Religion in power is the end of any form of democratic politics

The below is a section of Maryam’s speech On the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa at a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden on 4 February 2012:

The ‘Arab Spring’ represents a period of revolutions. It’s exciting, isn’t it?

People in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya… have rise up against dictatorships. It’s a period of immense human development. It shows how it is still possible for people to come out onto the streets and revolt and that revolution is truly the most civilised form of resistance against oppression. It has proven the anti-revolution and pro-status quo politicians wrong. It has also signalled the beginning of the end of the racist social policy of cultural relativism and multi-culturalism where people are boxed into imagined homogenous ‘communities’ with dictatorship and Islamism being deemed as part of their ‘culture’.

If anything the similarities in form and content between the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa and the 99% movement or occupy Wall Street or where have you prove this. Both are based on the actual occupation of public spaces – citizens taking back control. Content-wise, too, their demands are deeply rooted in a criticism of the current economic crisis, capitalism, inequality, mass unemployment, and poverty. The revolutions in the region were sparked by Mohammad Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, who set himself on fire when banned from selling fruit to make a meagre living.

Whilst some have already started calling it an ‘Arab Winter’ and surrendering to Islamists on people’s behalves, these have not been Islamist revolutions. The foot soldiers have been workers, the unemployed, youth, women, the poor… Islamists didn’t spearhead the revolutions nor were they instrumental in them. They were nowhere to be seen. And the revolutions’ demands were not Islamist ones. After all, Islamism has certain characteristics – such as the demand for Sharia law or veiling, which were not people’s demands when they took to the streets.

Clearly, though, revolutionary forces have not taken power – Islamists have. But there are a number of reasons for that. Countries under autocratic rule need time to recover. In Egypt, there were clashes over the demand to delay the elections but they went ahead nonetheless. Islamist do well under such circumstances since they have a superior organisation, backing from other Islamic states and groups, a history and access via social welfare organisations and mosques. They easily take advantage of such situations to gain power.

It doesn’t help that democracy reduces demands for freedom and liberation to a mere electoral process. As long as some form of voting has taken place, it is irrelevant whether people have actually achieved real freedom, social justice or secularism. That a supposed government of the people can be ruled by the divine is a clear indication of its failings. No matter how many have fought or died, parliamentary democracy is there to ensure that the establishment remains victorious. The fact that in Egypt, for example, that the counter-revolutionary Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party won having formed an alliance with the army is a victory for the establishment not the other way round.

The post-modernist Left that has an affliction for defending Islamism and reaction at people’s expense has lined up to welcome its ‘victory’. The Human Rights Watch Director has said that the international community must come to terms with ‘political Islam when it represents a majority preference’ and that it is seen to be the antithesis of autocratic rule. But Islamism is also autocratic. If a majority prefer something, it doesn’t make it right; nonetheless, Islamism wasn’t the preference of the revolutions. It’s a distortion to say so.

As the Marxist Mansoor Hekmat has said, ‘Bourgeois society has succeeded in substituting the concept of freedom and the struggle for it by that of democracy. By doing so it has managed to pre-determine the extent of the onset of the subjugated classes in their search for freedom, as well as the eventual shape of their victory.’ For people in the region, this has been determined to be Islamic democracy!

But commentators will say that Islamism is just Muslims involved in the public space. Nonsense. Islamism is first and foremost a far-Right political movement and no more represents people who are ‘Muslim’ or labelled as such than far-Right European parties represent all ‘Christians’.

Conflating Islamism with Muslim is part of the effort of feigning representation. In fact Islamism is part of the project for controlling the population at large and is not an exercise in people’s democratic intervention. That Islamists are attempting to hijack the revolutions is not one and the same with their representing it. In Iran we’ve seen how a left-leaning revolution was eventually crushed and expropriated by Islamism. And it certainly doesn’t make them a force to be welcomed and supported.

Commentators have said ‘Islamists can be democrats’ but this is untrue. Religion in power is the end of any form of democratic politics. The post-modernist Left that supports Islamism because its enemy’s enemy is its ally, because of its Eurocentric and racist aligning with the ‘colony’s’ ruling elite no matter what happens there, and because of its own affinity with Islamism ignores what that movement means for the revolutionary people of the region. It’s not concerned with equality, social justice or class politics.

I know these ‘post-Islamists’ as they are being called have promised ‘moderation’. But moderation when religion is in power lacks meaning. Katatni of the Freedom and Justice Party has said, for example, ‘I cannot draft a law that says unveiled women will be forbidden from this or that [but] I must make her feel that her punishment is in the afterlife.’ Some moderation! We’ve already seen restrictions on rights and the curtailment of free expression with their gaining power. Even so, their proclamations of ‘moderation’ is not to their but to the people’s credit. It is the revolutions that place constraints on the Islamists forcing them to feign moderation. And it is these very revolutionary forces that we must be defending and strengthening. The space that the revolution has opened will not be closed so easily but like anything else that matters in the world, it depends on our will and intervention.

The forces of reaction have lined up in defence of Islamism. We must in turn line up to defend the revolutions, secularism, real equality and freedom and a concept of citizenship not linked to religion.


  1. RW Ahrens says

    This is so true, and the principles you outline are as applicable to other religions as well! Substitute the name of any other religion where you use “Islamism”, and it would be as true.

    Details would differ, but principles never change. Great post!


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