This is indeed a historic moment that the Arab world is currently passing through, one that can be described as the fourth democratic wave—no less important or deep than the waves that swept through the former Soviet Union and the states of Eastern Europe, toppling totalitarian regimes, from which emerged pluralistic, democratic societies and political parties.
And in the Arab states that have witnessed total change, like Egypt and Tunisia, and in the states that have launched the process of reform, like Morocco and Jordan, Islamic movements were not in the forefront of these revolutions. However, they have not hesitated to join and play an effective role in them, attempting to entrench and sometimes impose their agenda on the revolution or movements—and by extension on the expected nature of the new state as a result of these transformations. This is the main driver for these movements, though they are mostly undifferentiated.
The demands of the youth, women, and wide segments of the middle class have been summarized as freedom, democracy, and political pluralism, as alternatives to dictatorial oppression, authoritarianism, and monolithic rule through a single governing party or designated political class. But after the success of these movements, as the process of building has begun, it has become clear that many of the groups that are organized and prepared for political mobilization are Islamic movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has become almost certain that the Islamic movements will benefit the most from these changes. But the question that suggests itself, and puts these Islamic movements at a crossroads, is whether the movements are prepared to accept a pluralistic system based on freedom, citizenship, and a civic state—or not. Will its slogan remain the traditional “Islam is the answer,” or will it be organized on the Turkish model and establish a professional political party, with Islam as its moral and ethical reference but abandoning the project of establishing a religious state?
The answer to this question is incomplete as of yet, with the exception of the Tunisian Nahda (Renaissance) Movement, which announced its commitment to the achievements specific to women and human rights by accepting both the personal status code and the civic nature of the Tunisian state, and further announcing its intention to become a political party resembling the Turkish model. The Turkish party has now ruled for years without touching the essence of the secular political regime. With that one exception, it does not seem that the Muslim Brotherhood in either Egypt or Jordan is on the verge of reconsidering their political aspirations, which remain closer to the “totalistic” model, in which there is no place for a civic state. This raises fears among wide swaths of the politically unorganized public, who fear that the transformation may be one from dictatorial or authoritarian rule to another type of totalitarian rule, its basis in religion, to the exclusion of the liberal movements, women’s movements, and followers of other religions.
Until this moment, the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood did not exceed anything more than changing the laws governing elections and political parties, to say nothing of democratic structures or the civic, modern nature of the state, which many consider akin to a peaceful, white coup d’état of the existing state, not merely a new strategy to arrive to power and apply its totalistic program.
Therefore, the starting point in guaranteeing that the states which have and are passing through revolutions or political reform do not become totalitarian regimes is found in the requirement of transforming these Islamic movements to professional political parties, and on the total separation between the work of calling others to religion, which has is its basis in religion, and political work, which has its basis in the realm of the worldly.
Translated by Jeff Reger