It is the western-educated “modern” leaders in non-western societies, who most pander to medieval impulses within their populations. Rajiv Gandhi was much more at home in Europe than he was in the villages of his constituency, and it is this lack of contact with his people that led him into errors such as the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid and the Muslim Women’s Bill. These twin decisions kicked off a fury of competitive communalism within the country that has yet to abate. In Saudi Arabia, it was the West-oriented King Fahd and his more Europeanised cousins, who allowed primitive elements in his society to assume a role that has only grown since then, and has made more reactionary not only Saudi Arabia but countries where the influence of its well-funded Wahhabi preachers is strong. Since 1979, the Al Sauds, despite their extensive contacts with the western world, have lavished money and attention on the more extreme of Wahhabi clerics, so much so that today, such elements have an influence far out of proportion to their actual following within the Muslim world, so much so that to many, Wahhabism is seen as identical to Islam when in fact the exclusivism and prejudice of the former is wholly contrary to the universal spirit of the latter. It took an Al Saud with very little exposure to westernisation to change course and steer Saudi Arabia back to the human qualities which best reflect the great faith that was revealed there. Visitors to Saudi Arabia ruled by King Abdullah can sense the change. For example, although theatres are still taboo, yet even large groups are allowed to view movies in private. King Abdullah has taken the lead in pushing for reconciliation between different faiths, even those that originated outside West Asia. While the interfaith conferences hosted by NGOs in Qatar confine themselves to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, those organised under the direction of King Abdullah have included Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
Mohammad Morsi was brought to power because of a popular movement that was largely secular. However, once in office, he sought to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood was given a monopoly of top positions, while the traditional tolerance shown by officialdom towards Christians and the small Jewish community in Egypt got severely frayed in the Morsi period. The Brotherhood candidate had secured less than a quarter of the popular vote in the first round of the Presidential elections of 2012, but Morsi excluded from influence over policy the views of the three-fourths of his people who were not supporters of his movement.
Morsi sought to “do an Erdogan” in Egypt, except that the Turkish strongman has staggered his efforts at altering the secular fabric of his country over years, accelerating only this year, when he apparently believed himself to be unassailable. The other members of NATO, including the US, France and the UK, have a history of partiality towards Wahhabis. The leadership of the secular Turkish army was taken to pieces by Erdogan to appreciative nods from Paris, London and Washington, the same capitals which joined together to back General Kayani in his battle for influence against Asif Zardari, although the military in Pakistan is far from secular, seeing itself as essentially a religious army.
Now that the Egyptian military has ousted Mohammad Morsi, there has been much tut-tutting from the likes of Obama and Cameron, despite the fact that this move has brought Egypt back to the moderate path that Morsi and his party sought to free it from. President Obama follows Bill Clinton in his coddling of Wahhabi groups, as most recently evidenced by the nudge given to Qatar to fund a lavish quasi-embassy for the Taliban in Doha. Small wonder that he was clearly annoyed at the developments in Egypt. In contrast, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was prompt in giving his backing for the Egyptian military’s move, a very significant in the context of the Muslim Brotherhood claiming to be the standard bearers of “political Islam”.
The shameless use of religion and its symbols in their election propaganda is likely to ensure a somewhat hot reception for leaders of the Brotherhood in the hereafter. The use of religion in politics is repugnant to the spirit of democracy, and is traditionally a means through which corrupt and incompetent leaders seek to retain public support, by changing the terms of the discourse from performance to theology. Immediately after King Abdullah gave his nod to the ousting of Mohammad Morsi, the hereditary rulers of both the UAE as well as Qatar followed suit, although are considered to have been generous in their funding of Brotherhood offshoots throughout the region. Rather than bad news, the changeover in Egypt is an excellent omen for the future. It signifies that the Moderate Majority of the Muslim population is at last finding its voice and asserting its right to build a society in tune with humanistic rather than supremacist values.