ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Islam and the Arab Spring

Our inherited ways of seeing may perhaps be obsolete for the emerging revolution of ideas.

The threat of resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam, has been repeatedly spoken about in connection with the series of popular revolts in west Asia and north Africa, collectively termed the Arab Spring. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was the largest and best organised political (and social) force opposed to former president Hosni Mubarak and has managed to emerge as a dominant party in the past year. In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance Party) has won the largest number of seats in the assembly that will draft a new constitution. In other places – Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Libya – the cry of “Allah-o-Akbar” has resounded from the streets as people have come out in ever larger numbers to challenge the tyranny of their despots.

Earlier, after the decimation (and in some cases, co-option) of the left opposition by the Arab tyrannies, it was the Islamic parties or networks which gave expression to popular discontent. Often these became powerful, as in Algeria in the 1990s, and were brutally crushed by the faux secular-progressive rulers who obtained international support on the basis of their supposed opposition to Islamic fundamentalism. It was a piquant situation in which former anti-imperialists and left-progressives had turned authoritarian and aligned with the United States-led imperialist bloc while maintaining a facade of secularism and progressivism. On the other hand, during the 1940s and 1950s, the imperial powers used Islamic fundamentalism as a tool when they confronted the anti-colonial and left-wing movements in the Arab world. Many of the present-day authoritarian regimes came to power struggling both against colonialism/imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism. As these regimes changed their character from being liberatory movements to authoritarian governments, Islamic parties and networks often provided voice to growing popular opposition, at times under the garb of an equally faux anti-imperialism. This changeover was not sudden, rather it was a somewhat uneven process where both sides embodied some aspects of both progressive and reactionary politics.

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