Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced a cabinet reshuffle recently that included a number of new ministers from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership. This development seems to have confirmed the worst fears of the Egyptian opposition, which has raised concern over the "Brotherhoodization" of the country. Although the increased representation of the Brothers in the government is cause for alarm for Egypt's secularists and liberals, they should be concerned about a quieter, but more worrying process -- the Islamization of Egypt's political institutions -- which is likely to be far more durable than the Brotherhood's grip on political power. This phenomenon is not just underway in Egypt, however. Islamist power and the Islamization of society are what the the future holds for Egypt, Tunisia, post-Assad Syria, and likely other countries in the region.
Given that the noticeable evidence of the Islamization in the Middle East is few and far between, the idea that Islamization is the trajectory of the region might seem misplaced. Egypt's Muslim Brothers and Tunisia's Ennahda have not declared alcohol forbidden, forced women to don the hijab, or instituted hudud punishments (i.e., specific punishments for specific crimes set forth in the Qur'an or hadiths). It was big news in Egypt several weeks ago when the Le Roi Hotel in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada poured out all its alcohol and established a female-only floor and swimming pool, but only because there have been so few incidents along these lines -- observers tend to forget that what was Cairo's Grand Nile Tower (formerly the Hyatt) went dry well before anyone ever contemplated Hosni Mubarak's ignominious fall.
Even if alcohol remains readily available in Egypt, that does not mean that the process of Islamizing its political and social institutions has failed.
Yet the fact that Egyptians and Tunisians can still drink Stellas and Celtias should be cold comfort. There will not be a moment -- a decree, for example -- that will indicate that a given Middle Eastern society will hew closely to the tenets and values of Islam. Rather, it will be a slower, more subtle process in which a country's political and social institutions are Islamized.
There is widespread confusion about what constitutes an "institution" and there is bound to be misunderstanding of the concept of "Islamized institutions." To clarify, institutions do not have doors and offices. Neither the UN nor the World Bank is an institution. The improperly named Brookings Institution is actually an "institute." Rather, institutions are frameworks that direct the behavior of society through the establishment of incentives, disincentives, and norms.
Thus far in Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey, Islamists have won, which means the political institutions of the state will, to varying degrees, reflect the priorities of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), respectively. Yet what does it mean to "Islamize institutions"? It is a process in which Islamic legal codes, norms, and principles are either incorporated into existing laws, or supplant them. By grounding certain institutions in Islamic tenets, Islamist elites create an environment in which religion plays a greater role in society, including in areas that have not been directly Islamized.
The second article of the 1971 version of Egypt's constitution stated "Islam is the religion of the state; the principles of the Islamic shari'a are a principal source of legislation, and Arabic is the official language." In 1980, Anwar Sadat amended the constitution to say: "Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. The principles of shari'a are the principal source of legislation." Sadat's change represented a step in the direction of Islamizing Egypt's political institutions, which matched some of the measures the Egyptian president took in the mid-1970s in the cultural and educational spheres that gave a prominent role to religion in these areas. First, it provided an opportunity for Islamists to delegitimize the state on specifically religious grounds, given the gap between the constitutional requirement for Islamic law-based legislation and the reality that much of Egypt's laws paid little heed to shari'a. Second, the article helped pave the way for the further Islamization of the Egyptian political system 33 years later. The new constitution, which was adopted in December 2012, includes a number of innovations that clearly sets Egypt along an Islamist trajectory. Consider, for example, the following excerpt:
Al-Azhar is an encompassing independent Islamic institution, with exclusive autonomy over its own affairs, responsible for preaching Islam, theology, and the Arabic language in Egypt and the world. Al-Azhar Senior Scholars are to be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law.
As a variety of Egyptians and other observers have noted, this provision places the ulema in a position to determine the validity of legislation based on religious principles. Although al-Azhar's Senior Scholars are ostensibly independent from the government and do not have as broad a reach as Iran's Guidance Council for example, the two bodies are clearly analogues.
In addition, the new constitution includes Article 219, which to the uninitiated is extraordinarily difficult to decipher, but is intended to guard against the kind of expansive view of shari'a that Egypt's highest court had previously used in assessing legislation . The combination of all of these constitutional principles significantly advances the Islamization of Egyptian society and renders it unnecessary for leaders to promulgate a decree or law that specifically bans alcohol, for example. Of course, President Mohammed Morsi could take this dramatic step, but he would not need to unless there is political pressure -- say, from Salafis -- to do so. In a relatively short period of time, alcoholic beverages would become scarce because of the powerful disincentives associated with the religious tenets and norms that are now codified in Egypt's political institutions. The effect of this codification is similar, if slower, to an outright ban on liquor, as Egyptians will be compelled through both opprobrium and possible penalty to give up their beloved Stellas and Johnny Walker.
Yet, even if alcohol remains readily available in Egypt, that does not mean that the process of Islamizing its political and social institutions has failed. In Turkey, raki, Efes Pilsner, and a few passable varieties of red and white wines are plentiful. In fact, the wine bar has become a bit of a thing in Istanbul these days. Even so, one of the reasons--along with a strong record on the economy -- that the ruling AKP has been so successful for more than a decade has been its ability to foster an environment in which Turks can more freely express their Muslim identity. Part and parcel of this is the steady Islamization of institutions in the decade since the AKP came to power.
In March 2012, for example, the AKP paved the way for graduates of imam-hatip (preacher) schools to enter the bureaucracy by making it easier for them to matriculate at Turkey's universities -- a traditional feeder for public servants. In the context of Turkish politics and the Republic's history of aggressive laicisme, the change was controversial. Turkey's preacher schools are, as their name implies, intended to train prayer leaders for Turkey's 82,693 mosques and, as such, about half the curriculum is devoted to religious subjects while the remainder of the curriculum coincides with what the Ministry of National Education prescribes for non-religious high school students. Previously the vast majority of graduates of preacher schools went into the clergy -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan being a prominent exception -- and had difficulty entering Turkish universities. They either lacked the preparation as Turkey's predominantly Kemalist academic elites argued or they were subject to discrimination as pious Turks claimed. Either way, with larger numbers of imam-hatip graduates entering Turkish universities, larger numbers will enter careers in Turkey's sprawling bureaucracy. Although this development is far less dramatic than the innovations contained in Egypt's new constitution, the effects are similar: the slow, but steady, Islamization of society. Of course, not all imam-hatip graduates are Islamists, but together with their Islamist colleagues, they are well-positioned to funnel state resources to projects and causes that they favor regardless of who is in power.
It has always been a misnomer to refer to "secular republics" in the Arab world.
From the time the Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002 the hicab (headscarf) became an underlying and neuralgic issue in Turkish politics. To many pious Turks, the headscarf is an important test of freedom of expression while to their secularly-minded fellow citizens, the hicab represents a threat to the political system that Mustafa Kemal (known commonly as Ataturk) built some 80 years earlier. In 1925, the Law of the Hat banned the Fez and discouraged women from wearing the headscarf -- both head coverings since regarded among Republican elites as symbolic of an age of corruption, obscurantism, and backwardness. This was why in 2007, the General Staff opposed (among other reasons) Abdullah Gul's move from the foreign ministry to the presidency. The prospective first lady of Turkey, Hayrunnisa Gul, wore a headscarf. The AKP moved in early 2008 to lift the ban on headscarves specifically at public universities, a restriction that dated back not to Ataturk's reforms of the 1920s, but rather to the 1980 coup d'etat. The party -- in conjunction with the National Movement Party -- succeeded in parliament only to have the legislation overturned in the courts on constitutional grounds. Yet what seemed to be a resounding defeat in the effort to Islamize Turkey's political institutions provided an opportunity for the AKP to undertake a broader effort to alter Turkish politics and society. Stymied in their effort to change Turkey's institutions further, Prime Minister Erdogan championed a constitutional amendment, which passed in a September 2010 referendum, that altered the way in which judges were selected for Turkey's highest courts. No one disputes that Turkey's judiciary was badly in need of reform, but while the United States and the EU praised the change, the amendment merely substituted Kemalist court-packing with Islamist court-packing. With the parliament firmly in the hands of the Justice and Development Party, no viable opposition, and a judicial system that is set to be transformed, the Islamization of Turkey's political institutions will proceed apace. The irony of the Turkish situation is that the changes that the AKP have wrought were done, in part, to remedy past institutional discrimination against pious people. And while Turkey is perhaps more democratic than it was 20 years ago, it is less open than it was eight years ago.