Saturday, March 09, 2013

Islamists and the Muck of Politics

The Economist notes how the image of Islamist parties is being tarnished by their actual governance:
It is not just in Egypt that the Brothers are taking a battering nowadays, and not just in the form of ridicule. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf, the many mainstream Islamist groups allied to, inspired by or sympathetic to the Brotherhood, whose main branch was founded in Egypt in 1928, face a range of tricky challenges. In countries that have so far been spared the upheavals of the Arab spring these can take familiar shape: the United Arab Emirates, still an absolute monarchy, this week began trying 94 alleged Brothers on charges of conspiracy against the state. Yet across most of the region the trials are of a new kind, brought on not by persecution as in decades past, but by the responsibilities and burdens of being in charge...
Yet the Ikhwan’s more recent moves out of exile, out of prison and out of cramped flats bugged by the old regimes’ secret police have not proved easy. Internal divisions have re-emerged. Already, amid the slight opening of Egyptian politics that predated the revolution of January 2011, a purge by conservative Brothers had ousted more modern-minded elements from the leadership. The slowness of Ikhwan elders to embrace the revolution and their ensuing preference for back-room dealings with the still-powerful institutions of Egypt’s “deep state”, in particular the army and the courts, have alienated many of the Brotherhood’s younger members. Former Brothers now rank among the Ikhwan’s most bitter and effective critics. Some, staking out a middle ground and readier to ally with secularists, pose an increasingly potent threat to the Brothers’ electoral base.
Similar strains have weakened Tunisia’s Nahda. Following the murder of a leftist politician last month, the then prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, who is also Nahda’s secretary-general, offered to resign and form a broader-based government of technocrats, apparently without informing party colleagues. Mr Jebali, replaced in a new government following ructions within Nahda, represents a liberal wing that challenges those who want above all to Islamise Tunisian society. The party’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, finds himself trying to bridge these currents, says Fabio Merone, a researcher on Islamist movements. “But by trying to please everyone he is pleasing no one.” This week Nahda surrendered the foreign and defence ministries to non-party people.
This is actually about an old line I remember from my early days of graduate school.  It is easier to be in opposition than to govern, in the Arab world Islamists were the most visible opposition.  Once you put them in charge, they both become responsible for all the country's problems and have to make often unpopular decisions and compromises, as Hamas has found out in the Gaza Strip even independent of their repression there.  This is just one of the reasons that support for Islamists in the general Arab public has actually declined sharply since 2010, albeit from often commanding heights.  It also highlights the ways in which, say, support for political Islam was in part a creation of the way Arab countries had been governed, in that it allowed Islamists to represent a perceived pious opposition to a corrupt and often inefficient system.

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