FaithWorld

Factbox on Pakistan’s emerging anti-U.S. Islamist bloc

pakistan islamist

(Supporters of religious parties burn a U.S flag during a protest in Lahore February 18, 2011/Mohsin Raza)

Pakistan’s religious parties are growing stronger, riding a tide of growing anti-Americanism and outrage over blasphemy cases that has led to the assassination of two government officials. Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed this year for their support for changing Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy law, a move opposed by Pakistan’s religious parties.

These parties in Pakistan are beginning to set aside sectarian differences that have divided them for years to coalesce around an explicitly anti-American agenda, creating a political bloc that could challenge the ruling parties and ultimately weaken Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. See our analysis Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government here.

Groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) are forming a new coalition of about 18 parties and groups that are anticipating early elections against the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Here is a factbox on the most important Islamist parties including:

JAMAAT-E-ISLAMI

MILLAT-E-ISLAMI

JAMAAT-UD-DAWA

JAMIAT ULEMA-E-ISLAM (FAZL-UR-REHMAN BRANCH)

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Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government

jamaat

(A supporter of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami backs Pakistan's blasphemy laws during a rally in Peshawar January 23, 2011/Fayaz Aziz )

Pakistan’s disparate Islamist political parties are uniting behind their hatred of the United States, emboldened by a weak government that looks increasingly reluctant to stand up to extremism and a society where radicalism is widely tolerated. The prospect of these parties gaining strength in this nuclear-armed nation is a nightmare for its ally the United States and neighbors including India and Afghanistan, which are already fighting Islamist insurgents based in Pakistan.

But while there is little chance Islamist parties will be able to take power outright, they are becoming more prominent as anti-Americanism grows among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom also reject attempts to soften a blasphemy law that has claimed the lives of two senior officials this year alone.

Respected head of Tunisian Islamist group to step down

Rachid Ghannouchi

(Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunis February 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

The head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, will step down and be replaced this year, he told Turkey’s state-run news agency in an interview published on Friday. Ghannouchi, a respected Muslim scholar who has spoken in favour of women’s rights and democracy, returned to Tunisia from two decades in exile following last month’s overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

His planned departure calls into question the future leadership of Ennahda, which is expected to be a significant political force in forthcoming elections in the predominantly Muslim North African state. Analysts have said any moves to sideline Ennahda, which is likened to Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which emerged from a series of Islamist parties, could backfire by radicalising the group and encouraging militants seeking a foothold in the country.

“Ghannouchi … said that he would soon quit as the leader of Ennahda, as he did not want to assume any political duties in any section of the government,” according to the report from Turkey’s Anatolian news agency. “He said the Ennahda movement would elect its new leader at a congress to be held this year.”

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

sarko

(President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2011/Francois Mori)

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year. Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.

Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win – party

clean egypt

(Opposition supporters clean up Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 13, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression, said a former Brotherhood politician seeking to found his own party.

Abou Elela Mady broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s. He tried four times to get approval for his Wasat Party (Center Party) under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, but curbs on political life prevented him doing so.

Islamist rebels take aim at Russia ahead of election year

chechen

(Doku Umarov (C) with Chechen rebels in an undated video/www.kavkazcenter.com/Reuters TV)

A suicide attack on Russia’s busiest airport shows Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov is serious about inflicting “blood and tears” on the Russian heartland ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Umarov, a 46-year-old rebel leader who styles himself as the Emir of the Caucasus, claimed responsibility for the January 24 attack that killed 36 and said he had dozens of suicide bombers ready to unleash on Russian cities.

Russia is struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency along its southern flank nearly 12 years after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to popularity by leading Russia into a second war against Chechen separatists.

French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers

prayers (Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)

Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.

Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.

le pen 1Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood seeks int’l support over rigged votes

brotherhood (Photo: Mohamed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Cairo on November 30, 2010. The sign behind him says:  “Election fraud”/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it is gathering evidence of vote rigging and other violations in last month’s parliamentary elections and will alert international human rights groups. It also said on Saturday that it would turn to Egypt’s constitutional and higher administrative courts to call for the dissolution of the new parliament and a re-run of elections.

The Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted the second stage of the elections after a first round it said was rigged in favour of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP secured about 80 percent of seats, based on final figures released by the elections commission, compared with about 70 percent in the last parliament.

Although banned by a rule that outlaws religious parties, the Islamist movement fields candidates as independents. It said none of its candidates stood in the run-offs because of the boycott, although 26 had made it through the first round.

Egypt’s ruling party crushes Muslim, liberal opposition in vote

egypt brotherhood (Photo: A Muslim Brotherhood candidate holds up election ballots he said were burned by government supporters, in Cairo November 30, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party has swept to a predictably huge win in an Egyptian parliamentary election that the opposition denounced as rigged, state media reported on Monday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted Sunday’s second round after winning no seats in the first stage a week earlier. The second biggest opposition group in the last parliament, the liberal Wafd party, also withdrew.

The opposition and independent monitors cited ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and other abuses in both rounds. But Sunday’s run-off passed off quietly, with some of the toughest races in seats where rival candidates from the ruling party were competing against each other.

Sidelining Islamists holds risks for Egypt

egypt elex (Photo: Police carry away ballot boxes after polls closed at Mahalla El Kubra, north of Cairo November 28, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been pushed to the sidelines of mainstream politics after an election it said was rigged, a step that may empower radicals who say an Islamic state can only be achieved by force.

The Islamist group that held a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament cannot be certain to retain any seats after Sunday’s first round of voting, which Egyptian monitors said was littered with abuses. The group may now withdraw from the race.

President Hosni Mubarak’s party is assured of victory. But reducing the Brotherhood’s presence to a rump — at best — looks like a heavyhanded show of strength by authorities nervous about dissent before Egypt’s presidential vote next year.