Last week, Olivier Roy, writing in the New Statesman, argued that the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa show how secular Islam has become in the region:
Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents’ affair. The members of this young generation aren’t interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete – “Erhal!” or “Go now!”. Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.
Radical Islamist groups have either gone off to wage international jihad and lost touch with local politics or depoliticized themselves:
Because al-Qaeda tends to concentrate its activities in the west or aims at so-called western targets elsewhere, its actual impact is next to nil. It is a mistake, therefore, to link the re-Islamisation that has taken place in the Arab world over the past 30 years with political radicalism. If Arab societies are more visibly Islamic than they were 30 or 40 years ago, what explains the absence of Islamic slogans from the current demonstrations? The paradox of Islamisation is that it has largely depoliticised Islam. Social and cultural re-Islamisation – the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques, the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels – has happened without the intervention of militant Islamists and has in fact opened up a “religious market”, over which no one enjoys a monopoly. In short, the Islamists have lost the stranglehold on religious expression in the public sphere that they enjoyed in the 1980s.
Salafist groups “concentrate on the preservation of religious values and have no political programme,” while the Muslim Brotherhood “no longer advocates an alternative economic and social model”:
The Brothers have become conservative with regard to morality and liberal on the economy. This is without doubt the most striking evolution in their outlook, because, in the 1980s, Islamists claimed to defend the interests of the oppressed classes and called for state ownership of the economy and redistribution of wealth. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt endorses Mubarak’s agricultural counter-reforms, which have returned to landowners the right to raise prices and sack tenant farmers. So complete has this transformation been that Islamists are now wholly absent from the social movements active in the Nile Delta, where there has been a resurgence of the “left”, particularly of trade union militancy.
Read “This is not an Islamic revolution” here. Roy’s latest for the New Statesman is subscriber-only content.
Olivier Roy’s latest piece will be available free at newstatesman.com to non-subscribers next Thursday (3 March).