Democracy in the eyes of Yusuf al-Qaradawi

The turbulent events in Egypt originate in the opposition against an authoritarian and corrupt regime. The times of Hosni Mubarak, the 55 billion dollar man, have passed. And the world rejoices. Surely, nobody can be opposed to a democratic revolution? At first sight, this seems to be a rhetorical question.

The essence of a rhetorical question is that it doesn’t need an answer. The answer is so obvious that it is embedded in the question. In our Western world, both the political left and right, the secular and the religious, the old and young, almost every human being with a sound mind supports the call for democracy.

The unanimity seems overwhelming. But are we really dealing with a rhetorical question? There seems to be one little problem: the concept of democracy. Many different ships wave the banner of democracy. Egypt’s flagship is led by the Muslim Brotherhood. They express remarkable views on democracy.

The unchallenged spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the 84 year old Egyptian sheikh who coordinates his international movement from Qatar.  Al-Qaradawi is the worldwide political and religious ideologist of all organizations of Muslim Brethren. In the Netherlands the members of Parliament Al-Fassed and Marcouch are known to be his admirers. The former religious consultant of the city of Rotterdam professor Tareq Ramadan is also a follower of Al-Qaradawi.

The thoughts of the Muslim Brotherhood were written down by Al-Qaradawi in 1990 in a study which appeared in English under the title Priorities of The Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase. This work can be considered to be the political agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the past few decades this agenda has been executed in Egypt flawlessly. The Islamic Awakening is a long term process.

Al-Qaradawi aims at the revival of true Islam on all levels in society and at the establishment of an Islamic state. This program asks for proper and long lasting preparation by a vanguard of well-trained Muslims. By education, political activism, social programs, intellectual and scientific activities and foremost jihad (liberation of Muslim Territories) they are working systematically on the realization of a society which is completely governed by Islam. In this effort Al-Qaradawi promotes broad use of modern techniques of communication. In his view, all problems of society are caused by deviating from the path of Islam. At the same time he states that, instead of returning to the past, he wants to restore sharia in modern society.

Because of their social and educational programs the Muslim Brethren have found many supporters amongst Egypt’s population. Apart from the NDP, Mubarak’s ruling party, the Brethren constitute the only well-organized political movement in the country with a clear political program. In effect, Al-Qaradawi has already written this program in detail.  His front of Muslim activists must be well educated in psychology and mass communication. They have to be able to speak the language of their political opponents in order to be seen as serious and equal partners in discussion. Al-Qaradawi relies on the chameleonic capabilities of the leaders of his Islamic movement: adaptation in words and gestures to the political game, but always with the general focus on the ideal of Islamic Awakening. Tactical operations can differ from time to time, but have to be focused on the ultimate goal of attainment of power.

For power is what it’s all about in the political theatre. For the Muslim Brotherhood it is ultimately about total political power, not about sharing responsibility and authority with other political movements. Islamic Awakening is comprehensive and only rests when society and the rule of law have been Islamized fully. Multiparty democracy is at most a transitional phase, which has to be endured out of tactical considerations. The establishment of the new global Caliphate remains the goal of the movement, literally and metaphorically. Al-Qaradawi regards the Islamization of the world and primacy of sharia as the explicit final stage of political and religious development. On this he leaves no doubt whatsoever in his Priorities.

Al-Qaradawi’s position regarding democracy is constructed ingeniously. It highlights the way in which the Muslim Brotherhood will act in the near future in shaping the post-Mubarak era. I quote the Priorities: “What I wish to stress here is that Islam is not democracy and democracy is not Islam and that I would rather that Islam is not attributed to any principle or system.”  Moreover, Al-Qaradawi does not want to adopt the Western democratic model because of its “bad ideologies and values”.  Islam is the base of law, not democracy which considers the people to be the source of all power.

At this point we encounter an essential element in Al-Qaradawi’s discourse. Democracy is not seen as a danger anymore only when the majority of people are Muslim according to the tenets of Islamic Awakening. Off course, “such a people would not be expected to pass a legislation that contradicts Islam and its incontestable principles and conclusive rules.”

According to Al-Qaradawi every fear of  non-Islamic  legislation and decisions can be dealt with by a legal provision that stipulates “that any legislation contradicting the incontestable provisions of Islam shall be null and void because Islam is the religion of the State and the source of legitimacy of all its institutions and therefore may not be contradicted”.  Here Al-Qaradawi has reached his goal: the closed system of Islamic Democracy. The chicken-and-egg situation of Islamism has become reality: once the people have been Islamized, automatically proper legislation will be in place. It’s that easy. And democracy will not be a problem anymore.

I sincerely hope that politicians and opinion makers who now so enthusiastically express their joy about the democratic awakening of the Arab world, also are aware that words and concepts do not always and everywhere have the same meaning. Democracy for the Muslim Brotherhood differs fundamentally from its Western meaning. The interpretation of democracy by the Brethren is almost the exact opposite of the Western democratic model. And if one is still in doubt about this and there is plenty of time and energy left, I would suggest the reading of Priorities of The Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase. It is easy to be found on the Internet. Well written, but with a spooky message.

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