The Islamist-secular battle is under way

Rami G Khouri writes: Three great battles over political power have been unleashed across the Arab world and will persist for many years, until a new political order stabilizes in every country. One in particular is now reaching an important point that will reveal much about the current political character of Arab societies. The three battles are those between military and civilian authorities (democracy vs. autocracy), between Islamists and secularists (the authority of God vs. the citizenry), and between narrow ethnic/tribal/sectarian identity and a more inclusive national identity (tribe vs. state).

These contests will take years to play themselves out, because they comprise such complex factors as identity, allegiance, collective solidarity, access to state power and resources, and self-preservation. Some of them will endure for decades or more, as we have witnessed in the lively American context between fundamentalist Christians and more secular politicians vying for presidential power, over two centuries after the American independence years first defined religion-state ties.

In the Arab context, we are at an important station in the long road to the new, more participatory, democratic and accountable, national political governance systems. The issue at hand on this stop is about the balance between Islamists and secularists.

This is not a turning point, but simply a stop along the long road, a point at which some decisions will be made by society as a whole, and the march forward will continue, with other decisions to be made at other stops. Many in the region and abroad often jump to hasty conclusions that the various Arab revolutions and uprisings have been reversed and nullified because the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have now taken over political systems in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and are in the process of dominating the opposition movements in Syria. This is a premature rush to judgment.

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1 thought on “The Islamist-secular battle is under way

  1. Leslie Garrett

    “This is a premature rush to judgment.”

    But, when all the information is in you will still claim the right as Americans to pass judgement on every other land and its culture and religion? You who were illiterate Vikings worshipping trees when most of these Muslim lands had been literate and highly civilized for millennia now assert that Moses should have come down off the mountain and taken a vote on each and every moral law. Much of civilization and religion hinges on the fact that during the hundred thousand years that we roamed this earth in more or less our present form we were learning and passing on the results gleaned through trial and error. Through culture and religion we preserve considerable wisdom that is not obvious to every advanced primate by virtue of his own reflection and opinion, little things like not having sex with siblings are real wisdom that stands up to scrutiny. These religions and cultures that modern media so disparage in favour of a do-it-yourself popular democracy are the product of natural selection as much as the earth’s individual creature, and this vision of space travel and our cyborg future is a mythology far sillier and far far more remote from our real future than the most imaginative religious text.

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