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Can Afghan Islamists Learn from their Egyptian Counterparts?

Said Sabir Ibrahimi
Sunday 5 August 2012

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The fall of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime in early 2011 led to some eye-catching transformation of the Egyptian society. The previously banned Islamic political parties, like the Muslim Brotherhood have accomplished huge political success by participating in the parliamentary and presidential elections. In the 1970s the Brotherhood denounced violence and has gone through some reforms. The Brotherhood has enjoyed a great amount of support by many Egyptians. They gave the organization the most unprecedented political achievement in the world by an Islamist group through nonviolent political participation. Islamism in other parts of the world is on the rise; the question is whether a nonviolent approach is practical in their respective countries and regions. In particular, in Afghanistan where there has been four decades of ongoing war under the name of Islam, is an Egyptian style of Islamism possible?

The trend shows that an Egyptian style of Islamism is impractical in Afghanistan. Ironically, some of the Afghan Islamist groups like Hizbe Islami Gulbudin Hekmatyar (HIG) once was inspired by the Brotherhood and in fact was deemed the Afghan branch of the Brotherhood. The current style of Islamism in the country leaves little room for the Brotherhood’s peaceful approach to prevail. There are three main reasons for Afghan Islamism’s failure: (1) mostly, Afghan Islamists are unreasonably traditionalist, and they live in the past, (2) in general, they are not fighting for the Islam, but for personal gain and political power, and (3) Afghan Islamism is not a national cause, because its funding and motivations come from outside. The vicious deeds of these groups have been the testimony of their extreme and aggressive nature. The impediment has been the Taliban, HIG, Haqqani Network (HN) and similar groups. While Islam is a compatible religion, Afghan Islamists have been living in the past and incompatibility.

One classic example is how they treat women. In the 1980s, HIG members threw acid in the faces of girls to prevent them from attending school. In mid 1990s, the Taliban, banned women from all educational opportunities, whereas the in neighboring Islamic states like Iran and Pakistan women lived with more dignity and rights. In Egypt’s Brotherhood organization, women represented nearly half the members. Another classic example is how Afghan Islamists are obsessed with exoteric rituals. Under the Taliban, Afghan men were forced to grow beards, whereas in Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam, many are clean-shaved. Minorities such as Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan were mistreated, compared to Egypt where Coptic Christians have played a major role in the country’s politics – most recently the Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi promised to appoint a Coptic Christian as a senior member of cabinet.

The Taliban, the HIG, the HN and others must accept the fact that we live in a globalized 21st century world, where societies are interdependent and interconnected. Unless the Afghan Islamists disown living in the past, there is no hope for moving forward. This does not mean giving up their Muslim identity; many Islamic states today play major roles in international politics and diplomacy.

It is understandable that there are many issues with the current Afghan system’s injustice, corruption, insecurity and so on. President Karzai admitted the existence of these problems. However, the war under the name of Islam in Afghanistan is not there to tackle the above mentioned issues, rather the war is a struggle for power and personal gain. The discourse is that insurgents are fighting the infidels and foreigners, but the civil war of the 1990s tells us otherwise. The HIG and HN actively participated in the Afghan civil war of the 1990s, after the fall of the communist regime. Gulbudin who was given the Prime Minister position, rejected the proposal and fought for power under the name of Islam, and his hostility continues until today. The Taliban fought other Jehadi groups for some five years after gaining control of Kabul in mid 1990s. For four decades the rockets and bombs of the Afghan Islamists have been destroying the homes and lives of Afghans. The Brotherhood, moved towards community development and building houses and shelters for the poor. Despite ongoing pressure by the Mubarak regime, the organization acted peacefully and took part in community mobilization, charity work, and development.

There is no doubt that an overwhelming majority of Afghans are devoted Muslims, and that Afghanistan is an Islamic State. However, not many believe in militant Islam. Studies show that many Afghans have joined the insurgency because of the lack of economic opportunities. In general, Afghan society does not condone radicalism. Having lived and travelled to the villages of Bamyan, Herat, Balkh, Farah, Nengarhar, and Wardak, miles away from urban areas, I have seen the quest of food, education and a better future in the eyes of the men and women, girls and boys of Afghanistan.
It is the foreigners, namely Afghanistan’s neighbors, who for political reasons, use the radical element to sabotage the country. They have created monsters like Mulla Omar, Haqqani and Gulbudin, who are there just for the money. In between, unfortunately, some Afghans fall for their deception.

In contrast, the Brotherhood’s efforts are supported by a majority of the Egyptians. Foreigners do not tell them what to do and what to not do. Hostile Islamism is not a national cause of Afghans, it is an individual’s cause. The real Afghan Islamism is the thirst for peace.

Today, Islamists in Afghanistan argue that they are performing Jihad against the foreigners in Afghanistan. FYI: the foreigners are packing up to leave. It is hard to understand what kind of holy war are they achieving by destroying Afghan schools built with charity money; by arbitrary arresting and slaughtering Afghans and accusing innocent people as spies for the foreigners and the government; by orchestrating suicide attacks in Afghan marketplaces and bus stops where innocent people including children are martyred; by killing defenseless women with a shot of a Kalashnikov to their heads. Surely, they do not have any plausible answer to these questions. By terrorizing a nation, the extremists think they will win. Maybe political power can be achieved through violence, but is it moral and sustainable? The big question is, is it Islamic? History shows that the Taliban regime collapsed in less than five years, and the regimes before it did not last long either. All were based on violence and aggression toward people.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is an Afghan national, born and raised in Kabul. He has a degree in Political Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, USA. He has worked with several international organizations, in the field of refugee rights and development, in Afghanistan. He can be reached at saberibrahimi gmail.com and https://www.facebook.com/saberibrahimi

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Forum posts

  • Good article! I think an issue that comes up in my mind is the lack of work these Islamic Nationalists accomplish. Perhaps in their minds they are following the Path; but in terms of competing on the global market, what can they accomplish? I remember the story of Rahmatullah Hashemi going to Yale. It seemed contradictory on the part of America to have invaded his country and fighting his fellow brothers and yet allow him to go to one of the best American colleges! But looking back at it; it would be people like Rahmatullah that will make long-term changes in Afghanistan for the better or worse depending on the opportunities provided by the international community.

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  • i dont understand your position..

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