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Islam, Egypt and political theory

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 06:58 PM PDT

The Economist

ON the face of things, this week's events in Egypt have validated a theory about Islam and society that seemed contrarian when it was first floated. In 1992 a French analyst of the Muslim world, Olivier Roy, published a book entitled "L'├ęchec de l'Islam politique"—translated into English three years later as "The Failure of Political Islam". 

Back then, political Islam—the idea that Islam could provide a platform for taking and exercising power in modern times—seemed to be doing quite well. The Islamic masters of Iran, having withstood a long war with Iraq, were looking for new places to extend their influence, including the former Soviet republics to their north. In Algeria, an Islamist party had won a clear electoral majority, triggering a military intervention and then a civil war whose outcome was anybody's guess. It seemed clear that wherever secular despots were willing to relax their grip, Islamist parties would step into the void.

But none of those things disproved the thesis of Mr Roy, who is now a professor at the European University Institute. One of his simplest but most compelling points was that for all its power as a mobilising slogan, Islam just does not provide the answers to the problems of governing a modern state. Quite recently the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab spring seemed, once again, to challenge Mr Roy's analysis. But as of this week, he could be forgiven for saying: "I told you so."

In fact, he was saying more interesting things than that when I spoke to him today. These are some of the points he has made about the turmoil in Cairo. The Brotherhood regime in Egypt fell, of course, under the weight of its own incompetence (and in particular its failure to recruit technocrats) and its perceived nepotism. These sins fell short of big-time corruption, because the government did not last long enough to refine that art; but it still looked pretty bad. Nor, Mr Roy told me, could the Morsi government consolidate its power by "Islamising society"—one of the Brotherhood's stated goals—because Egyptian society was about as Islamised as it could be already.

So did that "Islamisation of society" represent a success at least for the Brotherhood's work as a semi-clandestine, semi-overt opposition movement over the past several decades? Not really, because Egypt's Islamised social world was not centrally co-ordinated, as the Brotherhood would like it to be, but highly diverse, with sub-cultures growing around particular charismatic preachers and theological trends. Egypt's Muslim majority might be devout, but it was also "modern" in the sense that more than one Islamic style was available and individuals could make their choice. Even the strict back-to-basics form of Islam known as Salafism was a kind of modern choice, in the sense that individuals, rather than groups, opt it into it.

Mr Roy is surely right to stress that Islam cannot provide detailed prescriptions for governing a modern state. As another scholarly Islam-watcher, Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim of America's Emory University, has pointed out, Islam cannot even provide a clear basis for the centralised administration of family law, even though Islamic texts have a huge amount to say about family law. That is because the very idea of centralised administration did not exist at the time when the various schools of Muslim family law were evolved; in those days many matters were adjudicated at the level of the local community or the clan.

But the fact that a political project is ultimately impossible will not stop people shouting for it, dying for it, trying their best to implement it. An ideology can still play an important role in history, even if it has little to contribute to the challenges of complex societies. And there is a sense in which all political projects, conceived in the abstract, are bound to fail when they face contact with hard reality. After all, as a famously jaded French philosopher said, at some level everybody fails in life.


Shake-up in Sabah STAR leadership

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 02:05 PM PDT

Jeffrey Kitingan has dropped all his five deputies and is rumoured to have appointed an ex-Umno leader as Sabah State Reform Party's vice-chairman. 

Luke Rintod, FMT

The Sabah chapter of Sarawak-based State Reform Party (STAR) top leadership has appointed its new state line-up in a presidential-decree style, shocking reform-minded leaders in the party.

With the absence of a clear proviso in the party constitution, Sabah STAR chairman, Jeffrey Kitingan, is apparently left with absolute power 'to hire and fire' in the party here.

He began his bid to overhaul the party following its shocking defeats in the recent 13th general election, by not reappointing all his five deputies.

The five who were dropped are Daniel John Jambun, Awang Ahmad Sah Awang Sahari, Paul Voon, Dr Nicholas James Guntobon and Jacob Sadang Chang.

Except for Jambun, the rest, it is understood, have not indicated their intention to stop serving in their capacities.

Jambun has since told FMT that he wanted to concentrate on the activities of his UK-based NGO, Borneo's Plight in Malaysia Foundation (BOPIM).

FMT learnt that Kitingan only consulted a few Sabah STAR leaders on his new line-up, notably its secretary Guande Kohoi, leaving even some senior leaders who had stood in the just-concluded general election, in the dark until last minute.

Paul Voon, Awang Ahmad Sah and Dr Guntobon however were among the 60 party divisional leaders summoned to Sunflower Restaurant in Penampang near here to hear the announcement.

Dr Guntobon when contacted said he is now one of the vice-chairmen in the party and has been retained as Kitingan's deputy head for Keningau.

Dr Guntobon however has been "stripped" of his post as coordinator of Liawan state constituency where he had stood in the recent election.

Keeping genuine leaders

Jambun when contacted only said: "I refused reappointment. I wanted to focus on my NGO that seeks to restore the sovereignty of Sabah as nation".

He refused further comment on STAR and surfacing rumours of disappointment among the party's second-echelon of leaders on the new line-up which they claimed included a fresh former Umno leader. The ex-Umno leader has apparently been appointed as vice-chairman.



Umno polls will decide the nation’s future

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 02:00 PM PDT

By calling for a no contest for the top two posts, Umno leaders are depriving Malaysians of better choice for the post of prime minister and deputy prime minister. 

Since Independence, the top two posts in Umno have always been held by the prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.

G Vinod, FMT

Now that the 13th general election is over, much of our leaders' energies are focused on their respective party polls.

Umno, MCA, MIC and Gerakan are expected to hold their party polls this year. As for the opposition, PKR has postponed its polls to next year but PAS will hold its party election this year.

But all eyes will be on Umno's elections, as it is the biggest Malay political party in Malaysia and is also the lynchpin of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Since Independence, the top two posts in Umno have always been held by the prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.

Probably that is why the battle for the posts have always been intense and at least on one occasion, downright ugly to the extent of getting the party deregistered and putting the nation in turmoil.

Take for instance in 1987, former Umno president Dr Mahathir Mohamad was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah for the top post but the latter lost his bid by a slim majority.

However, the battle did not end there. Subsequent legal challenges to the party polls got Umno deregistered and almost brought the entire nation to a halt.

The controversial amendment to the Federal Constitution that placed the judiciary under parliamentary purview is said to be linked to the legal challenges Umno was facing at that time.

In 2009, then Umno president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also decided to not defend his post after the 12th general election, citing he did not want to see the party divided.

Abdullah's words seems to imply that any contest for the top posts would bring instability to the party.

Nation's interest must be protected

While many Umno leaders would like to maintain the status quo for the sake of stability, the question we must ask is: Are the party's top two posts an exclusive purview of Umno?

The answer is no. As mentioned earlier, those holding the top two posts automatically become the nation's prime minister and deputy prime minister.

This is what most Umno leaders fail to understand. They must comprehend the fact that they are electing the nation's top two leaders, not Umno's alone.

For example, if Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah contests and wins the Umno presidency, he will become the new prime minister.

Similarly, if Pengerang MP Azalina Othman makes a bid for the Umno deputy presidency and wins, she will become the nation's number two.

So, by barring the contest for the top two posts, Umno, in effect, is depriving Malaysians of a better choice for prime minister and deputy prime minister.




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