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Islamism and secularism in the Arab Spring .. Covering polarizations

The author of this article argues that the experience of the Arab Spring – especially in the second wave of it – has transcended the duality of the Islamic secular that ruled the first wave and some made it a major obstacle to democratic transformation and a major source of political instability in the region. Indeed, the writer of these lines claims that the Islamic secular polarization and since the wave The first was used to cover up the real polarizations presented by the narrative of the Arab uprisings.

Concepts and terminology

In the context of the Arab Spring, secularism and “Islamism” should not be seen as two opposing concepts. Rather, they are two great ideologies aiming to remake Islam in the modern era, and in doing so they mix the sacred with the human mind, which has given rise to many sub-ideologies that show a number Of differences and similarities.

Secularism – in this context – ideologically is a political or worldview – in its totalitarian forms – that aims to reshape Islam according to the conditions of modernity, and to restrict and control its functions and social aspects in the public and private spheres. As for “Islamism”, it is not equal to Islam. As a concept, it is one of the modern manifestations of Islam, which refers to a political ideology that constitutes ideas of political and social organization inspired by the teachings of Sharia, and a social movement that routinely participates in political activities and mobilization in the name of Islam.

If so, We become confronted with a struggle over multiple religions that have their manifestations in economics and politics as well as in society and culture Especially since both are not of the fixed mutually exclusive categories; Rather, it is one of the major concepts or signs that are gathered underneath different trends and directions.

Here the question becomes about the nature of the secular Islamic conflict, as it appeared in the Arab Spring, and what happened?

Dr. Muhammad Affan in his PhD thesis submitted to the University of Exeter in Britain (August / August 2020) titled “Secularism versus Islamism: Different Paths to Transitional Negotiations in Egypt and Tunisia”; He gives us an answer that “the root causes of this conflict can be summarized in case studies [يقصد مصر وتونس] In 3 main issues, they are the political arrangements for power-sharing during the transitional period, the poor performance of the governments controlled by Islamists, and ideological differences in the constitution, that is, the process of making articles related to the political and social role of Islam, and whether Sharia should be enshrined in the constitution, as well as the universality of human rights, Freedom of belief. “

At this point I would like to present the main thesis of this article; And that is that the secular Islamic conflict in the Arab Spring was and still is of a political nature in which its multiple parties test the balance of power between them in light of mutual concerns and fears, and the uncertainty of the results of the political process, and the intense mixing of religious feelings with political interests, and that what emerged from the struggle over the position of Sharia From my point of view, the constitution was nothing but a struggle for influence, a search for political support and an use to mobilize and mobilize supporters. Sharia was one of the tools of the struggle, not its essence.

The second wave clearly highlighted this fact. Because we are facing actors whose behavior is controlled by politics more than ideology. In the first wave, political Islam movements were in the opposition that were fighting against the rulers and the existing regimes. And in the second wave; Islamists -and-the-second-of-the-spring-In 3 of the four cases in which the protests took place (Lebanon, Sudan, and Iraq), we see Islamists as either rulers or supporters of the current system, and this creates a completely different dynamic of political Islam; In some countries, Islamist factions have mobilized in opposition against other sections of Islamists in power, and this can be interpreted as an expression of deepening divisions within Islamist movements in the Arab world or an opportunity for countless Islamists to clarify their divergent positions on major political issues. The issue of pluralism, which has become a reality in all Arab political currents.

I realize that the projects of the migratory past were not merely formulations and passing phrases carried by the power of power in the broad sense of the concept of authority, it is a form or proposal for life and the nature of society with its network of relationships, which is a discourse and practice of perceptions and political, social and economic imagination, and an epistemological perception of life and the state from which norms, traditions, institutions, language and perception emerge For society and its individuals, a perception of the self and the other that expresses itself in laws, legislations, constitution and production relations.

Narrative of the Arab Spring

The writer of these lines realizes that there is a new narrative of the Arab Spring uprisings announcing the end of the formulas of the 20th century, and at the heart of which is the post-independence state and the Islamic and secular political movements that were based on totalitarian ideologies, and that we are in the process of new formulas that have not been institutionalized yet; It was overwhelmed by protest and lacked the development of its social support and support base. The historical reading of the Arab Spring uprisings is that we are facing a reshaping of all history in the region. We are facing a historical watershed. The old led to an explosion, and is no longer able to provide responses to the challenges of society and the state, but the new has not yet crystallized, and the moment is not a vacuum, as some think, but rather it is filled. With much and much of what is wrong with the future, and by the extent of the ability of institutions, forces and political parties to capture the ingredients of this moment, they will regain their presence and the confidence of citizens, which many opinion polls confirm has largely declined.

I realize that the projects of the migratory past were not merely formulations and passing phrases carried by the power of power in the broad sense of the concept of authority, it is a form or proposal for life and the nature of society with its network of relationships, which is a discourse and practice of perceptions and political, social and economic imagination, and an epistemological perception of life and the state from which norms, traditions, institutions, language and perception emerge For society and its individuals, a perception of the self and the other expressing itself in laws, legislations, constitution and production relations.

The narrative of the Arab uprisings is a search for a new social contract by which the nation state will be rebuilt with new elites, and this contract is based on three components: freedom / democracy, social justice / equitable distribution of resources, and the liberation of the national will from regional and international hegemony. This dream is almost agreed upon by the middle class, the lower classes and some segments of the upper middle class, but it is the driving force for new generations of young people with an overwhelming female presence.

Re-engineering polarizations

The studies of transitional stages present us with a series of moments, each of which may require a separate pact or agreements, but it is possible to talk about three pivotal stations:

1- The military moment when negotiations revolve around the conditions in which the army will refrain from disrupting the transition process and abandoning its claim to rule. These conditions usually aim to protect the generals from any act of revenge and protect the vital interests of the military establishment.
2- The political moment that comes after making sure that the army has returned to its barracks, and the goal of these negotiations is to lay down regulations regarding competition among political elites, share the benefits between them proportionally, limit their policy agenda, and limit the participation of extremists in policymaking.
3- The last thing to come is the economic moment aimed at compromising class interests, guaranteeing the property rights of the bourgeoisie and the working class, and the policies of social justice.
However, Egypt’s experience in the Arab Spring provides us with a fourth moment in which a number of charters are required to be established. It is the social moment in which the issues of women and the family are most prominent in light of an attempt to undo the gains made in this area under the pretext that they are a remnant of the defunct regime.

The author realizes that the motives of the Arab uprisings are very diverse and complex, and that the four moments have been mixed with each other; Therefore, it was difficult to organize negotiations / dialogue with a clear agenda. Nevertheless, the following observations can be noted:

1- A salient feature is that economic and social justice policies were almost absent from all negotiation agendas, although poor economic performance and inadequate social security policies were among the main grievances behind the Arab Spring uprisings, but the transitional administration largely ignored this.
2- Although the transition in every Arab country had its own peculiarities, it is noticeable in all of them that the old regime succeeded in maintaining a varying degree of political influence through multiple institutions that differed from one country to another. This was through guardian institutions such as the Military Council in Egypt, while in other countries the old regime maintained its influence through parties or businessmen … etc.

The continuation of the old regime necessitated giving priority to dismantling the tyranny structure that is deep and extended in the Arab regimes and is taking a momentum from the international and regional networks of privilege.
Moreover, this continuation would re-classify the political forces and institutions into old and new represented by the forces of change, and this would re-sort within Islamism and secularism because both of them are divided between the old and the new as well. The run-off in the Egyptian presidential elections in 2012 represented a revealing moment for this new classification, which was quickly reversed in the interest of the secular Islamist split.
We do not ignore here if we say that the secular Islamic split was one of the main reasons behind the retreat from the Egyptian revolution, and that it facilitated the reproduction of tyranny again when the Military Council was able to employ this polarization in the interest of continuing its project to rule Egypt.

3- Islamists and secularists are alike – albeit with different motives – in their adoption of a totalitarian doctrine that elevates power at the expense of society. The two make it the center of transforming their project into a reality. Islamists claim the centrality of power to implement Sharia, and secularists are the product of their inferior view of their people when they stigmatize their culture with a failure to modernity, so that power becomes an essential tool to change it and bring it to progress.
And absent when discussing constitutions was talking about the nature of the Arab state in the Arab Spring era, especially in terms of its relationship with society, and how to build participatory democracy as one of the most important manifestations of the movement in these uprisings.

Thus, the secular Islamic polarization was used to cover other types of it that were more important, such as the conflict between street politics and institution building, or the conflict between regional / local and central, the struggle between revolutionary and reformist, and finally between social / economic and political demands.

The question still remains: Is there anything left of the secular Islamist polarization if there is a separation between the political and the cultural / advocacy that dominated the political practices of the two parties?

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