By Yasar Yakis
October 14, 2015
Political Islam has undergone a tough test in many Arab Spring countries. It's not easy to tell when its performance can be considered a success or a failure.
In Tunisia, Annahdha, the political party backed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which represents political Islam, won the first elections since the start of the Arab Spring on Oct. 23, 2011. It promised to practice moderate Islam and kept this promise to a great extent. After three years, Annahdha ceded power to a secular party, Nidaa Tounes, on Oct. 26, 2014. The Muslim Brotherhood had never before been in power in Tunisia. It did not have experience governing, and its performance remained limited, but it has to be congratulated for a smooth transition of power from an Islamist party to a secular party. This has not yet happened in any other Arab Spring country.
In Libya, political parties have not been able to agree to the basics of democracy. In the elections of June 25, 2014, the Islamist parties suffered a landslide defeat, winning only 30 out of 200 parliamentary seats. Those who lost their seats refused to accept this outcome and continued to hold meetings as if they were part of the legitimate parliament. This caused further division between the Islamists and their opponents, and violence broke out. Newly elected members who did not belong to the Islamist bloc moved to Tobruk, feeling unsafe in Tripoli. Now, there are two parliaments in the country, one in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk, both claiming legitimacy.
In Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, was elected president of the republic on June 30, 2012, having won 51.7 percent of the vote. After becoming president, Morsi issued a decree exempting his acts from judicial scrutiny. One year after his election, violence increased in the streets and demonstrators called for Morsi's resignation. The military stepped in and issued an ultimatum, demanding that Morsi either meet the demands of the people or resign in 48 hours. He did not resign and was deposed by a military coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. A military coup cannot be justified, regardless of its motivations, but the result is that political Islam has failed in Egypt.
In Yemen, the political situation is complicated. It is divided by ethnicity, sectarianism, tribalism and other divergent interests. The Houthi tribe, the main actor in the present crisis, practices a type of Islam with rituals resembling those of the Sunni sect, but it calls itself Shia. This difference was enough for Saudi Arabia to consider the Houthis to be a client of Iran (because Iran is regarded as the leader of the Shia world) and decided to carry out air raids in order to stop the tribe's advance. Yemen is not a country where any success or failure could be attributed to political Islam.
In Syria, every faction of the opposition embraces a different version of religious extremism. Their common denominator at the beginning was the Muslim Brotherhood. At this point, it is questionable whether this common denominator is still valid. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is the most striking actor at present in Syria and Iraq. One can hardly imagine policies worse than those it practices. However, there is a consensus in the international arena that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam. Therefore, its practices should not be assessed as a version of political Islam.
There is another country that did not participate in the Arab Spring but has been affected by political Islam: Iraq. This country has fallen victim to sectarianism. When the US was reconstructing the state structure in Iraq, it had to rely on anti-Saddam forces who were mainly Shia. They represented the majority of the population. Nouri el-Maliki, who became prime minister, used his position to repress Sunnis and promote the Shia cause. This move alienated the Sunnis and led to the emergence of ISIL in Iraq. Haidar el-Abadi, who replaced him, was not successful in correcting Maliki's mistakes. The sectarian policies turned Iraq into a failed state.