The reason behind the religiosity of the Arab World and its conspicuous Islamic nature is because it is its heritage, more so than Christianity as heritage to secular Europe.
One must say that the Arab World has experienced secularism somehow, but a tainted one. It has its liberals. Most of the toppled dictators were seculars, however unscrupulously corrupt and their very own policies were against their people.
Even culturally, no one could have imagined Arab girls wearing mini-skirts. Many pictures of the 1970s, 1960s and even far beyond reflected a different theme, but many of these girls who are mothers, grandmothers now, chose to cover their delicate stems.
When I was in Egypt, visiting Alexandria, I found the number of women donning the face veil, niqab, shocking; even my Egyptian friends who I was with, were also surprised. They said it was not the case before the January 25 Revolution.
Currently, Baathism, an ideology that touts Arab unity or Arabism and socialism, is the last secular ideology that is wavering in face of wide-based revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. If Assad to fall, most likely Syria to fall under the control of an Islamist-dominated government.
Quite evidently, the first Arab country to experience a total overhaul after toppling its staunchly corrupted secular dictator was Tunisia. The Tunisians chose a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, on October 23, 2011.
A month later, Morocco under great pressure to stave off any Arab Spring revolt, held an election. Not surprisingly, it had an Islamist-inspired Justice and Development Party becoming the ruling party in Morocco on November 29, 2011.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists won the most parliamentary seats after the January 25 Revolution, a stark change from the toppled dictator’s era Hosni Mubarak, when these people were imprisoned and tortured.
In Libya, while the country’s future looks a bit murkier in comparison to other Arab countries, no conspicuous political party is evident. Instead the country fell to prey to tribal sparring, with some tribal leaders attempted to set up a semi-autonomous region called Barqa. However, once the strongman Muammar Qaddafi was gone, the head of the Transitional National Council (TNC) and in his first speech after Qaddafi’s toppling, he said polygamy was legalized!
But even before the Arab Spring, Islamists winning elections had its precedence.
In 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party gained popularity amongst Algerians, and in an attempt to halt the Islamic party finally winning, the government cancelled elections after the first round, and military was in charge of the country. This led to a civil war which took the lives of more than 150,000 people. Maybe one important reason why Algeria did not experience a full-fledged Arab Spring revolution, even though it qualifies for one, I suppose people are sick of deaths!
In Iraq after the toppling of the slain dictator Saddam Hussein and with an American help, Shiites won elections. But in Iraq’s 2010 legislative elections, the secular party, Al-Iraqiya, won elections however marginally. It couldn’t lead because other Islamic parties formed a wider coalition that put Al-Iraqiya in the backseat.
The Arab World if not, even other Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, are overwhelmingly Islamist in governance.
People if not nations, tend to go back to what make up their identities. While national identities do shape up the Arab World as well as other Muslim nations, religion will always remain a priority.
Islam after all does not alienate the masses. It is not some bourgeoisie, elitist, borrowed ideology. Nor it is unpractical as the romantic Arabism or Nasserisim. It carries a lot of spiritual nourishment that can be of help to an oppressed, disfranchised Arab worker whose monthly wage is probably less than a fracture of a minimum wage.
The West had its philosophers who championed ideas that were not so Christian and far away from religion; while they affected Arabs and the rest of the world, they did not invigorate the Arab soul as much as Islam did, even if an Arab individual chooses to be secular, there has to be some effect of that Islamic heritage. In the matter of fact, many of the prominent Arab thinkers that a simpleton-minded Arab may know were Islamic. However, one most note, Islamic scholars do give high credit to humanity’s progress to that of secular philosophers.
Islam also had its golden age that brings pride even to the most common of Arab citizens. Islam did support science, philosophy flourished, and there was welfare support to people, and all of this is engraved in the Muslim World memory. People do long to a golden era originated from an ideology that is more so native and not foreign.
However, growing up in a socialist Iraq, and like some other Arab countries, there was some communist heritage in the country. It is not rare but somehow common to find people who are communists. Last month, in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, communists had a get together, it made me mutter, “so they still exist and in the most holiest land in Iraq!”
After the fall of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, mafias beleaguered the region, but democracy survived, but in the Arab World, Islamism has emboldened.
One must note, Arab communists and socialists rose amid a special political environment that challenged them…they were also bad in not producing abundance to the masses. Even Arab right-wing liberals failed in economics.
I remember reading an article about the Greek financial crisis and how the country never suffered from an alarming suicide rate but it is now…I remembered the war time back in Iraq, I remembered the sanctions…I did not remember people talk of suicides, but maybe definitely of rising theft and robberies…
I do remember Iraqis queuing for Oil-for-Food Program and in lines amid thriving poverty and despair, but I do remember the increasing religiousness of people. My once-rebellious mother started to wear the hijab, and my father heading more to the mosques, and both always told me “always depend on God!” Seriously, they do have a point, we did not have a government nor any other support system to help us. I remember my mother’s salary as an engineer could barely buy a kilo of meat or even a good shoe.
If my parents did not have the education nor the brains, we could have been stuck in Iraq, and we couldn’t be privileged Canadians. I wonder how about those other Arab citizens who couldn’t have the right education, and there are many!
When times are tough, Arabs do get religious, because they know that they have only God, and I know that for sure.
(Dina al-Shibeeb, a staff writer at Al Arabyia, can be reached at email@example.com)