The war between Abdel Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood was in fact more of a cat-and-mouse game. Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui once alluded to this, saying: ″The regime of Abdel Nasser fought the Islamists as individuals, as political enemies and opponents. Perhaps with the exception of the last year of being in power, he never fought against the Islamist theory he was brought up to intellectually and politically.″
Even when the Nasserist movement afterwards tried to establish a coherent narrative, it was unable to escape — on many occasions — from the use of Islamic symbols to legitimise its ideology.
Gaddafi and Assad′s recourse to Islam
Libya′s Muammar Gaddafi, the major proponent of dictatorship, was bolder than most Arab rulers when it came to presenting new ″Islamic examples″ that even the Ummayads didn′t dare to come up with. The goal of these wasn′t to twist the sacred religious heritage, but to give legitimacy to his dictatorship.
Other Arab dictators exceeded Abdel Nasser in his ′supply′ of religiously connotated ′services.′ For example, Hafez al-Assad worked on the ″sunnification″ of Syrian society to exonerate himself in front of Syrians and to cover up for the crimes of his ruling elite after the Hama massacre (1982).
These efforts included throwing religious celebrations that aren′t necessarily called for in Islamic heritage, setting up al-Assad Qur′an recitation centres, building mosques and re-cultivating a group of pro-regime religious leaders who could step in instead of the Muslim Brotherhood.
All this was to legitimise Assad′s rule, which Hafez insisted was not hostile to Islam in Syrian society, but it also consolidated a sectarianism that was already present. Undoubtedly, the result was the creation of a new generation of fundamentalists, or in other words, ′a new Brotherhood′.
As such, Assad′s attempts to regenerate religious fundamentalism after talk of ″Assadist secularism″ and ″Assadist modernity″ is not only comical but also painful, because it is the cornerstone of the false claims presented by the ″Islamists of the Arab Spring″.
This mental mechanism of tying secularism to Arab dictators is like trying to tie Islam to French Christians under the pretext of ″the Arab Renaissance [Al-Nahda]″.
For example, the claims by some that Arab dictators are secular or that they have adopted a version of secularism (such as French laicism as is the case of Ben Ali′s regime in Tunisia) is not far from what Egyptian jurist Muhammad Abduh said in his famous quote that he ″went to the west and saw Islam [i.e., independent thinking], but no Muslims; I got back to the east and saw Muslims, but not Islam.″
In either case, we are facing totalitarianism: In the same vein to France′s origins becoming Islamic, secularism now equates dictatorship. The aim of tying secularism to Arab dictators is simply to bring it down.
Consequently, to rid oneself of tyranny, it becomes important to fight secularist culture that brought about dictatorship. Following this logic, France is no longer the old city of ″light″ and renaissance whose people were originally non-Christian – France′s origins will become ″Islamic″, but its people are unfortunately non-Muslims.
Such Arab intellectual exercises are akin to current Islamist intellectual endeavours, which are more systematic in order to make the best of today′s deadlock in the Arab world.
Sadly, secularism in the Arab world hasn′t had its fair share of study or criticism to be seen as a necessary and modern issue as opposed to a political decision that is forced by a dictator or passed via a number of legislations.
It′s frankly absurd to argue that the fall of a few Arab regimes and the taking over of Islamists and fundamentalists is akin to the fall of Jacobin laicism in its Kemalist version. Such a reasoning wouldn′t exist if it weren′t for what was brought about previously by nationalistic ideology and its contribution to the longstanding Arab ruin.
Lastly, we can′t forget that the current Islamist ideologies are the product of this ruin and they will only bring about more decay.
© Open Democracy 2017