God and Government: “Breaking the myth of separation”

imageBy Joshua Ngoma.

God and Government: “Breaking the myth of separation” is my next forthcoming book. Look out for it soon. Here is an excerpt on the “Arab Spring and Egypt”:

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was sparked by the Tunisian Revolution also known as the Jasmine Revolution, which began on December 17, 2010 after Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian man, set himself ablaze in front of a local municipal office to file a complaint and the workers there ignored him. This was in protest against the Tunisian police which confiscated his cart and beat him because he did not have a permit to operate his business. Bouazizi then set himself on fire and this act of desperation shade light on the Tunisian public’s boiling frustration over issues pertaining to power living standards, police brutality, rampant unemployment, and a lack of civil and human rights. What started as small scale demonstrations in the city of Sidi Bouzid, Mohammed Bouazizi hometown, began to spread throughout the country and to other Arab nations notably Egypt, Syria and Libya, in a phenomenon which became known as the Arab Spring.
In Egypt, the protests spread and grew in size across the country forcing the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and handed over his presidency and power to the army on February 11, 2011, ending a 30 year stretch in office which earned him the name “Egypt’s modern pharaoh”. Egypt went to polls to elect a new leader post the Mubarak era on June 24, 2012, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi won the run-off Presidential election with a margin of 3.5 percentage points, taking in 51.7 percent of the total vote and defeating former general Ahmed Shafik.

In demonstrating that there is no separation between a leader’s Religious beliefs and their politics, Mr. Morsi said that Egypt’s Constitution should be based on the Koran and Sharia law during his election speech given as a presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement before Cairo University students.“The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal,” and that “Today we can establish Sharia law because our nation will acquire well-being only with Islam and Sharia. The Muslim Brothers and the Freedom and Justice Party will be the conductors of these goals.”
Like in Sub-Saharan Africa where Pan-African nationalism spread the message of independence from colonialism, North Africa also experienced the surge of Pan-Arab nationalism. (Martin Meredith, “The State of Africa”, Free Press 2005). But when Pan-Arab nationalism began to falter, and the Arabs lost the six day war (Yom kippar) to Israel in 1967, there arose a more radical form of Islamism that spread across the Northern African region. It believes in the teachings and adherence to strict tenets of the Islamic faith and that the Koran, Islam’s holy book, is the bedrock for man’s social, economic and political problems as opposed to secular ideologies. This radical form of Islam was given impetus by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that brought down the Pahlavi monarchy.

There were two main conflicting schools of thought as to what extent Sharia law (Islamic law) should be applied in society. One group influenced by Saudi Arabia preferred to apply Sharia law in more traditional areas such as the family and the penal laws. The other main view was influenced by Iran and they argued and stressed that Sharia must extend to State and economic institutions. In between these two main opposing views, were moderate intellectuals who saw no conflict of interest by embracing the West’s administrative and technological skills and advancements while at the same time rejecting its trappings of its “moral corruption”, and instead chose to live by the moral dictates of Sharia.

There were yet other smaller groups which advocated for outright armed struggle or Jihad against any individual, institution, or government seen as an enemy of Islam. This characterization also extended to regimes within the Moslem world which were considered to have become unbelieving of the teachings of Islam. Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian national was the main architect of this Jihadist ideology and movement. His writings were to later influence and inculcate generations of Jihadists with radical Islamic views.
Egypt, the anchor of the whole Arab world, became the center of this more radical form of Islamism. In the late 1940’s Sayyid had stayed in the United States for about 2 years informed by his admiration of the West and its literature. However, his admiration for the West was short lived and became appalled by what he saw and characterized as “moral decadence, its materialism, racism and sexual depravity”. Upon his return to Egypt he became recognized as a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was consequently arrested by President Nasser in 1954 after being accused of taking part in a failed attempt to assassinate the President and was to spend the following ten years in a concentration camp. It was during this incarceration that Sayyid coined a well thought out ideology on how to revolt against the West and certain societies and governments within the Arab world by making two distinct groups: one belonging to Allah and one to Satan, with no middle ground. Sayyid believed and stated that the only way to implement a new Islamic order was through Jihad. From his writings in prison Sayyid wrote. “The only homeland a Muslim should cherish is not a piece of land but the whole Dar al-Islam- the whole abode of Islam. Any land that hampered the practice of Islam or failed to apply Sharia law was ipso facto part of Dar al-Harb- the abode of war. It should be combated even if one’s own kith and kin, national group, capital and commerce are to be found there.”

Another Egyptian scholar who became a very prominent leader within the Muslim Brotherhood was the blind radical cleric Omar Abdel Rahman. He too became a staunch advocate of Sayyid Qutb’s teachings with an emphasis on Jihad and martyrdom. As a scholar at Cairo’s University of Al-Azhar, he became leader of a radical following among the University’s fraternity and students and also emerged leader of underground revolutionary organizations like the Gamma Islamiyya and Jamaal Al-Jihad, with a single objective of establishing an Islamic State.

Three main reasons were advanced for this rationale. First, the humiliation suffered by the Arabs in the 1967 six day against Israel. Second, President Anwar Al-Sadat, successor to President Nasser, signed a peace accord with Israel in 1978-9. The Islamists in Egypt were angry and construed Sadat’s action as appeasement to the United States and Israel while the Palestinians and their occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza were left out. Third, President Sadat opened up the Egyptian economy to Western investment, an economic policy called “Infitah”. An influx of western businessmen into the country caused another round of protests.
President Al-Sadat resorted to repression and his rule became so authoritarian that he earned himself the name “Pharaoh” by the general Egyptian populace, both in politics and religious circles. As a consequence, Sadat suffered a fatal attack on October 6, 1981. While reviewing a military parade, Sadat was gunned down by a 24 year old member of the Islamist group Jamaat al-jihad, by the name of Khalid Islambuli.

In the 1990s, President Hosni Mubarak dealt the Islamist campaigns and uprisings with an iron fist. Even though the insurgency was sporadic in its attacks, huge impacts were made nonetheless. On the most part, the attacks were initiated by migrant veterans from the Jihad in Afghanistan who were returning to Egypt after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan after a bloody 10 year conflict. These war veterans brought back their fighting expertise back to underground Islamist groups such as Jamaat Al-Jihad and Gamma Islamiya. Their attacks targeted foreign tourists and government officials among other groups. One of the most notable attacks was that directed on the Coptic Christians who were murdered and their shops and churches burnt. They also bombed buildings like movie theatres, book and video stores which were seen as popularizing Western culture.
Mubarak embarked on a massive crackdown using state emergency laws such as “anti-terror” laws resulting in thousands of suspects being detained and tortured without trail. For those who were tried, it was in military courts without the right to appeal their sentences. President Mubarak’s main target was the Muslim brotherhood which had openly flourished in the 1970s under President Sadat and established itself as a major force in the Islamists cause with great influence in the political, social and economic spheres of Egypt, running a major and an extensive network in the Banking sector, manufacturing, Agriculture, trade unions, student groups, University faculties and within certain professional bodies like that of Lawyers, engineers and doctors.
But the Moslem brotherhood was barred from openly participating in electoral politics except through proxy political parties. However, this was to change when Mubarak was ousted out of power during the Arab Spring uprising and the Muslim brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi won the presidential elections.