. One cannot play football but expect to play by the rules of rugby.
Arguably, the Islamic parties have catastrophically failed on two fronts. Firstly, they failed to make any significant political gains for Islam, and secondly, by compromising Islam, they have distorted the pure political method of Islam and Islamic politics that is well-established by the sunnah of the Prophet (saw), namely, the Khilafah.
The lessons for the Ummah
Although many of the verses in the Qur’an narrate to us about the Jews and Christians, these are not mere fairytales! Indeed, Allah (swt) with His infinite mercy narrated these stories so that this final Ummah could avoid the same errors and pitfalls. If, however, we imitate the Jews and Christians, we would fall into the same errors and earn the wrath of Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) repeatedly orders the Ummah to preserve the purity of His deen and not to compromise. Allah says, “Therefore fear not men but fear Me and sell not My Verses for a miserable price. And whosoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the Kafirun” [Surah Al-Ma'idah: 44].
Although the above verse was revealed after a dispute between two Jewish tribes in Medina, Bani An-Nadir and Bani Quraydah, and referred to the Jews, it would be a grave error to assume that such verses are devoid of any application upon the Muslims. In fact, Imam Al-Hasan Al-Basri maintained that this verse also applies to the Muslims.
Regarding “whosoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the Kafirun”, Ibn Abbas (ra) said, “Whoever rejects what Allah has revealed, will have committed kufr, and whoever accepts what Allah has revealed, but did not rule by it, is a zalim and a fasiq and a sinner” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol-3). Therefore, we cannot simply disregard this verse under the false pretext that it does not apply to us.
Allah also says, “…and buy not with My Verses a small price, and fear Me and Me Alone. And mix not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 41-42]. These two verses were revealed in the context of the Jews but are by no means restricted to them. The essential message is clear: Allah’s deen and His Kitab must not be sold in return for paltry worldly gains where such “gains” are at the mercy of the West and are bound to end.
Allah (swt) warns the Ummah about the trap of compromise and orders us against it. He (swt) says,“They wish that you should compromise with them, so they (too) would compromise with you” [Surah Al-Qalam: 9].
Imam At-Tabari reports that Ibn Abbas (ra) said regarding this verse, “That you would permit them (their idolatry) and they would also permit you (to practice your deen)”. Moreover, the great mufassir, Mujahid, commented on this verse, “This means that you should be quiet about their gods and abandon the truth that you are upon” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol-10).
The salient lesson in the above verse is that the disbelievers would constantly seek to derail the Ummah from implementing the deen of Allah and would desire the Ummah to compromise because such concession is at the cost of disobedience to Allah (swt).
The abovementioned verses clearly command us not to compromise, nor sell the deen of Allah for petty gains, as is the case in Egypt presently (or Tunisia for that matter). The Ummah will not progress, nor make any gains through pragmatic political approach by surrendering Allah’s deen; rather, it will delay the revival of the Ummah and further entrench non-Islamic values and systems in the minds of the Muslims. If the Ummah treads on a non-Islamic democratic trajectory, the ultimate winner will be the West because they will have succeeded in their attempts to force us to capitulate our deen of truth.
The way forward for the Ummah
The demise of the tyrants across the region offers the ideal opportunity to the Islamic movements to build the Ummah at grass roots level. Society is composed of collective thoughts, emotions, practices, values and systems that shape every individual. This is true today as it was true at the time the revelation was sent to Prophet Muhammad (saw).
If we are to elevate and revive this Ummah, the focus must be to change society, its common thoughts, emotions, practices, values and the capitalist systems by which the Ummah is ruled. However, this revival must occur outside the non-Islamic democratic political process; otherwise the reformers will have to compromise.
The collective objective must be to implement the Shari’ah in society and state. This can only occur if the Ummah re-establishes the Khilafah. However, the Khilafah will not emerge through democracy because a Shari’ah obligation cannot be achieved through compromise and pragmatism. In the process of dawah to revive the Ummah, reliance on Allah (swt) (tawaqqul), patience and steadfastness (sabr) are essential. When the victory of Allah (swt) will come is indeed within His infinite knowledge. The Islamic movements must not compromise nor bend the Shari’ah rules to reach an objective which in origin is fard and noble. Essentially, the process and the destination must both be permissible under the Shari’ah because the former is no less important than the latter.
If the Ummah perseveres steadfastly in this righteous path, the victory of Allah will certainly come. Allah says, “Allah has promised those among you who believe, and do righteous good deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession to (the present rulers) in the earth, as He granted it to those before them, and that He will grant them the authority to practise their religion, that which He has chosen for them (i.e. Islam). And He will surely give them in exchange a safe security after their fear (provided) they (believers) worship Me and do not associate anything (in worship) with Me” [Surah An-Nur: 55].