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THE ARAB SPRING AND THE PROSPECTS FOR GENUINE RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL REFORMS

THE ARAB SPRING AND THE PROSPECTS FOR GENUINE RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL REFORMS

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Published by GLORIA Center
There is a guarded optimism that the Arab Spring could result in genuine religious and political reforms. This optimism is grounded in the belief that for the new governments to be reelected, they must reduce unemployment and poverty quickly and convincingly. Dogmatic posturing produces neither jobs nor prosperity. Islamists, Salafists, and jihadists–with Wahhabi inspiration and cash–will assail the new policies as un-Islamic. The confrontation could marginalize Islamist and other extremists, cement democratic governance, reform Shari’a laws, and lead to the evolution of a more tolerant, peaceful Islam. ELIE ELHADJ. http://bit.ly/17Vfbxt
There is a guarded optimism that the Arab Spring could result in genuine religious and political reforms. This optimism is grounded in the belief that for the new governments to be reelected, they must reduce unemployment and poverty quickly and convincingly. Dogmatic posturing produces neither jobs nor prosperity. Islamists, Salafists, and jihadists–with Wahhabi inspiration and cash–will assail the new policies as un-Islamic. The confrontation could marginalize Islamist and other extremists, cement democratic governance, reform Shari’a laws, and lead to the evolution of a more tolerant, peaceful Islam. ELIE ELHADJ. http://bit.ly/17Vfbxt

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64 Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3 (September 2012)
THE ARAB SPRING AND THE PROSPECTS FOR GENUINE RELIGIOUS ANDPOLITICAL REFORMS
By Elie Elhadj*
There is a guarded optimism that the Arab Spring could result in genuine religious and politicalreforms. This optimism is grounded in the belief that for the new governments to be reelected, theymust reduce unemployment and poverty quickly and convincingly. Dogmatic posturing producesneither jobs nor prosperity. Islamists, Salafists, and jihadists--with Wahhabi inspiration and cash--will assail the new policies as un-Islamic. The confrontation could marginalize Islamist and other extremists, cement democratic governance, reform Shari’a laws, and lead to the evolution of a moretolerant, peaceful Islam.
The late Saudi Crown Prince and InteriorMinister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud(who died on June 16, 2012), was intenselyagainst the Muslim Brotherhood. He declaredin a November 2002 interview with theKuwaiti newspaper
al-Siyassah
, carried by theSaudi Press Agency, "All our problems comefrom the Muslim Brotherhood… The MuslimBrotherhood has destroyed the Arab world.”
1
 More recently, the
 New York Times
reportedthat a question in February 2011 about theimproving prospects of Egypt’s MuslimBrotherhood set Prince Nayif off on “adiatribe against both the treachery of theBrotherhood and the journalist who asked thequestion, with the prince labeling the journalist a terrorist sympathizer.”
2
 
THE ARAB SPRING: CHALLENGESAND OPPORTUNITIES
Prince Nayif had three good reasons to beworried. First, the democratic ballot box thatbrought the Muslim Brotherhood to power inEgypt and other Arab Spring countriescontrasts greatly with his father’s use of thesword and Wahhabism as well as Britishassistance to create the family’s enterprise in1932. Ever since that time, the sword andWahhabism--combined with U.S. support--have guaranteed the survival of the al-Sauds’system. "What we won by the sword, we willkeep by the sword,” revealed Prince Nayif in2003.
3
 The al-Sauds must fear that futuredemocratic parliamentary and presidentialelections in Egypt and other Arab countries,coupled with articulated Islamic reasoning insupport of democratic representativegovernance in Islam, will pressure Riyadh’sabsolute monarchy to become representativeand participatory, let alone a republic. Second,Muslim Brotherhood governments willchallenge the al-Sauds’ allegation that theirs isthe only “true” Islamic regime in the Arab andMuslim worlds. For eight decades now, thealliance between the al-Saud and Abd al-Wahhab clans have claimed the religious highground.The Wahhabi clerics have denigrated Shi’iIslam and other religions as heretical. Theyhave also criticized the three other Sunni rites(Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i) as insufficientlyIslamic and preached that non-WahhabiMuslims and non-Muslims will end up inhellfire. The Wahhabi clerics propagate thatIslam, according to Muhammad, would splitinto 73 sects, but only one sect, the Wahhabisect, would inherit paradise.In July 2012, Wahhabi cleric Dr. Sa’ad al-Durayhim caused a stir when he tweeted thateven within Saudi Arabia “the saved sect willbe the Najdi ulama and the Najdi people andtheir followers.”
4
Najd is the hot bed of 
 
The Arab Spring and the Prospects for Genuine Religious and Political ReformsMiddle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3 (September 2012) 65Wahhabism.
5
Yet in their claim of superiority,the Wahhabi ulama ignore Koran 9:97: “Thedesert Arabians are most confirmed inunbelief and hypocrisy.” They also disregard
Sahih al-Bukhari
’s
 
reported propheticstatement that from Najd “comes out the hornof Satan.”
6
 The third reason for concern is themodernization and reform of Arab Islam. Thiscould undermine the al-Sauds’ religiouscredentials and political legitimacy. It mighteven tame Wahhabi extremism.This article will only discuss Arab SunniIslam. Arabs represent around a quarter of world’s Muslims. Among Arab Muslims,more than 90 percent are Sunni.Influenced by the teachings of Ahmad binHanbal (d. 855), Wahhabism is more austere,extreme, rigid, and coercive than the otherIslamic rites and sects. In the Wahhabi book,to protect monotheism from idolatry, aperson’s love for God must be so total,intense, and pure that an ancestor’s grave, forexample, must remain unmarked and nevervisited so that the family’s love of God wouldnot be adulterated by their love for theancestor. Further, good Muslims should spendtheir free time in prayer and reading theKoran; better yet, memorizing its 6,236 versesinstead of diluting their love of God with thelove of music, painting, or reading a novel.Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissiconsiders that Islamists see love between aman and a woman as a threat to the couple’sallegiance to Allah.
7
 As a result of its extremism, Hanbalismfailed over the centuries to attract a largefollowing. Presently, despite Saudi oil wealthand active proselytizing at home and abroad,only around 2 percent of world’s Sunnisfollow this rite. Mostly are in Saudi Arabia,among the Taliban minorities in Afghanistanand Pakistan, and in tiny Qatar, in addition toan indeterminate number (possibly a fewmillion) of expatriate workers who held andcontinue to hold jobs in Saudi Arabia andbecame indoctrinated in the Wahhabi creed.
THE EMERGENCE OF ARABPOLITICAL ISLAM IN THETWENTIETH CENTURY
 Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhoodmovement, as well as Sharif Husayn’s 1916revolt against the Ottoman Empire during theFirst World War, reflect, in part, the Arabreaction to Istanbul’s modernization andsecularization policies beginning in the earlynineteenth century. While Mustafa KemalAtaturk blamed the Ottoman decline anddestruction on the failure of a rigid Islam toevolve with the modern age, Arab Muslimsregarded the Ottoman defeat as a punishmentfrom God for abandoning Islam. In 1924,Turkey abolished the caliphate and separatedIslam from the state. In 1928, the MuslimBrotherhood came into being in Egypt, whileWahhabism seized power in Riyadh in 1932.The history of Saudi rule is a history of exploiting extreme Islamism for politicallegitimacy. In 1805, Muhammad Bin Saud joined Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, thepioneer of Wahhabi doctrine, in a rebellionagainst Istanbul. They accused the Ottomansultans of corrupting the “true” Islam. In 1817,acting on behalf of the Ottoman sultan,Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali crushed thatrebellion. However, in the early 1900s, Abdal-Aziz al-Saud allied his clan with the Abdal-Wahhab clan once more and led a secondrebellion against Ottoman rule, once againusing the restoration of the “true” Islam as apretext. The second rebellion succeeded inestablishing Saudi Arabia, the kingdom thatbears the al-Saud family name, in 1932.The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in1928 in Egypt. Today, the Brotherhood claimsto operate in 70 countries under differentincarnations.
8
It has changed colors in recentyears by renouncing violence and advocatingdemocratic representative governance. Thisstrategy has paid off. In Tunisia’sparliamentary elections, the Islamic al-Nahdaparty achieved 41 percent of the votes cast(October 2011). In Morocco, the IslamicJustice and Development Party achieved 27percent of the votes cast (November 2011),more than any other party. In Tunisia and
 
Elie Elhadj66 Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3 (September 2012)Morocco, the leaders of the winning partiesbecame president and prime ministers. InEgypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidatewon the presidency with 51.7 percent of thevotes cast (June 2012).Further, in all Arab monarchies andrepublics (excluding Lebanon), Islam is thereligion of the state (In Syria, Islam is thereligion of the president instead).
9
Also,Shari’a law is either “the main” source of legislation, “a principal” source of legislation,or “the basis” of legislation. The exceptionsare Tunisia and Jordan, where Shari’a is notmentioned. Arab personal status laws alsofollow Shari’a rules, except in Tunisia, wherepolygamy and Shari’a courts were abolishedin 1956. Even the former Iraqi dictator, thesupposedly “secular” Saddam Hussein, addedthe words “
 Allahu Akbar 
” (God is great) to theIraqi flag in 1991.
WHY ARAB RULERS EXPLOIT ISLAM
Islam has been used by Arab rulers as ameans to prolong their dictatorships. The word“Islam” means submission or surrender--surrendering to God, to Muhammad, and toMuslim authority. Koran verse 4:59 reads:“Obey God and obey God’s messenger andobey those of authority among you.” Suchwording occurs dozens of times throughoutthe Koran. In addition, according to thecanonical
hadith
collection of 
Sahih Muslim
,Muhammad reportedly said, “He who obeysme, obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeysGod. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; hewho disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.”
10
 Similar wording appears dozens of times in
Sahih Muslim
and other canonical hadithcollections
.
 As a result of these injunctions a culture of obedience to hierarchical authority developedin Arab societies--male ruling over the female,the father over the children and wife (orwives), the teacher over the student, employerover the employee, and so forth. Arab kingsand presidents have taken advantage of thesecommands. Whether in Riyadh, Damascus, orCairo, the palace ulama--in return for wealthand power--have energetically indoctrinatedthe masses into believing that blind obedienceto the king or president (
wali al-amr 
) is at theheart of the Islamic faith, synonymous withpiety.Verse 4:59 became a psychological weaponagainst political dissent, supplementing Arabrulers’ brigades of security forces. In thisrespect, Saudi Arabia is unique. Securitymeasures are turned into Wahhabi dictums inorder to eliminate the potential opposition tothe regime of one half of the population;namely, Saudi women. Male guardianshiprules over women mean that a husband, father,son, or brother of an errant wife, mother,daughter, or sister must pledge in writing tothe police his assurances and responsibility forthe woman’s future infractions. Furtherrestrictions on women in Saudi Arabia includesevere gender segregation, a ban on driving,the requirement to wear a head-to-toe black cloak, the ability to obtain a passport or totravel only with her guardian’s permission,and even being forbidden to undergo any typeof surgery without the guardian’s approval.On March 11, 2002, a fire broke out at agirls' school in Mecca. Firemen and concernedcitizens quickly arrived on the scene.However, the religious police locked theschoolgirls inside the inferno rather than letthem escape into the streets without their veilsand head-to-toe cloaks. For this same reason,the religious police prevented the firemenfrom entering the school to rescue the girls forfear that the girls would be seen without theircoverings. As a result, fifteen young girlsburned to death and dozens more wereinjured.
11
 These restrictions are all enforced in thename of the “true” Islam, but in reality serveto tighten the regime’s security grip on thepopulation. As if to legitimize the actions of the religious police concerning this incident, anoted Saudi cleric, Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak,opined in a
 fatwa
(religious ruling or decree)in 2010 that those who promote heresies likethe mixing of men and women in theworkplace or in educational institutions shouldbe put to death.
12
Islamic scholars at Egypt'sal-Azhar University were outraged anddemanded al-Rahman retract the fatwa.
13
 

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