The “Post-Islamist” Dilemma

The “Post-Islamist” Dilemma 
Mohammed Abu Rumman

Dr. Rahil Gharaibeh, the Secretary-General of the National Congress Party (Zamzam) in Jordan gave a noteworthy presentation at a lecture from Moroccan academic and politician, Samir Boudinar, at the Politics and Society Institute in Amman in October, entitled “The Day After the Moroccan Elections.” In dissecting what led to the resounding defeat of the (Islamic) Justice and Development Party in Morocco this September, Gharaibeh said he believes that the party’s move to dissolve ideological identity discourse in favor of more practical and realistic policies caused the loss of the party’s broad social base, which often votes for the party because of its Islamic background.

A stark paradox appears here. The Islamists — who are based on a discourse of identity and on promises to establish an Islamic state — are now in a stage known as post-political Islam to researchers. They’ve fallen into the trap of poor political, economic and societal conditions in their communities, and have been unable to make direct qualitative differences. In an effort to fix these poor conditions, they’ve abandoned their ideological priorities, and thus have lost the popularity they maintained before when they were based around the ideological discourse of Islamic movements.

For more clarification on the term post-political Islam, you can reference Asef Bayat’s book “Post-Islamism” and “Post Islamism … A new stage or ideological illusions,” which was published in 2018 by the Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung in cooperation with the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan (and edited by myself). These books document how Islamist parties have taken a path that departs from traditional ideology to realistic national political proposals.

Two important notes worthy of consideration were made by the Moroccan academic Boudinar. The Islamists in Morocco tried to provide clear messages of reassurance, that there is no agenda that worries other powers or other countries, and perhaps the Makhzen (the Morocan royal governing body), although Boudinar did not deny that there is a failure to present an achievement that would intercede for “Justice and Development” in front of a Moroccan audience experiencing harsh economic conditions. Boudinar hoped that the circumstances would change with the arrival of Islamists who had been in the opposition seats during previous decades. 

The problem in the question of political Islam and its future may not be as related to its lack of effective Islamist or post-Islamist visions and programs in governance, or perhaps a failure in managing its electoral campaigns. The important question here is: what if the current difficulty in economic conditions goes beyond this political trend of post-Political Islam, and affects any party that can come to power? That would mean politicians are preoccupied with addressing economic issues — which are of primary concern to citizens — and thus will not be able to, in the near future, bring us back to the question of democratic transition in the Arab world and its challenges.

Boudinar concluded by calling for a transition from the narratives of access to power (with Islamists) and towards the narrative of social and political empowerment. This is reminiscent of the Ennahda discourse at the beginning of the last century, and what was put forward by intellectuals like  Mohammed Abdo and before him by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and then Malik bin Nabi; that is, the difficulty of changing the political system and reaching the consolidation of democracy without engaging with societal, cultural and developmental questions. The theory of modernization (in the literature of democratic transition) proposes that rate of democracy in a nation is directly linked to the rates of economic development, modernization, education, and other economic and societal conditions.

If Asef Bayat re-launches the post-political Islam wave to the reformist movement in Iran (after abandoning the doctrines of velayat-e faqih in the beginning), the rise of this wave in the Arab world was more clearly associated with the rise of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey in 2002. But the difference between the two was that the party at the time was already able to make a significant difference in the economic and service fields, which we have not seen from Arab Islamists movements, especially in their Tunisian and Moroccan forms.  

The question of post-political Islamist parties calls for in-depth studies and readings that go beyond current trends to discuss the greater implications of democratic transition in the post-Arab Spring era.


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