Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly


A third model

Al-Ahram Weekly

Not since World War II has this region been faced with such fateful choices. Confronting us are two fully-fledged schemes, both anachronistic, both blood-letting, both leading to endless sectarianism and war, and both, despite all attempts to suppress them, far from defeated.

One is the caliphate scheme popularised by the infamous Islamic State (IS) group and the other is the imamate scheme favoured by Yemen’s Houthis. The caliphate idea is not confined to IS, however. Many Islamist movements, including those claiming to be in the mainstream, also embrace the concept.

In the early days of the Tunisian Revolution, Hamadi Jebali, the man who was to serve as the country’s prime minister from December 2011 to March 2013, said that it was time to establish a caliphate in the region.

IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi three years later did just that, albeit in an unprecedented orgy of blood and gore. His “caliphate” has survived attacks for more than a year now, changing borders but functioning well enough to issue its own currency and impose its own taxes.

The trans-national ambitions of a caliphate is something that various Islamist movements in the region have propagated at one point or another in their history, and the practices associated with the idea are almost always incompatible with modern norms of human rights, citizenship, and civil laws.

The second model, that of the imamate, has thus far been localised and propagated mostly in Yemen by the pro-Iranian Houthis. However, looked at more carefully echoes of this model can be found in Lebanon, where the pro-Iranian group Hezbollah is operating in a similar fashion, intimidating opponents at home and declaring wars abroad.

In Iraq, more than one militia seems willing to swear allegiance to the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, a man seen by his followers as the understudy for the Shia Hidden Imam.

The endorsement of either model risks plunging the region into endless wars with sectarian connotations. It risks a rise in ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses, leading to international isolation and the destruction of the region’s hard-won legacy of co-existence.

The evidence is everywhere and can be seen in the bloodshed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya and the systemic sabotage that is occurring in Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. The perils are hard to miss.

There is a need today to come up with a third model, one that upholds modernity, human rights, and the rule of the law, and one that establishes equality among all citizens and totally separates religion from the state.

Egypt is perhaps the country most qualified to lead the region in this direction. It has the courage and determination to do so, and it has a tradition of standing up in the face of the anachronistic mediaeval models that haunt this part of the world.

The last thing this region needs is to see the world moving forward while it falls behind, the prey to the delusions of the distant past and enslaved by men who claim to be in direct communication with God and carrying out His orders.

The region has thus far failed to understand the requirements of modernity, and this failure is no longer tenable. We must create, without delay, a system of government that brings all citizens together under the umbrella of equality, justice, and the law. We must do what former South African leader Nelson Mandela did when he was released from prison at the end of Apartheid. He embraced his former executioners and started his country on a new path.

In this region we have to turn the tide of insulation, marginalisation, and reprisals. We must show the region that there is a different way of doing things.

Not so long ago in Iraq when the Shia had their first taste of government, their first impulse was to marginalise the country’s Sunnis. To this day, when pro-government groups in Iraq liberate land held by IS, they often oppose the return of Sunnis to their villages.

In Syria, ethnic cleansing has not been just a sideshow in the ongoing war, but has instead been a primary aim of the pro-regime militia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is treading the thin line between respect for the government and loyalty to a sect. In Yemen, the Houthis have not only hijacked authority, but have also tried to turn over the entire country to Iran.

Egypt has the best chance of reversing this destructive tide. If Egypt is able to renew its religious discourse, separate government from religion, and establish equality for all, then the whole region will have a chance of being part of the modern world and not of a dysfunctional past.

The politics of piety have taken us down the slippery road to the self-destructive models of the caliphate and imamate. In order to reverse this trend, we need to establish equal citizenship for all. We need to have all citizens submit to the same laws, and we need the same standards of competence and probity.

We must confront the segregationist tendencies of Political Islam, the sectarian rivalries that it creates, and the disruption to civil laws that it entails.

If we are to save our young people from the predations of the jihadists, we must give them an alternative future, one that is modern, forward-looking, and promising. In order to do this, we must establish an Arab community of nations, one whose members commit themselves fully and without reservations to the requirements of modernity and equality.

Unless we do that, it will not be long before we find ourselves on a collision course with the rest of humanity.

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