Tag Archives: sharia law

Should We Fear the Arab Spring?

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, recently decreed that polygamy would be legalized and banks would not charge interest.

Dictators across the Arab world obviously have reason to fear the phenomenon known as the Arab Spring. The wave of popular uprisings has already toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya since January, and tyrants from Damascus (Syria) to Sanaa (Yemen) to Manama (Bahrain) are feeling the heat from domestic protesters and rebels demanding change. But in recent days observers in the West have voiced concern that events are taking a dangerous turn, down a path that could harm Western interests and undermine the quest for democracy that has purportedly motivated much of the unrest.

These critics cite several recent developments in making their case:

(1) In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the
first free elections
have brought to power an Islamist party that some fear will not uphold basic civil liberties.  The authors of this opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor raise this concern: “Tunisia’s current constitution is not explicitly secular and keeps the possibility open for a more religious interpretation of the way the state should function. This is unlikely to change with the coming constitutional modifications, and the potential for oppression in the name of religion becomes a legitimate threat with Islamists in power.”

(2) In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful actor and will likely do well in the upcoming elections, scheduled for November 28.  Since the ouster of President Mubarak–a close U.S. ally–in February, concerns have grown in the U.S. that his successors may be less hospitable toward peace with Israel.  Attacks on the Israeli embassy in Cairo and against Coptic Christians have underscored the instability of this key country.

(3) In Libya, the chairman of the National Transitional Council has made statements indicating that Islamic Law, or Sharia, will play a greater role in Libya than many observers expected.  He has already decreed that the ban on polygamy be lifted and has said future banking regulations will ban the charging of interest.  As this report describes, “Mr Abdul-Jalil’s decision – made in advance of the introduction of any democratic process – will please the Islamists who have played a strong role in opposition to Col Gaddafi’s rule and in the uprising but worry the many young liberal Libyans who, while usually observant Muslims, take their political cues from the West.”

Are these criticisms premature and lacking in perspective, given the nature of the regimes that the Arab Spring toppled?  Or do they correctly sound the alarm about ominous developments that undermine democracy in the Arab world and the interests of Western powers?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

With the Congress in recess, the U.S. political scene has been dominated by coverage of town hall debates over health care reform. In the debate, the British National Health System (NHS) has been trotted out as representative of the dangers of government-run health care, charges to which the British government has responded. The Financial Times on Friday offered a balanced comparison of the U.S. and British health care systems, which debunks the selective use of statistics in the current debate.

In news from outside the U.S. health care debate last week:

1. The Taliban has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan ahead of nation-wide elections scheduled for Thursday. On Saturday, the Taliban launched a suicide bomb attack against NATO’s heavily fortified Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul, killing eight and wounding nearly 100 people. With observers already worried about the ability of the Afghan government and international elections monitors to conduct a nation-wide poll in the country, observers fear that the Taliban may attempt to disrupt the elections. The relative period of peace which had preceded Saturday’s attack had led some to believe that the Taliban would allow the elections to take place.

Thursday’s poll will pit incumbent President Hamid Karzai against former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Although many observers believed Karzai’s campaign enjoyed an insurmountable advantage, Abdullah’s campaign has managed to close the gap, and some are now forecasting the need for a run-off election in October. A runoff would be necessary if neither candidate manages to secure an absolute majority of the vote.
 
2. Palestinian authorities in Gaza engaged in a series of small battles against Jund Ansar Allah, on Friday. The shootouts resulted in at least 13 deaths and dozens wounded. The battles represented the latest—and perhaps most serious—challenge to the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Jund Ansar Allah is one of several small extremist groups pushing for the introduction of strict Sharia law in Gaza. Jund Ansar Allah, which claims ties to al-Qaeda, had labeled Gaza an Islamic emirate subject to theocratic law, a claim which Hamas rejects. For its part, the Hamas government has dismissed challenges to its leadership as “Zionist propaganda” sponsored by the Israeli government.

3. The French Minister for Urban Regeneration, Fadela Amara, sparked a national debate last week when she called for a nation-wide ban on wearing the burka in France. Amara, a French national of Algerian decent, said that the burka represents “the oppression of women, their enslavement, their humiliation.” Banning the burka, she said, must be part of a broader effort to welcome moderate Islam while fighting the “gangrene, the cancer of radical Islam which completely distorts the message of Islam.” Amara’s comments are part of a broader debate in France. The national parliament in July established a committee to determine whether the wearing of the burka is “compatible with France’s republican tradition of equality between men and women,” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in June said the burka “will not be welcome on the territory of the republic.” An estimated 5-10 percent of the French population is Muslim, though only a few thousand wear the burka.

4. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last week attempted to re-open talks with North Korea, offering to negotiate troop reductions along the border between the two countries. The border between North and South Korea is among the most militarized in the world, with more than one million troops, including 30,000 U.S. troops, based in the area. However, in his offer, Lee reiterated the South Korean position that a comprehensive peace deal between the two countries would be predicated on North Korea abandoning its nuclear efforts, a proposition with the North has consistently rejected in the past.

5. Continuing her Africa tour with visits to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out on several of the continent’s hot spots. Last week, she urged political reconciliation in Kenya and offered support for Somali efforts to fight piracy and Islamic extremism, During her tour, she has not shied away from provoking controversy. In Nigeria, she criticized “the lack of transparency and accountability [which] has eroded the legitimacy of the government.” She also called for African governments to toughen their stance on Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been another busy week.  The Olympic games are gearing up, Obama and McCain have been going after one another on the campaign trail, and the US (and the global) economy continues to struggle.  So what are the top stories of the week?

1. After losing soundly in a Scottish by-election, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown now faces challenges for his leadership position.  Speculation that Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who some view as having Tony Blair-like charisma, may challenge Brown’s leadership before the next election has the Labour Party looking like it is in total disarray.

2. Suffering from an ongoing corruption scandal, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he will step downfrom his position at the next election, scheduled for two months from now.  Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu used the opportunity to call for snap elections.  Olmert’s departure throws current peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria into uncertainty, with many speculating that no progress can be made before a new government takes office, and leaving room for lots of speculation about who will replace him.

3. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, narrowly survived a High Court ruling which could have dissolved the AKP.  Turkey’s constitution prohibits “anti-secular activity.”  The AKP had been charged with attempting to introduce sharia law through political reform.  The High Court ruled that the AKP had been involved in such activities, and imposed financial penalties for their actions.  But the Court declined the shut the party down.

4. With world food prices increasing dramatically over the past year, the Russian government announced last week that it would seize control of up to half the country’s grain exports.  Russia is the world’s fifth largest grain exporter, and western analysts fear the move may be an attempt by the Kremlin to use grain as a tool for Russian foreign policy, much in the same way the Kremlin has effectively used Russia’s vast oil exports as an instrument of foreign policy.

5. Members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation singed an agreement to work together to fight terrorism.  The initiative includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  But tensions between India and Pakistan over the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul threaten to undermine the agreement before it even comes into force.