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GNOSIS 2/2011
Revolts of the people

the Arab Spring
revolutions to revolutionize

Valentina COLOMBO

( Photo Ansa)
The Arab and North African Spring, the revolutions “of the jasmine” and “of the bread” have taken the West by surprise. A West which is, perhaps, not yet completely aware of the importance of the “information-communication-revolution” combination in Countries considered to be tied to more traditional customs. It is also true that history has taught that it is not sufficient to have the public squares full of people and the ultra-speed of news transmission to transform the revolts into revolutions and to institutionalize the answers to the demands of democracy. Valentina Colombo, expert on Islam, examines, above all, the role that the Moslem Brotherhood is playing in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, Countries in which – in this historical moment – would seem more interested in reinforcing an image linked to interpreters of innovation and to the consolidation of the concept of “constant of reference” than to the direct management of power.
The Moslem Brotherhood confirm their traditional ability to adapt to the different situations, rejecting the secularism foreign to the cultural roots, underlining the value of the Shari’ah, without coercive indications towards the Islamic orthodoxy.
The autumn election appointments in Tunisia and Egypt represent a key step for the Moslem Brotherhood and a moment of the revelation of truth.

At an international level, the United States and the Catholic Church have shown signs of openness with respect to the “moderate area” of the organization, but the risk remains immanent that it is an illusion, a short-range political choice that will betray the aspirations of the protagonists of change: the new youth, educated and dissatisfied, hungry for work, freedom and democracy.

“One of the specificities of the Tunisian revolution, a specificity on which the historians should reflect, is that it took place notwithstanding the absence of a real leadership and without the support of an executive group. Its spontaneous aspect, unexpected (above all, in the timing) was on the one side, amazing and admirable, on the other, misleading and uncontrollable”, recently declared, the Tunisian, Latifa Lakhdar, Vice-President of the High Court for political reform, the realization of the objectives of the revolution and the democratic transition (1) .
The observation is more than relevant and is confirmed by the fact that the first two revolutions of the Arab Spring were defined the ‘revolutions of Facebook and Twitter’. In other words, the revolutions of the young connected to the Internet. It concerns educated youth of both sexes, unsatisfied with life, both because they are unemployed and without any kind of freedom, first, most importantly, that of the freedom of expression.
The rapidity, in Tunisia, with which the flight of the President/Dictator, Ben Ali was obtained and the relative speed with which, only at a distance of one month, the President/Autocrat, Mubarak was removed from power, was an injection of optimism both in the Arab and in the Western world. Subsequently, the domino effect was triggered off and the entire Middle-East was inflamed and continued to seethe in the name of freedom. In every Country in the area, for different motives and in different ways, the demonstrations continue. Leaving aside the case of Libya, which represents a unicum for various reasons, from Yemen to Syria, from Bahrain to Jordan, the populations have been in turmoil for months.
The attention of Western public opinion is, unfortunately, focused only on certain nations, particularly on Libya, while the Jasmine and Lotus revolutions seem, by now, to be distant and forgotten, almost as if the delicate process of transition which Egypt and Tunisia are experiencing was not as crucial and important. The perception is that freedom has been reached and therefore, democracy is automatically at the gates.
After all, on the 27th of last March, the Constitutional Referendum was already held in Egypt, during which the Egyptians were called to decide whether to reform the present Constitution or elaborate a new one. In Tunisia, on the forthcoming 16th October, the elections for the constituent Assembly will be held, followed by those for the Parliament.
On January the 17th, the Tunisian Premier, Muhammad Ghannouchi, announced the new Government of National unity and the intention to recognize all the parties which, up to then, had been outlawed. At daybreak on the 7th March, the legalized political parties in Tunisia were already fifty. On the 29th May, the temporary Government announces the existence of 81 political parties (2) .
Next November, the presidential elections in Egypt are scheduled, which will be followed by the parliamentary ones. The parties currently recognized are twenty.
In principle, the deadlines reported could confirm the original optimism. Notwithstanding this, a deeper analysis could be made of the political situation, in particular, in the two Countries in transition, and in general, the Middle East area, and not last, of the Western politics in the area, which show certain critical points.
The first point of all is that which regards the role of the Moslem Brotherhood which, since the Jasmine revolution, has taken possession of the mobilization and is, furthermore, considered by the West as the principal referent in the dialogue with the “rebels” who threw out the dictators, at the expense of the real protagonists of the demonstrations both in Tunisia and in Egypt. Now, on the 15th January, Yusuf Qaradawi, the sheikh of the satellite television, Al Jazeera, and the principal spiritual referent of the Moslem Brotherhood, published an article on his own personal site, entitled “The Tunisian people have given the example of how to get out from under the oppression” (3) , in which he underlined that the Tunisian people had overthrown the tyrant “in a peaceful way without resorting to arms” and that Western help was not appreciated because “Tunisia was able to resolve its own problems by itself”.
The young people who took to the streets in Tunis, although having nothing to do with the Islamic Extremist Movement, founded in 1928, by Hasan al-Banna, were unwittingly realizing the dream of the sheikh: ousting a tyrannical regime, but, above all, a tyrannical regime of unbelievers.
In fact, in 2001, Qaradawi wrote that “the Tunisian model (of secularism) is the worst and most unbecoming, corresponding not so much to the non-believing of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab, but to that of Abd Allah, son of sallul, who is the chief of the hypocrites, for the presence in the Constitution (Tunisian) of the article which says that ‘the official religion of the State is Islam’, but the following articles deny this affirmation at every turn”. (4) .
In the same volume an attack on the Tunisian Personal Status Code was not even spared, which from 1956, that is, from the coming to power of Habib Bourguiba, abolished and severely prohibited the polygamy provided by the Koran. Qaradawi wrote: “This law is opposed to the Koranic text, which contains polygamy among its very precepts […] that the Tunisian Code forbids polygamy, […] while it does not condemn adultery” (5)
On the 25th of last May, Qaradawi published the communiqué “The Arab people are actually carrying out the best jihad” (6) , where the ‘best jihad’ was to be understood as that against the tyrants of the Arab world.
In Tunisia, within two weeks of the departure of Ben Ali, to be exact, the Tunisian Islamic Movement tied to the Moslem Brotherhood – and which had not officially taken part in the protests – had re-entered Tunisia. On the Friday preceding its arrival, the management of the Tunisian mosques had already passed from the hands of the imam of the regime to the imam connected to the Moslem Brotherhood.
On the 1st of March, al-Nahda was legalized following the decision of the Tunisian transitional Government to recognize all the previously banned political parties, together with the choice of adopting an amnesty for all political prisoners.
On the 9th March, the French daily newspaper, Le Temps, released the results of a survey made in Tunisia on a sample of 1.021 persons of both sexes, and of an age superior to 18 years, in the period from 28th February to the 5th March, carried out by Emrhod Consulting (7) . 82% were confident about the future of the revolution. At the same time, 61.4% of the Tunisians do not know what a political party is.
Regarding public favour of the parties, the classification puts the al-Nahda movement in first place with 29%, followed by the Progressive Democratic Party, body of the Left, headed by Najib Chebbi, with 12.3% and Ettajdid, the former communist party, with 7.5%.
The political personality held to be most valid to govern the Country is, according to those interviewed, the former Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi (9%), which exceeds the percentage of the present Prime Minister Béji Caid Essbsi (6.1%) and the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Rachid Ammar (4.2%). It is interesting to note how the al-Nahda Movement is seen by the population as a political party, while not one of its exponents is considered as a possible candidate for president or prime minister.
This data, in fact, corresponds perfectly to the aspirations of the Tunisian Moslem Brotherhood. It is not by chance that Rached al-Ghannouchi very quickly declared that he did not want to run for the leadership of the Country. Also from the declarations subsequent to the re-entry of the leader of al-Nahda, it emerged that the Movement did not aspire to govern, but to act behind the scenes.
It would seem that the Tunisian movement wishes to avoid frightening a Country which has lived, since 1956, under the banner of secularism, that secularism which the Moslem Brotherhood considers an institution wanted by Satan.
The tactics of the Brotherhood in Tunisia are confirmed by the declarations released by Ghannouchi, on the 6th February, relative to the Personal Status Code. He affirmed that the Code is based on the Shari’ah and that, in any case, it is an acquisition that belongs to the Tunisian people and shall not be touched, but, in the meantime, he advised the Minister of Education to reconsider the prohibition of the veil in the Tunisian schools (8) . The request was partially acknowledged by the Ministry of the Interior which, in April, made legal the issue of the identity card also for women who wish to be photographed with the hijab, (the headscarf). (9) .
If the position of Ghannouchi apparently contradicts that of the theologian, Qaradawi and, therefore, seems that he wishes to distance himself from it, it should not be forgotten that the latter, in the month of May, announced his imminent visit to Tunisia, to Sousse, stronghold of the leader of Al-Nahda (10) .
In Egypt, the position of the Moslem Brotherhood is different, both as a starting point and as post-revolutionary tactics. Here, the movement is much more rooted, notwithstanding it was officially banned in 1954, when it was held responsible to have organized an attack on the then Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, it has been in the political arena since the 70’s.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the candidates tied to the Brotherhood, presenting themselves as independents, obtained 88 seats, corresponding to 20% of the total.
During the Mubarak regime, repression and tacit acceptance of the Islamic Extremist Movement were implemented alternatively.
It is sufficient to remember that the works of Yusuf Qaradawi, Egyptian citizen, from 1961 in exile, were continually published by the pro-government Egyptian publishing house, Dar al-Shorouk. Furthermore, until last May, the operative seat of the Moslem Brotherhood was situated in the very central Talat al-Harb Square, a few steps from al-Tahrir Square, and scenario of the demonstration of the Lotus revolution.
Moreover, it cannot be denied that the extreme rootedness of the Movement in Egypt was helped by the perverse economic and social policy of the Mubarak regime, which rendered the Egyptian population – the illiteracy rate of which is around 44% - easy prey to the proselytizing of the Islamic extremism.
This is the reason why the Moslem Brotherhood participated – after an initial hesitation – in the demonstrations in al-Tahrir Square, last January. It is the reason why Yusuf Qaradawi, on the 18th of February, celebrated the Friday prayers in the same square, preaching a sermon typical of the Islam politics, a sermon which left no room for doubt and which, however, as in the Tunisian case, sought to calm the spirits and smooth public opinion. Qaradawi addressed the people as “Moslems and Copts”, “Children of Egypt” and praised the young people of the revolution, who had united in the name of the revolution and in the fight against tyranny, warning anyone who wished to usurp their victory.
Having finished the purely political introduction, Qaradawi took pains to supply a religious, or better, a Koranic justification of the revolution, almost to justify the positive outcome, i.e. the expulsion of the tyrant, with the Islamic tradition: “Mark well that the Koran cites by name only two nations: a nation cited only in verse - Babylon, and Egypt - which is cited five times. The only nation cited more than once in the Koran is that of which God said: ‘You will enter Egypt, if God wishes’ (Koran XII, 99)”.
The Sheikh did not even neglect to thank the Egyptian Army: “I greet this army, which is the armor of its people, its support and its pride” (11) . The entire sermon of Qaradawi deserves a detailed analysis, but here, it is sufficient to confirm the fundamental concepts: the victory of the Egyptian people was won thanks to divine benediction, because Egypt is a favoured nation, and thanks to the help of the army. The final part of the speech contains an appeal for the Palestinian Brothers, to whom is reconfirmed total support, and to whom is wished and promised the reopening of the Rafah Crossing, insisting on the fact that the Moslems will return to pray in the Mosque of al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem. Immediately after, the other Arab peoples are invited to fight for freedom, and the tyrants to cede to the aspirations of the demonstrations, almost to mortgage future victories, with great probability in Syria and Yemen, in favour of the Movement of the Moslem brothers.
The close link between Moslem Brotherhood and the Army emerged also from the results of the Constitutional Referendum on the 27th of last March. The fronts in favour of the amendments and contrary to the ex-novo reformulation of the Constitution brought in a crushing victory, obtaining 77.2% of the votes. The “coalition” winner was constituted by the Army, the National Democratic Party of the former President Mubarak and the Moslem Brothers, in other words, by the old establishment. While defeated, obtaining only 22.8% of the votes, were the Liberal team, Nasserites, left-wing parties and, last, but not least important, the young people of the revolution of the Lotus.
Against the amendments, insofar as they did not include the reform of the Article 2 of the Constitution, in which is provided that “the Shari’ah is the principal source of the Law”, were the Coptic community. One of the first observations which springs from the results of the Referendum is that post-revolutionary Egypt had made an error which Tunisia was able to avoid: the Party tied to Mubarak had not been dissolved, while on 9th March, the Civil Court of the First Instance had declared the political arm of the old regime of Ben Ali dissolved: the Democratic Constitutional Regrouping (RCD) (12) .
The other observation which, instead, concerns more closely the Moslem Brothers is that one sees them as the social and political force most organized and widespread throughout the entire territory.
All this, together with their incredible ability to adapt to new situations, in this case to a system which would like to make of democracy its own banner.
It is also interesting to note how they have understood that an excessive call to Islam could be damaging to their own image, so much so as to decide to change the electoral slogan of the Movement from “Islam is the solution” (al-islam huwa al-hall) to “Freedom is the solution and justice is its application” (al-hurriyya hiya al-hall wa-al-‘adala hiya al-tatbiq), above all, to found a new party, that of Freedom and Justice, with a symbol which has no call either to Islam or to the Koran, let alone bearing the two crossed swords typical of the logo of the Movement. Of course, it is well understood that this does not mean, in any way, that they are failing in their Islamic faith, on the contrary, it is always clearly held that all of their vocabulary be understood and interpreted from the Islamic point of view.
It is evident that they are looking to the future and that, as seen in Tunisia, they are not aiming for direct power. Last May 20th, at the inauguration of the new general quarters of the Brotherhood, in Cairo, the constant coalition between Islamic extremists and regimes in power in the Middle East was confirmed.

Guests of the Supreme Guide, Muhammad Badie were the representatives of the Turkish Government, the Party of Justice and Development, the Turkish Premier, Erdogan, the Palestinian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas and the various acronyms with which they are present in the assorted Islamic Arab States, among which: Algeria, Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Sudan, a delegation of the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, whose executives are appointed by the Government and the former Secretary General of the Arab League, Amru Moussa, who is indicated as the probable winner of the next presidential elections (13) .
In the same way in Syria, lacerated by the ferocious repression of the Bashar Assad regime, they have taken the first steps, even though in this case, with a President/Dictator who seeks to remain in power.
Officially, the Assad family represent the lay and nationalist party, Baath, which has always fought, or better, persecuted any opponent, first of all, among the Moslem Brotherhood which, since July 1980 have been outlawed and to be a member is liable to receive the death sentence. The latter, on their part, as in the Tunisian case, have always considered the Assad regime as apostate because it is contrary to every Islamic precept. On February 3rd 1982, the clashes reached their climax with the sadly remembered massacre of Hama, during which the Army killed circa 20,000 people among militants, the Islamic Movement and civilians.
Notwithstanding the severe repression, just as in Tunisia, the Movement has not disappeared, on the contrary, on the 11th April, Mohammad Riad Shaqfa, the Syrian leader of the Brotherhood, in exile in Saudi Arabia, declared his own support to the pro-democratic demonstrations in his Country of origin.
Interviewed by the Reuters Press Agency, Mohammad Riad Shaqfa also confirmed that although not being present in Syria, the Moslem Brothers enjoy great favour and support from the people and, he added, that “they aspire to construct a civil society where citizens can enjoy freedom without discrimination”.
Shaqfa confirmed his belief in “pluralism and in the electoral process” (14) . Notwithstanding that Shaqfa denied a meeting with the Secret Services of State (the Mukhabarat) to negotiate an agreement, certain facts which have happened recently would seem to confirm it.
If in July 2010, Bashar Assad had forbidden the niqab (the full veil) in public places and especially in the schools, just last April Ali Saad, the Syrian Minister of Education, withdrew the ordinance.
Added to this decision was another which saw the closure of the Casino in Damascus. Veil and gambling in the ideology of the Moslem Brotherhood are poles apart: the first is the symbol of the Islamic woman, while the second is the symbol of moral corruption.
To conclude, the Arab Spring is becoming the great occasion for the Moslem Brotherhood, at the expense of the masses of young, who were the soul of it. The non-participation – complete with official statements – of the Islamic Movement at the demonstrations in Cairo of March 27th last, in which a “second revolution” was called for, is the confirmation that their position is now established, that they no longer need to take to the streets and that, therefore, they already have an assured future in the next government body.
Unfortunately, it is not good news for the Egyptians, above all, for the Coptic community, which represents 10% of the population. The West, especially the United States, and the Catholic Church seem to believe there exists a moderate part within the Brotherhood, which is willing to come to terms with democracy.
Recently, the Director of the review ‘Civiltà Cattolica’ wrote in an editorial that “the recent «revolt of the people», which forced the «Pharaoh», H. Mubarak, after circa thirty years of presidency, to abandon power and retire to private life, has, in many ways, baffled the international public opinion and also the major chancelleries.
The disorders in Piazza Tahir – now become the symbolic place of the protest – have made the fear resurface in many that the Islamists, behind the scenes, are maneuvering public opinion to overthrow the «infidel and idolatrous» tyrant, friend of the West and Israel. In our opinion, the only way to break the deadlock between Islamism and democracy is if one gives to the Islamic movements which have a popular following, first among all, the Moslem Brothers, a possibility of authentic democratization”. (15) .
Unfortunately, the history of the Middle East has taught that whoever has come to some sort of terms with the Moslem Brothers, has bitterly regretted it. An example among many is the assassination of the Egyptian President Sadat in 1981.
It is true that it is the only organized movement, but the alternative exists even though it is still to be built. The alternative is represented by a multi-coloured and seemingly formless mix, but it must not be forgotten that it was exactly this kind of disorganized structure which drove out the dictators from Tunisia and Egypt.
Hence, it is necessary to ponder on whom to support in the delicate transition to democracy and to decide whether to support the already organized movements, such as the Moslem Brotherhood, or gamble on a long-term policy which would see the true protagonists of the change strengthened.

(3) Al-sha’ab al-tunisi daraba al-mathal bi-l-khuruj ‘ala al-zulm cu_no=2&item_no=7836&version=1&template_id=104&parent_id=15
(4) Yusuf Qaradawi, Al-tatarruf al-‘ilmani fi muwajiha al-islam, Il Cairo 2001, 121.
(5) Ibid. 124-125.
(6) Al-shu’ub al-‘arabiyya taqumu haliyyan bi-afdal al-jihad cu_no=2&item_no=7972&version=1&template_id=116&parent_id=114
(10) 116&parent_id=114
(11) For the full version of the sermon in English, see www.hartsem.Edu/documents/Qaradawi.pdf
(12)For an analysis of the results of the Referendum ,see V. Colombo, Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum: Results and future prospects, -and-future-prospects.html
(15) Civiltà cattolica, Quaderno N. 3857 del 05/03/2011