No, The Liberals Have Won The Battle! The Reasons Behind the Meteoric Rise Of The Islamists

31 December 2011

By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

"The dictatorships of liberal rulers, who were ousted, alongside their band of liberal intelligentsia, were one of the reasons behind the meteoric rise of the Islamists". This is the opinion that is being enthusiastically proclaimed by many, most recently my colleague Dr. Hamad Al-Majid ["How have the liberals contributed to the rise of the Islamists?" published 19/12/2011].

Whoever says that [Muammar] Gaddafi, [Bashar] al-Assad, and [Ali Abdullah] Saleh are liberals certainly does not know what they are talking about. Not being an Islamist does not automatically means that one is a liberal! A liberal is someone who believes in freedoms for everyone, and the equality of the law. So is it reasonable to classify Bashar al-Assad as a liberal, simply because he wears a suit and tie and is clean-shaven? If we were to follow such logic, then the bearded [Fidel] Castro must be classified as an Islamist! These are nothing more than suppressive, totalitarian military rulers, and it does not matter whether a leader cloaks himself in religious clothing like an Iranian Ayatollah, or a decorated military uniform like Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, or an Italian suit like Bashar al-Assad.

What is even worse is the mistaken belief that the liberals in Egypt and Tunisia have lost [the battle], based on the sweeping electoral victories achieved by the Islamists in both countries. In reality, the liberals have won something they could never have dreamed of in the past, they have won the [political] system…as Egypt and Tunisia have both adopted liberal democracy. Governance being decided by the ballot box, the acceptance of freedoms and the recognition of human rights, including women's rights and the rights of minorities, are all liberal principles. It is the liberals who have won, regardless of who comes to power, whether this is the Islamists or the Arab-nationalists, or anybody else for that matter, for they will be presiding over a liberal political system.

Dr. Hamad al-Majid believes that the liberals have lost…but it is the liberals who have won! This is what happened in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes. Some communists won elections there, and nobody complained or asked that they be prevented from political participation. Liberalism is not a front or a party, but a general concept that embraces everyone, including its opponents, so long as they accept its principles, unlike communism, religious extremism, or Baathism, which are based on the principles of exclusion.

Liberalism's victory can be clearly seen in the rhetoric and speeches issued by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour Party in Egypt, not to mention the Tunisian Islamist Ennahda Party's keenness to reiterate its adoption of the concept of rights and liberties. However the most surprising thing was the ability of the Salafists – who are ultra-conservatives – to cope with the new [liberal] system, and one Salafist youth refused – live on television – to endorse the slogan "together we will reform life by religion." He instead stressed that the Salafist party's slogan is "a modern identity and state built with Egyptian hands and minds."

The power of liberal ideology is now clear to see in the three major powers [in Egypt]: the military, the political parties and the street. We are currently experiencing a phase of transition from proclamations of liberalism – as was the cause during the Mubarak era in Egypt or the Ben Ali era in Tunisia – to the genuine application of liberalism on the ground. Liberalism is a philosophy that exists across the world, from industrial Japan to spiritual India, from Russia – the fortress of Communism – to the materialistic west. However, we must recognize that different societies have applied liberalism in different ways, according to their own social and cultural norms and traditions. Accordingly, we saw Egypt failing to enforce elections laws prohibiting the use of religion, and particularly mosques and pulpits, from electoral campaigning. In other words, secularism could not be enforced in the Egyptian liberal experience, and this failure is accepted, understood, and justified.

Through their own personal experiences, the Egyptians will decide for themselves what suits them; they do not have to copy the Westminster system, or adopt the strict French concept of secularism.

As for the victory of the Islamists [at the elections], this has in turn granted legitimacy to the concept of liberalism. Their victory is a victory for liberalism and the liberals, not the opposite as some people have claimed.


Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.


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