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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid