Charlotte Price: End of an Era

Many of the MENA Muslim states felt a sense of defeat caused by the departure of their golden ages into times of imperialism and domination by westernized countries. From this shift of power blossomed many different ideas of how to cope with the rapid modernization. Some political leaders adopted an accommodations point of view; seeing the problem as domestic and the solution to the problem to look to foreign nations for reform practices. The anti-colonialists/universalists viewed the problem being one that arose from foreign affairs, and the solution being mixed; domestic and foreign. The most extreme school of thought is that of the Fundamentalists; viewing the problem as domestic, and the solution as domestic as well; their goal being to return to the first golden age . In modernizing, some Muslim countries are trying to adopt western systems for governance and law with Sharia law. Hallaq argues that the Islamic state is impossible because colonial politics will never possibly be adopted in accordance with Sharia. Democratic revolutions, in the form of “Arab Springs” as well as fundamentalist groups were two popular reactions to modernity. As quickly as the Arab spring, swept through many MENA states, the counter forces to these revolutions succeeded; pushing Syria into Civil war, Libya into chaos, and Egypt into a military rule . This fight against the Democratic Nation-States epitomizes the conflicting ideologies between accommodation intellectuals, and fundamental theorists, and suggests the impossibility of a Democratic Nation State and Islam coexisting. However, examples in countries such as Tunisia suggest that Democracy is possible in the Middle East as long as its conditions are present.

As Democracy successfully rose in Tunisia via the Arab spring, it represented a trend in the Muslim states Modernity that we label an accommodation view, and proves that an Islamic state can exist, but only under certain socio-political conditions. Accomodation thinkers do not focus on a return to the past golden ages, but instead, focus on a need to adjust themselves to the world by adopting European strategies, and importing ideas from other westernized countries . Tunisia’s decision to accept the U.S’s help in developing a modernist constitution, with a democratic government that held free and fair elections, was a direct result of these theories . Tunisia was able to embark on the path to democracy due to the facts that it could reject the domination of power provided by the previous monarchy, was able to establish a system in which secularists could coexist with Islamists that backed by a military dedicated to the protection of the transition to democracy. In other MENA Muslim states, these ideal conditions for a transition to democracy were not present.

Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia represents an extreme Fundamentalist sect whose existence, in addition to Saudi culture, suggests the impossibility of a democratic nation state. Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that literally interprets Sharia law, has recently become dominated by Wahhabism; a political sect founded by Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century . Wahhabism represents a fundamentalist reversion to the religious aspects of past Islamic society. Because of the strong dependence of Islam as an integral part of its identity, Saudi Arabia is greatly threatened by the concept of Nationalism because of the implication of citizen control of a country . The seemingly anti-democratic view, as well as the prevalence of Wahhabism complicates the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed Wahhabism when he rebelled against the practices that he perceived to have corrupted the Islam of his time; diverting the attention more toward persons. Images, objects, and rituals than toward god. Although there exists ample criticism about what the Wahhabi doctrine represents, some groups that have tried to overthrow the government in the name of Wahhabism, in the name of returning to the stark monotheism of the ancestral times . This desire to revert to the original purest most literal form of Islam, is one of the pillars of the fundamentalist theory that represents a trend in multiple MENA Muslim States, as a response to modernity.

As Egypt emerged from colonization, and encountered modern western ideals, the Country’s response to modernity was characterized as both Fundamentalist, and Accommodations two very stark schools of thought that coexist in Egypt by finding common ground such as education. Before the French invasion in 1798, Egypt was a country with visible divisions between the religious and the political, remarkably unscathed by western influence. When Muhammad Ali seized power after the French regime, the state grew more progressive and the line between religious and political realms became blurred. “Politicized religion” and “sacrilized state” penetrated Egyptian Society. After the British occupation during the 20 year “temporary regime” the newly formed Wafd party stood for Egyptian independence from European domination, but also supported cultivating the Egyptian identity in a more modern European way . At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 fought against the European model in support of the identification of Egypt with Islam, and eventually an Islamic world. The Brotherhood formed as society was increasingly educated. As the Egyptians started to evaluate their religious faith, they became caught in the process of change that they could not comprehend. This organization responded to the necessities and sentiments of Egyptians by focusing on education and providing essential services that the government was not delivering. This focus on Education was the only concept that the government led by Nasir, and the Brotherhood agreed on. This consensus helped to stabilize relationships between religion and politics in Modern Egypt.

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Hallaq, Wael B. The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
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Ghannouchi, Rached. “Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World.” The Huffington Post. February 9, 2016. Accessed October 12, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rached-ghannouchi/islam-democracy-and-the-f_b_9195344.html.

Cole, Juan Ricardo. Engaging the Muslim World. New York. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
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