Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Hizb ut Tahrir and the Arab Spring –The Shattering of an Illusion in the Heartland

It was the time that all members of HT had been talking of for 60 years. How a popular revolt against the Western supported dictatorships in the Arab world would demonstrate their affiliation to Islam, the party and the Caliphate. Instead, the advent of the Arab spring brought home some uncomfortable truths for members of HT throughout the world. Having been led to believe since the 1960’s that HT had built a popular base for its ideas and only the support of the armed forces remained absent in its quest to establish the Islamic Caliphate in the Arab heartland, success was seen to be within their grasp. However, the Arab spring shattered this illusion and laid bare the stark reality that no such support existed either in the Arab society or amongst the armed forces. From Tunisia, to Syria to Egypt and beyond, HT was nowhere to be seen and the masses emerged as sheep without a shepherd with only their hatred for the authoritarian regimes uniting them. Further exposure of HT’s dire situation emerged when its members embarrassingly failed to mobilise support in its stated stronghold of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Members of HT remain in denial unable to comprehend the gravity and truth of myth which prevailed only because it was impossible to negate its illusion under the veil of authoritarian leadership. Why was their no leadership over the masses in Syria and Jordan? Why could HT not mobilise support in the Sunni elements of the armed forces in Syria? And why was there no existence of HT in Egypt despite it being a strong Arab country with a history of Islamic activism both amongst the population and its armed forces?

At the heart of these questions is not the ideology of the party but the competence of its leadership. In 1997, the fitness of the leadership was challenged as was the reality of the HT’s leadership in the Arab world. The clash led to the first official split in the party with the breakaway faction recalibrating their position and maintained that HT had a lot to do before it could claim to have developed a popular base amongst the masses and no leadership for the party or ideas existed. As part of its proof it leaked an internal letter by the leader at the time, Abdul Qadeem Zaloom ,wherein he admitted that the masses had failed to respond to HT. However, instead of rectifying this position Zaloom ignored the dogmatic requirement of the party to establish a popular base and instead concentrated all efforts to seek support from the armed forces and influential elements in society in the hope of mounting a coup and directly moving to power. Consequently, no real strategy existed to transform society under the leadership of its ideas and its presence quickly diminished from society. Moreover, the quest for an army backed coup was expanded beyond the Arab world with Pakistan being the first country beyond the Arab realm to be declared a target for power in 2001. It remains to be seen whether its current leader Ata Abu Rishta will reflect on the reasons for HT’s failure in the Arab heartland, change course and capitalise on the wave of Islamist support sweeping the region.