Welcome Address by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General at the Launch of IDSA Publication, ‘The Islamist Challenge in West Asia: Doctrinal and Political Competitions after the Arab Spring’ by Shri Talmiz Ahmad on 5th September 2013
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  • Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad needs no introduction to this audience. Having served as Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arab twice, Oman and UAE, he has vast diplomatic experience of West Asia.

    His academic editions are impeccable having published two books earlier, one on “Reform in the Arab World” (2005) and the other one titled “Children of Abraham at War” (2010).

    Ambassador Ahmad has also been Additional Secretary for International Cooperation in the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas. He has acquired vast knowledge on energy issues, which he has from time to time shared with wider audiences in Indian and abroad.

    Earlier this year, Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad presented a paper at the IDSA’s Asian Security Conference on “Islamist Politics after the Arab Spring”. The present work has grown from that paper. I remember his paper presentation and interventions during the course of the Conference created deep impression on the audience. I am grateful to him for having expanded his paper into the present book, ‘The Islamist Challenge in West Asia: Doctrinal and Political Competitions after the Arab Spring’ and having associated himself with the IDSA in the publication of this work.

    In this slim volume, there is vast amount of material which is useful to the academics, diplomats, researchers, media persons and the lay public. Despite the slimness of the volume, a vast amount of information and analyses has been presented in a lucid and concise manner.

    In the last two years, the phrase “Arab Spring” has become extremely popular. The book traces with great dexterity and in-depth background to the Arab Spring. This is essentially a book about the emergence of political Islam. The first four chapters give a historical overview of the Sharia, Wahhabiya in Saudi Arabia and ideological underpinning of the Muslim brotherhood. One of the chapters, also the most interesting, traces the coming together and then falling apart of the Wahhabiya and the Muslim brotherhood. The fifth chapter is a brief overview of how the Arab Spring has affected numerous countries of Turkey and Egypt to Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The book takes us to a broad brush overview of the proliferation of Al Qaeda ideology and radical Islam. The last three chapters discuss Saudi-Iran competition, the recent military take over in Egypt and a comparison between Sharia and Democracy. The author holds that the Arab Spring is akin to the Arab revolution which essentially is Arab renaissance and is here to stay.

    One of the questions which is often asked is what is the place of political Islam in the aftermath of Arab Spring. The author deals with this issue in the last chapter institutionalizing Sharia and Democracy. He seems to agree with the view that “democracy is compatible with Islam on account of two traditional concepts, namely, that of Shura and Masalahah. The author says that the Islamist movement is not a monolith and no one can claim to have monopoly over Islam in terms of its principles, values and institutions. The author takes an optimistic view of the role and place of Islam in the post Arab Spring order for three reasons – a) Islamic parties have been taking part in elections and also have become less extreme over the years, b) There is a growing consciousness about human rights personal dignity as well as gender and minority issues which have made them more accommodative and c) due to electoral compulsions, Islamic parties will have to be responsive to their national views and aspirations rather than imposing their views on them from above.

    In other words, political Islam is here to stay and it will adjust to the emerging realities. The book provides ample food for thought and would surely generate healthy debate on such issues.

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