In view of the present Egyptian Election, it is important to understand – however it comes out – why and how Islamic Regimes cannot or, in fact, rarely if ever fall once they have been established or elected; and, for that matter (as witnessed in Iran today), cannot be overthrown except from outside.
This is very important to comprehend particularly these days when Islamic Parties, whether ‘Moderate’ or ‘Extreme’ (not really the issue), exploit modern Western political mechanisms to maneuver themselves via these same election processes into power. Do they themselves really actually recognize constitutional democracy or is it a case rather of, once having taken advantage of the political and cultural institutions of their previous ‘Colonial Masters'', they promptly (as, for instance, Putin in Russia or Castro in Cuba or even Hitler in Nazi Germany) abolish them; since they are in the main – as also in Iran today or in a different universe like China or even someone like Mugabe in Zambia, Africa – unwilling to relinquish power once they have acquired it.
Not only is this puzzling and misunderstood by most people – particularly those observing the Middle East or what passes as “the Islamic World” today or, for that matter, what originally rang so melodious in their ears, “the Arab Spring” – a PR practitioner’s dream catchphrase.
But let’s stick to the Arab Middle East. The reason is actually quite simple, but most people are either unaware of it (because of terms like this “Arab Spring” – in Turkey, for instance, just try to get Erdogan out of power once he has achieved it or in Syria, as we are witnessing today, Bashar al-Assad) or misunderstand it because, in the main, they just don''t know enough about Islam or think it’s like any other modern “religion” when, in fact, it has a number of distinctive rather ‘old-fashioned’ qualities – especially in the light of the computer or space age. Of course, most have had plenty of evidence that it isn’t quite like the “religions” they are familiar with – even say Buddhism or Hinduism – and does not function quite like these, but either refuse to consider it or prefer to ignore it.
Naturally, all having heard of Islam, think they know something about it. Still they have never really studied it in depth or tried to get at its inner workings. For most in today''s world, it''s more like a PC class or "ethnic diversity" issue – all “religions” being more or less the same and more or less acceptable though, for some in the West, mostly “benighted” and “passé” as it were.
But they do not realize that for most people outside of Europe, the world of religion is not “passé”; and, of course, they are seeing evidence of this in the outcomes of this so-called “Arab Spring” today – much to their discomfort. On the contrary, for many places in the world – and Europe and the United State are even not immune to this – it is the "glue” that holds societies together – believer or unbeliever, it matters not. It is this that gives a given society or culture “its solidarity.”
In particular, where Muslims are concerned – as we are now seeing in Egypt and can see in many other places – it is religion and one’s religious attachment that give the everyday person-on-the-street his or her feeling of kinship or common bond. Unfortunately, too, we are now seeing this in places where it never appeared to be such a powerful determinant before. In countries like Iraq, age-old communities of Syriac Christians and Mandaean worshippers of John the Baptist are being terrorized, displaced, and in some cases even murdered thanks to what we thought was going to be “modern Democracy” rather than the previous “old-fashioned” adherence to traditions and mores.
Sadly, this is also even happening in Egypt where the Copts, whom everyone knows are even more ancient than the Muslims or Arabs, were the “Ancient Egyptians” (Arab or not). It is happening too, according to reports, on the West Bank of Israel/Palestine. Of course, it has already happened to Jews all over the world – among Arabs, in countries like Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco; and it is now happening again, even more extremely (see present polling in Egypt and assassinations in Yemen). Still, we all thought the latter was ‘political’ but, in fact it is not or, at least, not completely.
The problem is – and this is what most people do not recognize – the form of Islam one encounters today is basically the kind of un-reformed “Medieval one” and this has nothing to do with “Western” Institutions, nor are such even recognized. Of course, these mainly were imposed or ‘drifted in’ when the West was all-powerful, as it were, or in ‘Colonial Periods''; but now, particularly where oil revenues and regimes capitalizing on these hold most of the sway, monetarily speaking, and no so-called “Renaissance” or “Enlightenment” ever took place, what the average Muslim of whatever genre would feel or recognize as Islam is mainly this “Medieval” one, that is, if he or her were prepared to admit it, which most probably are not.
Moreover, if one can speak of “the average,” they are really unconcerned or, if you prefer, uncaring how they might appear to the rest of the world – therefore beheadings or other forms of seeming insensitivity to human or animal suffering are not something that cause an overwhelmingly indignant reaction. On the contrary, for some (as in the West too in such situations), it actually might excite or incite, because for the average Muslim – again, if one can speak in such terms – the world can seem either a pretty threatening and far-away place of little direct concern to his or her everyday life.
For most Muslims – and this of almost whatever genre – there is, however, one overriding consideration and this even if unconscious and an issue Westerners are, for the most part, unaware of – situations such as these are a matter of life and death. Where Westerners go, they have just not experienced situations of this kind since the Middle Ages or before their own so-called “Enlightenment” – though Jews have. The unhappy consequence of this is that most Muslims – even if they are or appear to be comparatively modern or extremely liberal – are neither relieved of or absented from the effects of this proposition.
What Western and, for that matter, most non-Muslims of whatever culture are unaware of and cannot properly appreciate is that in the abstract or ideal – and this does not just apply to the extreme, though it is generally only applied in that situation – apostasy from Islam is punishable by death. This is the deadly, unacknowledged presence in the room that distinguishes Islam from other major modern religions people are familiar with; and this is not just a figment of someone’s imagination. It is an actual known stricture, both in Islamic law in its theoretical embodiment and actual practice, as well as in, if you prefer, the Customs or Traditions of Islam. Moreover, every Muslim is acutely aware of this even if it is only a silent presence in the back of his or her mind and whether he or she is willing to admit awareness of it or not (and even if only operable ‘in the breach’, as it were).
Just as in the Western Middle Ages, this has a tremendously inhibiting effect even if never really actually practiced (though sometimes it is) and this is the reason why recognizing Islamic Law as a "source" of or even as the background of a given legal system – particularly in the Constitution of a modern-leaning State – is such am unsettling proposition to entertain. Nor is this the fault of the individual Muslim, who does most often simply wish to be an ordinary citizen like everyone else. Rather, it is the fault of others who are unwilling to permit that person to do so.
And the problem is not just modern. It has been operative from the earliest days of Islam, to wit, even in the struggle between those who followed ‘Ali and those following Mu''awiyah, the eponymous ancestor of “the Umayyads”, i.e., the classical Meccan aristocracy at the end of the First Islamic Caliphate – what is known to many as “the Period of the Right-Guided Caliphs” – and it is ultimately even the cause of the death of Muhammad’s first cousin, heir, and son-in-law ‘Ali and the split between Sunni Islam and Shi’a Islam still going on thirteen centuries later up to this day.
It is this which inhibits moderate or liberal Muslims from participating fully in the societies where they presently find themselves and from expressing themselves freely in them. They are aware that there can be – not that there always is, but that there can be – someone standing behind them watching or judging them, someone who can always accuse them of being a poor Muslim or, in the worst case senario, an apostate from Islam.
There is really nothing like it in the modern Western world and people unfamiliar with or who have not made an in-depth study of Islam are just unaware of its existence, let alone its consequences. Yet, with its existence, it is this which will not allow an "Islamic" Regime to fall; just as it is this which prevents Muslims from giving primary allegiance to a Constitution – any Constitution, it matters not. Moreover, to expect them to do so – particularly at the risk to their own lives – is unrealistic to say the least.
We have seen what happened to Salman Rushdie for what many might view as a fairly minor indiscretion. There are many more which cannot be recounted here and it is hard for people to understand that this does not have to always do with celebrities or people who have distinguished or made a spectacle of themselves in some way intellectually. On the contrary, it penetrates to the lower levels of ordinary life – in fact, in some societies such as Pakistan or Afghanistan (one hesitates to enumerate more), it is on this level that it is particularly in evidence (and I doubt, for instance, if Benazir Bhutto was particularly immune from it).
What is the answer to this? There is no answer to this as someone like Salman Rushdie for one well knows even today. The charge can always be made and can stick. This is certainly the case in Iran today as well and why its Government, realistically, will never be removed from the inside. Just try and vote against an Islamic Government once it is in power. What can be said about you – what might be said about you? Why, of course, that you are a poor Muslim, that you have "apostated yourself from Islam" or that "you have voted against Islam"; and see what might happen to you after that. We have already seen the effect of street demonstrations there in this regard and what finally happened where they were concerned and what still is happening.
So how will things go in Egypt, should an Islamic Government – even a moderate one – finally assume power, which seems likely? Forgetting or leaving aside the fact that all its treaty obligations with a country like Israel will justifiably be considered no longer in force – will it ever willingly allow itself to be removed from power once it has assumed control, except through the effect of some extremely serious external circumstances (such as what happened to Nasser following the Six-Day War)? The present writer, as the perspicacious reader might already suspect, is dubious in the extreme about this; and this is why the situation, whose results are being sorted out even as we write, is so fraught with uncetainty and peril.
So the problem remains: how to deal with Islamic Governments once they have come to power by democratic means? Can they be removed by democratic means through elections? The present writer is pessimistic regarding this and feels that people in the world at large are just not aware of what they are dealing with or what is involved in situations of this kind – even perhaps that democratic institutions cannot work in either a non-democratic mindset or environment. In fact, I''m not even sure that an Islamic Government, once having been instituted, has ever been freely removed except from outside.
So, what''s to be done? The reader will have to consider and determine that for his or herself. The present writer feels it is already too late and the world is just unaware of "the Pandora''s Box" that has been opened in this “new Middle East" or in what is euphemistically called “the Arab Spring”. This is not to say that there is any solution to these issues under present conditions – only perhaps an ever-expanding theocracy in larger and larger parts of the Middle East.