News / Middle East

    Experts Assess Future Role of Islam in Nations Torn by Uprisings

    Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Islamist movement Ennahdha, waves upon arrival in Tunis after 22 years in exile on January 30, 2011
    Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Islamist movement Ennahdha, waves upon arrival in Tunis after 22 years in exile on January 30, 2011
    Mariama Diallo

    All across North Africa and the Middle East, ordinary citizens have staged massive protests in recent weeks calling for the end to autocratic rule. They want better government, less corruption and greater economic opportunity. They come from all walks of life, including once-banned Islamic groups.

    During his 23 years in power, former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali cracked down on opposition groups, including proponents of Islamic rule. But with Mr. Ben Ali now gone, Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the banned Islamist Ennahdha party, has returned to Tunisia after 22 years of exile. At the airport he greeted his supporters and brushed stereotypes aside.


    "The Islamic movements run from Osama bin Laden to [Turkish Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so why does the media want to make me look like a Bin Laden or [Iran's Ayatollah] Khomeini when I am more like an Erdogan?," Ghanouchi said.

    Mixed Reaction in Tunisia

    Public opinion in Tunisia is mixed on the issue. "Ghannouchi’s ideology is extremist and if we choose him, it will be like choosing another Ben Ali," said Adel Zouabi, a critic of Ennahdha.

    "Neither Ben Ali nor Habib Bourguiba [first Tunisian president] gave the Islamists a chance. Why not give them a chance now?," said Mohamed Gharbi, a Ennahdha supporter.

    Mr. Ben Ali branded Ennahdha an Islamic terrorist group, but some scholars see it as more moderate. Walid Phares at the National Defense University in Washington is the author of The Coming Revolution. He compares Ennahdha to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey.

    "They want to increase their participation so that they are included in any government to come. But the real challenge would be once they are inside that government, inside that society, are they going to be calling for a full Islamist, emirates state or are they going to be like the AKP was?," he said.

    Volatility in Libya

    Ian Lesser, an adviser on North Africa to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, says that is why the situation in Libya is so volatile. "There are many different ways in which Islamism of different kinds could come into play in Libya from legitimate political forces on the one hand to quite violent elements interested in international terrorism on the other," Lesser said.

    There are others who worry about the threat of Islamic extremism, among them many world leaders.

    "We do not want it to evolve into a dangerous direction with Islamist fundamentalism prevailing in the future of these societies," said Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister.

    "This would mean decades of flames and further spread of extremism," said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

    Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

    In Egypt, massive protests ended President Hosni Mubarak's 30 year rule and his crackdown of opposition movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood. John Esposito teaches religion and international affairs at Georgetown University. "The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for at least 40 years since the time of Sadat has operated within the system as a social and political movement, often delivering social services better than the government. It has functioned under a repressive regime," he said.

    Nathan Brown at George Washington University says the Brotherhood has spawned radical movements, but he says it does not want to totally disrupt the existing society. "What they want is a gradual Islamification of the society and Islamification defined very generally. They just want people to know more about the religion," Brown said.

    Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria

    Like the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Algerians also took to the streets. Ali Belhadj is one of the two leaders of Algeria’s banned Islamic Salvation Front also known by its French initials F.I.S. "The people are not afraid. It is the systems that are afraid. It’s a fallacy. They say it’s the people who choose, so let the people choose," Belhadj said.

    The Islamic Salvation Front advocates turning Algeria into an Islamic republic. It was poised to win legislative elections in 1990, but Algeria's military-backed government cancelled the vote, sparking a civil war that cost tens of thousands of lives.

    "The F.I.S. had come to power multiple times and had been re-elected and was seen as coming to power through a democratic process not just one election but through more than one election. When you look at places like Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, you have Islamic parties or candidates who’ve served in parliament, who’ve been members of cabinets, who’ve served as deputy prime ministers and even prime minister of a country, so there is track record out there," said Esposito.

    Past governments in Tunisia and Egypt raised fears of Islamic extremism to partly justify their autocratic rule. But Esposito and other experts say each country is a separate reality. They say religion can play a legitimate role in politics, as well as have a more extremist agenda.

     

    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora