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Ed Webb

There is Nothing Inevitable About Dictatorships in Muslim States | Opinion - 0 views

  • former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt as an autocrat for three decades, appeared as a witness against imprisoned former Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader. Besides being former Egyptian presidents, they had something else in common: their religious supporters both considered revolting against them to be a forbidden form of "khuruj ‘ala al-hakim" – "withdrawing from the ruler." This wasn’t just an idle sentiment; it was expressed by Ali Gomaa’, the-then Mufti of Egypt whose words I heard when in Cairo during the revolutionary uprising of 2011. “Khuruj ‘ala al-shar’iyya haram, haram, haram” – ‘exiting’ from [political] legitimacy is religiously forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.”
  • Supporters of Arab autocratic regimes of Mubarak and others that faced the Arab uprisings were not the only ones to use this tool
  • it is undeniable that the world has changed a great deal since the concept had widespread currency among Muslims and was applied to pre-modern modes of government. Whether Muslim religious establishments have collectively realised this or not, the modern autocratic ‘president’ holds far more power—if only due to technology alone—than the medieval sultan. And far more destructive than that is that civil society in today’s world is far weaker—especially in the modern Arab world—than it was in pre-modern Muslim societies
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  • Pre-modern Muslim communities were governed by far more libertarian systems—systems that were underpinned by social institutions, rather than the crippling and coercive powers of the modern state
  • much—if not all—of the region has since been shaped by a new trauma in post-colonial states. That trauma is what results in much of the autocracy that we now take for granted
  • The modern autocrat or dictator in Syria owes far more to the system of colonialism that immediately preceded it, than it does to intrinsic Arab or Muslim systems of governance from past centuries
  • the system of autocracy and dictatorship faces a deep contradiction with the internal logic of the Islamic tradition of scholasticism. Islamic religious authoritativeness depends in large part on the equivalent of academic peer review among scholars, and then upon the popularity of scholars among the wider population. How can such ‘peer review’ take place without a corresponding atmosphere of intellectual freedom and accountability?
  •  If Muslim religious scholars today seek to revive and rejuvenate religious discourse, they urgently need environments of creative and open enquiry. The ethics of the Islamic tradition cannot exist otherwise.
  • autocrats are loathe to imagine any such environments – and that is the underpinning of the counter-revolutionary waves endemic throughout much of the wider region today.
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