Friday, 30 November 2012

Professor Tariq Ramadan on Arab Spring and Role of Turkey

Professor Tariq Ramadan on Arab 
Spring and the Role of Turkey

Dr. Mozammel Haque

A Conference entitled “An Overview of the Arab Spring and the Role of Turkey” organised by Network of Students Seminar, held on Wednesday 24th of October 2012 at the House of Commons' Committee Room. The conference was chaired by Kristiane Backer, author of “From MTV to Mecca” and TV Presenter. Tariq Ramadan, renowned scholar and Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, who has authored a book entitled “The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East”, delivered an extensive talk on the subject.

Nationalistic vision
Professor Tariq Ramadan was “less optimistic and very cautious about the Arab Spring”. He has written a book recently entitled “The Arab Awakening”. He thinks what is happening in the region is “a very nationalistic vision, the workings in Tunisia, Egyptian awareness for the region or the regional dimension” “a regional dynamic”. He does not accept the idea of calling it “Revolution”.

Regional dimension
So Professor Ramadan was cautious about everything. When he started the discussion on Turkey, he mentioned first “a shift in the awareness of what is a shift in the Arab strategy in the regional level.”

His first point is that what is happening in the Arab region is completely contrary to what the American and the West could hope in the region. He said, “I think we should be very cautious, not going as far as theory but understanding that there are many dimensions to what we are witnessing now.”

Political obsession
His second point considered the obsession with the political model. Professor Ramadan said that we are so much obsessed with the political model that we are not asking the right question. He said, “So obsessed are we with political model, for example, whether we can follow in the footsteps of the Turkish, the marketing model; are the Islamists becoming democrats, etc, that we are missing the right question to ask: The economic dimension of what is happening is much more important. You know, we are supporting the marketing; we are supporting the democracy in the West; we are monotheism. This is not the case - we had dictatorships.”

Speaking about Turkey, Professor Ramadan reminded us that Turkey is very powerful and has an economic strategy much more powerful than all the discussions about the people. He said, “We need to have an analysis at the multiple level, to have a perception of the global and regional analyses; there is a need for a case-by-case analysis. We have to be extremely deep in understanding the dynamics within each and every country and at the same time have a regional and global understanding of what is happening.”

Professor Ramadan also advised that we should not only deal with MENA (Middle East & North Africa); but when dealing with MENA, we must also “consider India and Israel, which is silent. The fact that Israel is silent about everything that is happening now in all these countries, is not for nothing; Israel is not just an observer,” he said.

People wanted new policy
Professor Ramadan then went on to consider what people want in the region. “Just to get something against the dictators; to get rid of the dictators. There is something which is very important, beyond all the analysis about what the people wanted of more freedom, more respect. The people are asking for new policy and I am not sure that what we have now is what they are hoping to have; there is a gap between what the people expect and then the government and what we have done now. This gap is quite important. And this is now this massive demonstration, we want to get rid of dictators, Ben Ali and Mubarak.”

Turkish model
Professor Ramadan analysed the political discussion and thought “this polarisation between the secularists and Islamists is a trap, mainly promoted by activists and the people who are involved in the discussion in the Arab world. It was the West portraying us. It was the case in Tunisia, in Egypt and even you know, it was understood when (the Turkish Prime Minister) Tayyib Erdogan visited Cairo in Egypt saying to the Islamists don’t do this. This was the Turkish model that’s coming from an Islamic background and dealing with the secularists’ model. It was dealt with by being perceived as a model. It is coming from the Turkish experience and not the Egyptian experience. The young people even in the Muslim Brotherhood were very pleased with what he said,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “the Turkish model is not the Muslim Brotherhood. There is young leadership and the old leadership.”

Main question was not dealt with
In making his point, the Professor, said, “You find secularists using the Islamists and talking to the West, saying ‘You are backward; you are not promoting the marketing democracy and what you want is to come back with Shari’ah and to impose a religious model’. The Islamists then respond by saying 'You are westernised and you are following and completely idealising the Western model’ so ultimately the reality is that the discourse and discussion in Egypt and Tunisia now are very much between this polarised debate and do not talking about the true challenges they have to do. So the main question to be answered is not about the structure of the state.”

The Main question is corruption Army
“How are you going to deal with corruption? Here the first question is how are you going to deal with army? Because yes, we are talking about the fact that in Egypt, the army controlled 60% of the economic sector. This is the reality of Egypt. Yet you can’t only talk about the army because if you think that you only have to remove the army and then you will be free - you are dreaming.”

People are thinking of Turkey. Comparing with Turkey Professor Ramadan said, when you deal with the Turkish experience, think about “the relationship with Erdogan and the new government and the army –it is very effective and very smart the way in which the Turkish government deal with the army using the EU. But we need to talk not just about the army; we need also to talk about the educational policy; we need also to talk about social justice; we need also to talk about cultural policy and we need also to talk about economic regime. What will the economic model be? These are the true questions.”

West supported the dictators
Talking about the obsession with the political structure, Professor Ramadan said that although President Barrack Obama was talking about freedom and he might have good words, ultimately it is the American policy, the European administration. Professor Ramadan reminded us by saying, “How is it that these regimes were supporting the dictators for decades; they were supporting Mubarak, Ben Ali and even Gaddafi. They were dealing with all these dictators. Even on the 8th March, the US administration was supporting Bashar al-Asad, asking him to reform his regime within.”

Syrian resistance
Speaking about the resistance by Syrian people against Bashar al-Asad, Professor Ramadan said, “So we can say this is not conspiracy. No one was expecting the Syrian people to resist the regime after the veto of Russia; this was not a conspiracy. This was not coming from abroad; it was coming from within. People saying we are not going to we have which is the way the courage of the people push that the US administration even the Turkish administration it is clear supporting a dictator. When they understood it is not going to work, they changed. We have to say the truth when comes to the history.”

What is happening in the Middle East? What is the new economy and strategic policy of Turkey? Exactly what is happening not always on the political side as you said change. Professor Ramadan was trying, at the very beginning, to understand what was happening within the Islamists in Egypt and the Islamists in Tunisia. He said, “You have heard, I am sure, some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are much more attracted by the Turkish model than the Iranian model. I said this is the case, that many young Islamists are very much attracted by the perceived successful experience of the Turkish model. And then I visited Turkey and I worked on and I said you are the model; for the young Islamists, you are the model. That might be perceived you are the model and it is true. It is true because I remain critical of some of the policies.”

Shariah with money no problem
Professor Ramadan then considered that there are challenges in being too critical in the coming years. The first example is something that is very worrying: It is evident on reading some of the reports coming from the think-tanks of the US and Europe that within their discussions, a differentiation is developing between those Islamists that they can deal with and those Islamists that they consider they are not able to deal with.  In fact, the essential factor here is that we are looking at the West and the inconsistent way in which they deal with the economy. Professor Ramadan said, “The West has no problem with Islamist capitalists for example. Here it is the capitalist oil giving money to Western banks; they need you whatever way you need them. But we don’t care. You talk about driving in Tunisia or in Saudi Arabia, whatever you want. You can even implement Shari'ah; Shari'ah is good in business we will have Shari'ah compliant transactions, no problem. Shari'ah in relation to money is acceptable; it is okay. France is okay with Shari'ah too in this context, yet what about when we look at Shari'ah and the headscarf in France?  This is a different matter altogether for France.”

The point in this discussion that Professor Ramadan was exploring is that when it comes to dealing with some of the petrol monarchies of the Gulf states; that’s fine and the problem is what they are saying about that. He argued, “In fact, look at what is happening. Turkey is an example of this. It is quite clear that the position of Turkey is very much in the global system; they are doing much better than European countries, and some others. The EU might end up more in need of Turkey than Turkey needs of the EU, because of the economic position. But the problem is: Turkey could be an example. Look at Al-Nahda, look at the Muslim Brotherhood. They don’t have a problem with the World Bank. Egypt and Tunisia doesn’t have a problem with the IMF, World Bank.”

Salafists are evolving everywhere
We have now a new position with the Islamists dealing with the economic system, and we must be ready for that. Professor Ramadan said, “For activists, one of the main challenges will be in the Muslim-majority countries: The Salafists are evolving. Salafist is everywhere: in the West; Europe; the United States of America; Tunisia;  Syria;; Egypt; and in Libya now. It’s a problem because they are now involved in politics; they push you to talk about the political system by saying we want Shari’ah; we want an Islamic state; and at the same time they are de-destabilising the whole political system. The Salafists in the intra community dimension is going to be problem; Islamists within the Islamists system. The activists are one of the main challenges that is going to be huge, we need to try to understand what is happening with the Sunni-Shia relationship.”

Syria and the Role of Turkey
Now we have to deal with Syria and the role of Turkey in the region. Professor Ramadan said, “My main fear when it comes to Syria, is that it might be that there is an agreement between the West and China and Russia, not to agree on anything. And now there is civil war and the killing of people. Really, what happened in Libya has nothing to do with it; now they are protecting the oil there, protecting the resources there, but in Syria it might be what was known, the American policy in the region; low intensity; people killed amongst themselves. We sell weapons and the region destabilises and there is this kind of de polarisation that neither Iran nor any other country is going to be like; even Turkey now, whose first strategy was no conflict has a very smart strategy now – new, very undetermined now by this low intensity conflict.”

While dealing with Turkey, Professor Ramadan said, “When it comes to Turkey we need to remind ourselves that we are dealing with Islamists; which is going to be important; believe it or not, the discussion Islamism and Secularism, Islamists. What will be the future of society? So it is part of a political discussion. And it is true in the context, Turkey did something which is quite important, very experienced in the last 10 years and willing it or not; it has to be discussion to be able to say my references are coming from Islam but I am not democrat and I am dealing with secular system. The Muslim democrat is something which is important - we have it in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and in Libya. People are now saying that we are not promoting an Islamic state; what we want is a civil state with an Islamic reference. What does this mean? Turkey is critical on this point of discussion.”

Polarisation between Islam and the West over
“There is another thing which is important for me, even though I am quite critical apparently of the acceptance of those new liberal regimes and trying to do as good as the capitalist society; there is something which is very interesting in the Turkish system which is this shift towards east and south,” said Professor Ramadan and elaborated, “Over the previous five years there has been the opening of so many embassies in Africa - dealing with India; China, and Malaysia; this is something which is now quite important. Dealing with Egypt now is something new. This is a new attitude of shifting towards the east, where this polarisation between Islam and the West is over. Now we are moving to something of a new paradigm and I think this is interesting. This is interesting because it might be that you enter into the economic system and you shift towards something which is dealing with the multi-polar world. I would say that this could be an example - now in the way they are dealing with religion and with Israel, they are thinking that they are important to be discussed now.”

Questions & Answers Session
Salafists - Who is pushing them?
In the Q&A session, in reply to a question about the Salafists, Professor Ramadan said, “My main concern is Salafists; they might be religiously very sincere but we must be very cautious about who is pushing them. Add to this the new factor they are not involving in politics and now we have more and more Salafi and Jihadi. Everywhere they are there; everywhere where there is oil,” said Professor Ramadan and mentioned about Mali, “All of a sudden we find them in North Mali; because they felt something is happening there. I don’t buy this. In North Mali, oil is much more important than we have in Libya. They are there. We have to deal with this and it is something which is going to be very difficult. The terrorism, Jihadism, Salafism is played with at different levels. Arresting these terrorists who you know were perceived of, that they were going to do something and they were converting to Islam over the last months just before they were involving in terrorism and at the same moment we are hearing, coming from France, about the arresting of terrorists.”

Iran cannot be a model
Replying to another question, Professor Ramadan said, “We want more freedom in Iran – which from within. My take is that Iran was never a model; it cannot be a model; we must be critical. We don’t want an Islamist state; we want civil state.” He raised three questions: Shariah – definition – closed system – with Halal-Haram – punishment prior to social justice – rule of law – universal human rights – separation – religious authority.”

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