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I recently did a post on the nature of Liberal Islam for the Liberal Youth blog, The Libertine. Unfortunately, it may prove not to come true… it looks like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, my favourite candidate in Egypt’s Presidential elections, has not made it through to the run-off. Still, he would’ve been good… let’s wait a few years.

Here it is at the original Libertine site : Liberal Islam.

Whoever sleeps full while his neighbour is hungry is not a believer.

The Prophet Muhammed PBUH

While the Liberal Democrats in Britain, MoDem in France, and Germany’s FDP are going through tough times, another strand of liberalism may be taking centre stage in an unlikely venue…

In Egypt, a liberal Islamist candidate has taken a major step towards the head of the race to be President. Previously in second place, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been endorsed by the ultraconservative, islamist, Salafi preaching group, Salafi Call, and its sister party Al Nour. Salafis are effectively a kind of Muslim Puritans, and are even more hard-line than the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of Islamism. Al Nour won around a quarter of seats in Egypt’s Parliamentary elections; the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won almost half. Left-liberal and nationalist liberal blocs won 8-9% of the vote each.

Wait, ultraconservatives endorsing Islamists? It doesn’t sound ‘liberal’, but Aboul Fotouh’s brand of Islam is one of the most liberal in the region, strongly believing in personal liberty. His understanding of how Islamic law addresses individual freedom and economic fairness already means many liberals in Egypt back him.

He is, in many ways, a nationalist, believing in a strong Egypt. But he’s also said that “Islam does not discriminate based on gender, religion, colour and the new constitution must not either. The appointment of people to office or other government jobs must be based on merit and capability and not gender or religion or even political inclination.”

His platform is very liberal for Egypt,

  • He will appoint a vice-president and fill 50% of all administrative posts with people under the age of 45.
  • Women and Coptic Christians should have the right to run for Parliament.
  • Health insurance is a ‘basic right’.
  • Introduce a minimum standard income.
  • Islamic restrictions on alcohol should not be imposed on non-Muslims (hoping to attract tourism back to the country).
  • Re-equip the military without depending on US funding.
  • Allow re-trials for all those arrested under the brutal SCAF military reign that has existed since ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in the Arab Spring.

Just like Nick Clegg, he has four key goals – to promote freedom in Egypt, to promote the value of justice, to strengthen education and scientific research, and to open Egypt up to investment.

The 61-year old doctor and head of the Arab Medical Union is well respected in Egypt. He first came to prominence as a student leader in the ’70s, even debating Anwar Sadat, the President himself. His student activities make him well-known to the Salafis, and he is close to their leaders. He was later arrested by Sadat. And then by Mubarak.

He was forced to leave the Muslim Brotherhood when he declared his intention to run for the Presidency. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood insisted they would not stand a candidate, for fear of alarming other parties who fear they would dominate the political scene. They have since changed their mind.

This is perhaps why the Salafis are coming out in favour of Aboul Fotouh. The Muslim Brotherhood is by far the largest and best organised party in Egypt. While the Salafis have a highly decentralised grass-roots network, the Muslim Brotherhood is as monolithic as our Tories. The Salafis disapprove of this internal rigidity.

Salafis are no friends of the Muslim Brotherhood. While they believe in imposing far harsher restrictions on individual liberty, they acknowledge that the country is not yet ripe. They fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the Presidency as well as Parliament, their brand of Islamism will be snuffed out. At least if Aboul Fotouh leads the Presidency, his liberalism and belief in a separation of religion and politics, will allow them the freedom to preach. We can only hope that Egyptians will embrace Aboul Fotouh’s liberal Islam, and not the hard-line Salafis.

‘Liberal Islam’ should surprise no one. It is far from a contradiction in terms as some would have you believe. Islam and liberalism can perfectly co-exist. Ataturk separated the Turk’s Islam and the secular state institutions. Then there are liberal Muslims like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who believe that the Qur’an and Sunnah are liberal texts, if correctly interpreted, or Abd al-Raziq who believes that the Qur’an is silent on certain matters to which liberalism can be applied – for example, the Qur’an never judges the forms of government, so a democracy is perfectly Islamic. Even supposedly hardline positions, such as a total rejection of the Hadith can lead to liberalism, as it allows far greater leniency of interpretation.

Fethullah Gülen goes so far as to say that “no one should condemn another for being a member of a religion or scold him for being an atheist” and “no one should suppress the progress of women through the clothes they wear.”.

Sharia can also be interpreted liberally – while it is true that for Muslims, Sharia is the word of God, Islamic jurisprudence has always allowed for pluralism. ‘Fiqh’ means ‘understanding’ and all that what most people think of as ‘Sharia law’ is actually one school of fiqh, one particular, human, fallible, understanding of God’s divine and infallible Word. As such, there are multiple schools of fiqh, Any country with ‘Sharia’ law, supports one of these schools.

The Muslim Brotherhood itself, in order to deal with the issue of having to choose a school of fiqh to support, and thus alienate all others in the country, has chosen the middle, liberal, path – ‘to each his own’, believing that their state should not support one single fiqh, nor Islam over Christianity or Judaism. Religious pluralism could still persist in Egypt, even with the rise of Islamism. Liberal ideas are not dead.

Liberal Islam does exist and is developing in Egypt, in a form – but it is fragile, as is all liberalism. Assailed by extremist positions all around, liberalism must try and find its own place, its own message, and its own followers. Egypt’s liberals need to be supported by their brothers and sisters around the world, to show Muslim’s fearful of a secularist attack on their faith, that liberalism guarantees their right to their faith, no matter what it may be, and the Qur’an itself can be a liberal text. Aboul Fotouh is not a dead-cert for the Presidency, but his unifying brand of politics, his liberal credentials and position, make him the one we should root for.

If Liberal Islam takes hold in Egypt, this can bode well for the whole Middle East. Best of luck to  Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

You might also like to read my post on Why the Liberal Democrats are like the Muslim Brotherhood.

I recently studied a module entitled “Fictionalised Politics” based on the representation of politics and politicians in fiction. During one of the tasks, my team came first in the class, with a presentation on Dr. Who and the representation of Tony Blair in the form of the Master. It’s hosted here on the University of Nottingham School of Politics and International Relations blog Ballots and Bullets.  My prize…

Allons-y!

“All these years, all these disasters, he’s finally gone.”

The final words of Dr Who, after his encounter with Tony Blair… or rather, Harold Saxon.

Elected on a landslide, to huge popular support, and yet with no one quite understanding why they voted for him… who are we describing?

Are we talking about 1997’s wave of Blairmania, or a 2007 episode of Dr Who – or both? Russel T. Davies’ “The Sound of Drums” and “Last of the Timelords” satirised Blair through the creation of the Doctor’s greatest nemesis, the Master.

Elements of Blair can be seen, such as his Presidential style of government. He doesn’t make use of his Cabinet, eventually murdering them, similar – at least metaphorically – to Blair’s micromanaging. While Saxon doesn’t have the Gallagher brothers endorsing him, he does get Ann Widdecombe and McFly – just as cool.

Saxon also has his version of Blair’s “babes” – although now the floating, metallic Toclafane, who pose and do his bidding. He enjoys the odd public display of affection with his wife, especially when the cameras are rolling. He tells the women around him to “stand there and look gorgeous”.

Like in Love, Actually, the relationship with America’s President is parodied. While in real life Blair would never have actually murdered President Bush, no matter how much some may have enjoyed seeing that on BBC News (indeed, one IMDb commenter said “Oh, and I got the pleasure of seeing the US President being disintegrated – just what the present incumbent, George Dubbya, deserves for what he has wrought on this earth.”, Prime Minister Saxon has no such qualms.

He murders the President, shortly before declaring war on the Universe.

His war on the Universe, to be carried out with his “massive weapons of destruction”, which can be deployed in an eerily familiar 45 seconds, even seems to reference the flip-side of Blair’s most defining moment – the war in Iraq.

Ultimately, the most ringing endorsement of their similarity is the populism that brought them to power. Saxon uses the Archangel network, to hypnotise the populace into voting for him, distract them from his lack of policy, and get himself into power. Blair just had his spin doctors.

Even John Simm based his character on “a bit of Caligula and a bit of Tony Blair” – a frightening combination on-screen. Down to his body language, the portrayal is uncanny – the poses, the bridged fingers, and that grin, there’s no denying it was based on Blair.

These episodes bookended Blair resigning, on the 27th of June and may well mean that Blair will always be remembered as the Time Lord’s nemesis, particularly by the young children who comprise its viewership. At the time, Blair was experiencing a huge amount of public disillusionment, in the wake of the Iraq war.

The spell broken, his network destroyed, he fell from grace.

Do these episodes highlight that the public were hypnotised in 1997? Or were they just good episodes of Dr Who? How much is up to audience interpretation? What does this say about Blair, the British voters and the power of fiction ?

It is crucial to understand these questions and the interplay between fiction and politics if we are truly to understand either.

Politics seemingly runs through our entire culture, even insinuating itself into episodes of Dr Who, which add to the social commentary on our Prime Minister. Perhaps such cultural references were even strong enough to topple him – he resigned between episodes.

Coincidence or the power of politicised fiction?

Morgan Griffith-David and Lucy Kenderdine are both undergraduates @NottsPolitics, and have taken the module ‘Fictionalised Politics: How politics and politicians are represented in the US and UK’ (convened by Professor Steven Fielding). Morgan has a personal blog and is on Twitter

The new Liberal Youth blogging platform – The Libertine – has just published one of my articles for its launch week! Read it below or at its original site, here.

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Conservative Party (UK)

Image via Wikipedia

We all know that the Conservatives in the UK are Eurosceptic. But what does this mean for Europe? Will they reverse the process of “ever-closer union”?

In my second piece for The New Federalist, I explore the relationship between Prime Minister and head of the Conservative party, David Cameron, and his Eurosceptic backbenchers.

Yes, it takes a highly federalist viewpoint. Play to your audience and all that…

If you like it, or if you disagree, feel free to comment! All polite comments get a response. If you do like it, please tweet it, share it on facebook, and spread this, or anything else on my blog.

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A new article I wrote that was published by start-up blog www.politicsonmymind.co.uk  – read it here!

On Monday 12th September, we found out the proposed new MP constituency borders.

Effectively, the Boundary Commission for each part of the United Kingdom has been given the task of eliminating 50 of the current 650 MP constituencies. In Great Britain, no seat should be smaller than 72,810 and no more than 80,473 – 5% either way of 76,641.

Many accusations have been levelled – that it is gerrymandering, that the Boundary Commission is biased, that Liberal Democrats will proportionally suffer far higher than any other group.

These concern me, but I want to write about something else – identity.

In its desperate obsession with numbers, the Boundary Commission has forgotten about identity. Constituencies are being dismembered, losing crucial regions, and whole nationalities are being ignored. This is a far worse consequence.

What would happen if a town was over the prescribed number of constituents? Simple – divide it up, ignore the community, in search of that sweet spot of people – 76 thousand.

The town of Formby could be torn asunder, it’s electorate put into two separate seats – one in Southport and one in Aintree. Where can the possible logic occur in this? What happens when an issue affects the entire town? To which MP will the people turn? What will happen to the feeling of community in Formby?

The new constituency of Mersey Bank will actually cross the Mersey. Bromborough and Eastham in the south and Halton on the north bank of the river will make up the new seat, despite each surely, logically, being more tied to other towns on their own side. As Emily Thornberry pointed out, the new MP will need to divert 12 miles through another constituency to travel between the two banks. Surely whichever side the MP lives on will receive more of his day?

Gloucester will lose its historic cathedral, docks and shopping centre to the Forest of Dean. This totally ignores the rather large and obvious River Severn that bars the two. It pointlessly breaks a town in two, giving us the same problems as Formby. However, this is better than increasing the Forest of Dean constituency’s numbers by breaking across the Welsh border…

Which is exactly what is happening in Cornwall. The Border Commission shows utter disregard for national sensibilities.

A new “Devonwall” constituency will include Bude in North Cornwall and Bideford in West Devon. These two towns on opposite banks of the River Tamar should not be put together. To create the proposed constituency of Bude and Bideford would only attack the fragile national identity of Cornwall. While I am under no illusions as to the prospects of Cornish independence, even autonomy, or simple and logical moves such as promotion of the Cornish language, cannot take place when one of their MPs may live in Devon.

Moreover, it shows that the Tory government in Westminster only cares about the Home Counties – not its devolved regions, not regional differences, and not Europe. London is God, and for no greater reason than nationalism.

Indeed, David Cameron recently quipped “It’s the Tamar, not the Amazon, for Heaven’s sake”.

Amazon it may not be, but it is a very important symbol of Cornish identity, and the frontier of its culture, language and people. To ignore community, linguistic or national identities is regressive, and a step back in localism and self-determination.

How would Cameron feel if some constituencies in Kent (all 17MPs are Conservative), were tied to French départements in Nord-Pas-de-Calais? The same logic follows, but I can only imagine Cameron’s double-standards would show through. Bude and Bideford? What about Dover and Dunkerque?

If this government truly believes in localism, in giving the power to the people, why is it dividing them, threatening fragile national identities and language, ignoring and dismembering tightly-knit communities… just for the sake of numbers?

If the Westminster-set truly believes in localism, in giving power to the people, then it should vote down this bill. Not because of supposed gerrymandering, but because it goes against the basic principles of democracy, community and identity.

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If you agree, or disagree (politely), feel free to get in touch in the comments section below! All comments are replied to.

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