On Egypt ‘coup’, AU, Islam, Democracy, and things….

July 8, 2013 11:43 pm0 comments by:

mohamad-morsi-548x308The ‘coup’ in Egypt that has removed President Morsi out of power  has taken the world aback. I, for a moment, thought ‘are we going back to the 1970s and 80s where coups were the order of the day in Africa?’. But that is definitely not the case, if anything the events in Egypt this week has highlighted how far Africa has come from those years. The African Union (AU) has demonstrated political maturity and reflected that it is indeed 50 years old. The fact that the Union suspended Egypt membership is an independent act and ‘wise’ decision based on democratic principals. Since Morsi was put into power through a ballot box, he should have been taken out of power through the same means. This is how democracy works. I thus applaud the Union for its decision and the wisdom. Other states, notably the USA has found it difficulty to even call it a ‘coup’ due to the existing laws and democratic principals that may tie them to decisions that are not at their nation’s interests. This is what I often call ‘double standards’ in international relations. In general there are different reactions to the incidences and those are based on different interests of either individual or nation. Tony Blair, for example, thinks the coup was a right move.

This week, I am attending a workshop in Burkina Faso titled ‘Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspectives’. The workshop is sponsored by the American Political Science Association (APSA) and hosted by the Institute of Governance and Development (IGD). The workshop facilitators are distinguished Professors from the USA (Kenneth Wald and Leonardo Villalon- from the University of Florida) and African Universities (Augustin Loada, Mahaman Tidjani-Alou, and Einas Ahmed). The lecturers, paper discussions, and readings have further enlightened my understanding of issues of religion in politics and especially so in African politics. It’s tempting to say that the incidences in Egypt have happened at a right time for me to ponder them through the lenses of the readings I have so far done in this workshop.

Since Morsi represented the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an Islamic informed party, there are many who would go back to the ‘one-sided’ arguments that Islam is not compatible to democracy. Such arguments are held by a number of journalists as well as scholars. In Political Science, there are scholars who maintain a concept known as ‘Islamic Free-Elections Trap’, which in general, argue that when Islamic parties get into power through democratic elections they will use the democratic opportunities to destroy democratic principles. In this light, some may argue that is exactly where Morsi was herding to and so the justification for ousting him out of power. Similarly, others argue that due to its political history, Islam cannot separate religion and government.  Such arguments are based on one side interpretation of religious texts. In short, different religious texts can be interpreted in different ways to either support or oppose authority or even democratic principals at large.

There are a number of Islamic majority countries that have proven the above arguments wrong. Such include Senegal, Algeria, Indonesia, and Turkey. These countries have relatively faired well with regards to minimal democratic characteristics such as those outlined by Robert Dahl in his book, Polyarchy. They include: freedom to form and join organizations; freedom of expressions; the right to vote; eligibility for public office; the right of political leaders to compete for support and votes; alternative sources of information; free and fair elections; and institutions for making government policies depending on votes and other expressions of preferences (Stepan 2000: Dahl, 1971).

All in all, international politics and analyses have generally been hostile to religion. The emergence of political Islam and fundamentalism further exacerbated this hostility. However, religion is not always a negative factor in state affairs. When lecturing about Religion and Democracy, Professor Kenneth Wald told us that ‘religion is a double-edged sword’ as it can play both negative and positive roles in the process of democratization. Similarly, in my PhD thesis I maintained that the motive behind my research is to show the positive side of religion in international affairs. The thesis analyzed the relationship between the UK government and faith groups in formulating and implementing international development policies.

As issues of religion are becoming serious in Africa, we need to rethink and re-strategize. Many African countries, especially Anglophone countries have avoided discussions of religion. However, avoiding such discussions will not help.We need to engage religious groups in finding solutions to these nascent religious tensions before they are fully blown. Conflicts with religious elements are the hardest to solve because they involve emotions, beliefs, and can easily cross-border due to transnational nature of religion. It is somehow sad to see how different factions are demonizing each other even on the basis of religion. I would think that, if anything, religion (Islam) would be one of the means to bring the majority of Egyptians in different factions into a negotiation table.

Well, as we are learning lessons from the incidences in Egypt, we have to be sure that we are learning the right lessons. We should not focus on one-sided interpretation but we need to look for balanced strategic analysis that will quench the ‘religious’ fire that is spreading a bad smoke in Africa…

To end, I ask for those who believe in prayers to pray for Egypt. This is a great country that should not go down so easily…just think of the Egyptian Civilization and History…. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have a share in this great country’s history. For Christians, Jesus Christ and his parents ran to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of children (so Egypt provided an asylum for the Lord Jesus Christ), for Jews (Egypt is the only Arab country with a piece treaty with Israel), and for Muslims (Egypt is mainly an Islamic country).

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