2/24/2012

The growing Brotherhood Crescent of the Middle East

GULFNEWS
 
The Brotherhood's take has become more aggressively conservative
  • By Sara Shurafa and Noor Al Khatib, Social Media Editors and Habiba Abdelaziz, Community Journalist

Dubai: A year ago, it was about freedom of speech and the promise of secularism – the fuel that drove the Arab Spring. Today, as many fallen regimes install new governments, the focus is Islamists.
The past year toppled the dictators of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, while the fight continues in Syria. It was a year that witnessed the germination of democratic change as an idea but finally the Islamists grew into power.
The Muslim Brotherhood took the majority of the parliament seats in Egypt and Tunisia, while Libya is still getting ready for elections.
They were expected to win but had stressed their readiness to work with the secularists and always reassured to protect secularism. Suddenly, as they find the mantle of governance handed to them, their take has become more aggressively conservative. And this is leading to fear in the Arab World.
Lately more Islamic tones of governance are being used by Islamist politicians in Tunisia and Egypt to lay down markers about how Islamic their states should be - and first signs show they want more religion than previously admitted.
With political deadlines looming, the Tunisian coalition led by the reformist Islamist Ennahda party and the head of Egypt's influential Muslim Brotherhood both made statements this week revealing a strong emphasis on Islam in government.
Popular List, and Ennahda coalition tasked with writing Tunisia's new constitution, announced on Monday its draft, calling Islam "the principle source of legislation" - a phrase denoting laws based on the Sharia moral and legal code.
Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, a leading reformist Muslim thinker, reassured secularists last year by agreeing with them that the first article of Tunisia's constitution should remain unchanged.  The article, which stated Tunisia's language as Arabic and religion as Islam, was "just a description of reality ... without any legal implications,” Ghannouchi told Reuters last November.  "There will be no other references to religion in the constitution."
But this week they gave a draft of the new constitution, where Islam is described as Tunisia's religion "and the principal source of its legislation."
"Using Islamic Sharia as a principle source of legislation will guarantee freedom, justice, social equality, consultation, human rights and the dignity of its entire people, men and women," it says.
Mentioning Sharia means all laws must be consistent with Islam, a condition found in many constitutions in Muslim countries. This can be interpreted broadly, or strictly if those vetting the legislation impose a narrow reading of Islam.
 
So why is this shift taking place?
 
Hachmi Hamdi, who supported Ennahda before forming Popular List, said the draft was more Islamic than expected because "the public that voted for us is a conservative public that wants Sharia as the principle source of the constitution."
On the other hand Egyptian Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said his group wanted a president with "an Islamic background."
 When contacted by Gulf News, the Freedom and Justice Party Parliament member Sabry Amer commented on the statement: “Egyptian Brotherhood leader Mohammad Badie’s statement, clearly states that the president to come must respect the constitution, in which it states that Islamic law is the source of the constitution.
 “I don’t see any paradox between our first stand on supporting a secular candidate and our stand now. We believe that implementing Sharia law should ensure building our nation, given that it grants the people their dignity, and freedom. Islamic Sharia in short ensures a dignified life.”
Gulf News Tablet also spoke to Al Noor Party that is described as a hardline Salafist political party. They said: “There are things that are non-negotiable when writing the constitution. The president has to be an Islamist, and to support the Islamic project in the country. We’re hoping while writing the constitution to abolish socialist’s context of the constitution.” 
As per reports in the Arab media, secularists in both countries had apparently warned voters against trusting the Islamists and how they would gradually insert more religion into the political and legal systems.
 
Brotherhood Crescent
 
With Islamists in the region taking the lead in the first elections in Egypt and Tunisia following the Arab Spring, the concept of an emerging Brotherhood Crescent seems to be more likely. While the ‘Brotherhood Crescent’, which traditionally includes North Africa, Syria and Jordan, is not a new term, it is one that is slowly gaining momentum. And there is a country worried – Jordan, as it could pose a threat to its stability.
If Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria falls, leaving in its wake chaos in the country, the political instability will also cross the border into Jordan.
“For Jordan, the possible rise of Islamists in Syria, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, is worrisome. This will help the Islamists in the kingdom demand power, expanding the so-called ‘Brotherhood Crescent’,” said political analyst Mohammad Abu Rumman in an AFP report.
Up to this point in the Arab Spring, Jordan has remained relatively unscathed, quieting any protests that emerged in the kingdom, but if the Syrian uprising gives Islamists another political platform in the region, and Jordan could face even more pressure.
Hassan Abu Hanieh, an expert on Islamist groups and issues, said in an AFP report: “Jordan will have to give concessions to Islamists in the kingdom, where they have been leading pro-reform protests since last year. This will make the country fall into the circle of an 'Islamist spring'. It is definitely a problem for Jordan."