The Islamists Will Govern Undemocratically

The Arab revolutionary states are experiencing a dangerous association between Islamism and nationalism, fears Boualem Sansal, who is calling for the formation of a Mediterranean union

By Boualem Sansal

It cannot be denied: We are unsettled. A new era is unfolding before our very eyes, and we understand neither what is in store for us, nor the potential developments. There are other examples, but not all of them are encouraging. Other countries – Iran for example, Turkey, Afghanistan and Somalia – have also chosen the path of Islamism. But the Arab experience is unique. It scares us, because it is so daunting and so incoherent.

Although during their courageous uprising against the dictators, we largely heard the calls from Arab nations for democracy and support from the free world, they have taken a decisive dive into Islamism. Did we lack the necessary ability to judge or did we miss something important? The fact is: The Arab world evades our comprehension.

Islamism has clearly clinched an important result: It is now claiming its place, it is governing nations, controlling a population of 350 million people – not counting migrants living in Europe and the African neighbours it can bring into its sphere of influence. It also has bridgeheads in other places and possesses the legitimacy of the polling booth, which earns it international recognition.

Islamists want to enforce their own ideas on morality

If it succeeds in uniting these nations within a solid Islamist union in future, which would then replace the risible Arab League, it will go far. It could toy with the idea of resurrecting the mythical Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam that once ruled the Arab world.

Unexpected election victory: Algerian President Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) was the clear winner in a parliamentary poll last May. It captured 208 seats out of a possible 462

​​And Algeria? Algeria is putting on the brakes while at the same time remaining involved in the movement. Power corrupts, deceives, represses, terrorizes, promotes the informal sector and cultural regression. In parliamentary elections on 10 May it carried out yet another masterstroke, namely to ensure the election of the party most detested by Algerians: the FLN, the former Unity Party that plundered their nation and destroyed their lives. The Islamists, who were billed as favourites in the poll, recorded the worst results. They insist that just as in 1991, they were robbed of victory. The prospect of another civil war looms.

What do we know about the governing modus operandi of the Islamists that have emerged from the Arab Spring? Will they do justice to the expectations of the people? Of course not – the only choice for a Muslim is Islam. And if democracy prevents him from making that choice, then that democracy is a crime against Islam.

On a political level, they will adhere to tradition, maintain their position of power with all means at their disposal and only allow a change of government within the constraints of the Islamic code. On an economic level, they will foster the informal sector, which they also partially control already. On the streets, they will enforce Islamist ideas on morality.

Mediterranean union coupled with Marshall Plan

The first group to be targeted will be women. The situation of Christians, intellectuals and those on the fringes of society will worsen, as it has done in Algeria and Egypt – places where persecution is already taking place. Relations with the West will be difficult. The Islamists make irreconcilability with the West into a pillar of their faith. Triumphant Islamism and Arab nationalism will spur each other on, thereby fomenting a new identity. This will soon result in the formation of a caste of glowing and legendary dignitaries.

The advance of political Islam: "Islamism has clearly clinched an important result: It is now claiming its place, it is governing nations, controlling a population of 350 million people," says Sansal

​​Pride at finally having completely regained this Arab-Islamic identity will be at the centre of official propaganda, coupled with relentless criticism of western contempt for the Arabs. This discourse will result in both regime and society adopting characteristics that are akin to fascism in nature. The process has already begun.

What form could a solution take? Perhaps something like this: emanating from the Mediterranean, which upon closer examination is at the heart of the problem, and realizing a large, unifying project. The Mediterranean is, irritatingly, not clearly defined: Is it a trade zone, a war zone, a border between two incompatible worlds?

To the North, Europe erects walls to protect itself against illegal immigration and what it perceives to be aggressive Islamic missionary work. To the South, the Arab world is upgrading Islam and tradition, to arm itself against the spillover of western culture and prevent itself from catching the virus that is democracy.

The various manifestations of this fundamental antagonism are terrorism, discord between various groups and a perpetual cycle of diplomatic crises. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another expression of this. This is a world far removed from that of the US and China, countries that can do nothing to address the issue.

This is a matter for neighbours that must learn to live together. A Mediterranean union, steered on both sides by people with vision – coupled with a comprehensive Marshall Plan – this would constitute a solid working basis.

Boualem Sansal

© ZEIT ONLINE / 2012

Born in 1949, Boualem Sansal is a francophone Algerian writer. He was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in October 2011.

Translated from the German by Nina Coon editor: Lewis Gropp