The Failure Of Modern Arab Governance

Posted on December 25, 2011


As written for Halal World (October-December 2011).

The Arab Spring, a label for a series of revolutions which we hoped would prove more deciduous than seemingly-endless, has now outrun seasons to cross-over into Autumn.

Undoubtedly, the Middle East is portraying a bleak reflection of its current state of affairs. With despots toppling like a line of provoked dominoes, and economies of the major Middle Eastern hubs struggling to stay afloat, it’s only natural for not just the analysts, but the ordinary layman to want to step back and wonder why.

Why are oil-rich nations struggling to keep up economically? Why are the mighty Arab empires of yore, faltering in their political stance? Why socially, is the Middle East increasingly garnering unpopularity?

As with any great debate, a comparative analysis is in order – in this case, the dissection of the differences in the ideal Islamic form of governance with that of the administrations of modern Arabia.

The first ever Islamic form of governance, was the establishment of a Caliphate. Endorsed by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself – not just as a Messenger, but as head of the nation and politician- this system of legislature established a reliable system of authority for the Muslim Ummah, operating under the tenets of Sharia law.

The Khulafa’ al Rashidun (the rightly guided leaders) who succeeded him were also politicians in their own right, but following the Sunnah. Abu Bakr, Umar Bin Al Khattab, Uthman bin Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib, all ruled the Islamic empire under the flag of Tawhid, establishing a just administration, practising Ihsan (righteousness), propagating the betterment of good and providing a leadership with Ilm (knowledge) and Iman (belief).

According to an excerpt from Zafar Iqbal’s ‘An Islamic Perspective On Governance,’ what would best define the ideal Islamic government is the effective establishment of freedom, equality and justice, but all with an accountability to God.

So, while the tenets of freedom, equality and justice may be synonymous traits of both the Arab, as well as Western forms of government, it is the latter quality of accountability that plays the role of segregator between the secular and non-secular.

Accountability is a common denominator for all authority, sure enough – but it is the further clarification of ‘accountability to whom?’ that serves to distinguish the Islamic way of ruling from the Western establishment of legislation. That is, Tawhid.

This, in itself, would explain the results of a straying from said accountability. In the contemporary Arab world, a fair and just ruler turns tyrannical when he/she sheds the onus of responsibility to focus on the self. We can very well see the likeness of the Pharoah of Moses’ time to the now overthrown Firaouns of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – all with political ploys driven by Machiavellian philosophy.

The great scholar, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote, in explanation of the reality that the actions of the servants become manifest in those placed in authority over them (and vice versa) “And it is not from the Divine wisdom that the evil-doers and the sinners are made to be ruled over [by anyone] except by one who is of their like.

Having established the above, where or what can we pinpoint as the cause of the faltering supremacy of the Arab nations?

The first assumption being, the misconception that the Arab and Western worlds can co-exist with similar modes of governance.

Today’s Islamic and Arab states cannot be described as secular nor democratic governments. That they can be represented as nation states must also be ruled out. For there is only one Islamic nation: the “umma”.

According to Arab and Islamic ideology, the only entirely legitimate nation state is that comprising the entirety of the Islamic nation. The loyalty of a truly believing Muslim relates very much more to the ideal state which has yet to be created than to the state existing in reality.

Quite often, we stagger in the attempt to find common ground – a system with Sharia ‘intent’ that is also fair-seeming to the more liberal governments of the West – which only serves to compromise on a successful value system by leading to a misalignment between faith and jurisdiction.

Taking for instance, the four freedoms of the United States as representation for modern democracies, the freedom of worship component holds wide open the arms of secularism. Again, a mandate clearly not in tune with the original truisms of the Islamic state.

Having said that, it is incorrect to assume however, that religious tolerance has no place in a non-secular Islamic government. In fact the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) himself has pre-emptively refuted the claim   “Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

Which brings us to the next assumption – the deterioration of Islamic brotherhood, and the lack of unity between Muslim states.

In contemporary times, the supremacy of a people is driven not by their strength of faith, but by economical and political gain – a glaring contrast to the sense of homogeneity reflected during the governments of early Islam.

A call to arms/political backing from one Islamic nation would be responded to unquestioned, without a lengthy contemplation of the diplomatic ties that bind them to their Western counter parts.

It is a grave underestimation that a cumulative Arab league is incomparable to the powers of the West. With most Middle Eastern nations able to claim ownership to the world’s most sought after commodity, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they fall on par (if not on top of) in terms of economic supremacy.

Whichever the cause may be, pinpointing and amending the shortcomings of the current Arab regimes is not with the intent of ‘world dominance’ of course, but rather an attempt at reviving (at least within the Arab nations) the Islamic governance rightly ordained by our Messenger (PBUH).

One which has clearly proven successful in the betterment of our Ummah – but only when enforced correctly.