Interview with Rachid Ghannouchi, a Democrat Within Islamism

A talk with the Ennahda Movement’s Rachid Ghannouchi

By Nadia al-Turki Available at:

London Asharq Al-Awsat- Rachid Ghannouchi is the leader of the Tunisian Islamist, the winners of the recent Tunisian Constituent Assembly elections. The Ennahda Movement won an overwhelming majority at the first free elections following the Tunisian revolution, winning 89 of 217 seats, whilst Ennahda Party Secretary-General Hamadi Jebali, has been appointed Tunisian Prime Minister.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Rashid Ghannouchi discussed the recent controversy raised by his appearance at a seminar held by the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, during which he allegedly said that 2012 will be the end for Arab monarchies, a statement he strongly denies making. He also addressed the fears that have been raised regarding the rise of the Islamists, and the fears that have been raised regarding their future intentions, particularly with regards to human rights, women’s rights, and the Tunisian tourist industry. Ghannouchi also spoke about Tunisia’s political scene, foreign policy, and his hopes for the future of the country.

Rashid Ghannouchi is a writer, politician, and one of Tunisia’s most prominent Islamists. He is known for being one of Tunisia’s most famous political dissidents, and he spent a number of years in prison, both under [Tunisian president] Habib Bourguiba, as well as ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, after he founded the Islamist Movement of the Islamic Tendency party in 1981, a precursor to the Ennahda movement. Following his release from prison, he fled to Europe, returning to Tunisia on 30 January, 2011, after 22 years in exile.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many observing the situation in Tunisia are afraid that the Ennahda party’s moderate political rhetoric is nothing more than a ruse to allow your Islamist party to come to power, following which you will monopolize power. How do you respond to such allegations?

[Ghannouchi] Let me begin by greeting the Asharq Al-Awsat readers. Now, let me stress that any accusation of double-dealing needs to be accompanied by evidence, for one is innocent until proven guilty.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to change the articles of the Tunisian constitution with regards to women’s rights and women’s role in society? You previously said that any constitutional changes regarding the role of women would only strengthen women’s rights, so how do you respond to this issue?

[Ghannouchi] This charge is being repeated by our opponents and represents an accusation of our intentions that goes beyond the realm of politics, because politics is judged by words and actions, not intentions. Since the Ennahda party came to the political arena in 1981, we have confirmed our commitment to grand principles such as democracy, human rights, [political] pluralism, rejection of violence and coups as mechanisms of [political] change, as well as our complete commitment to equality between the sexes. This is something that we have stressed in all of our speeches and rhetoric, and it is clear to anyone who has studied our statements in a scientific manner. We are committed to these principles, and this is something that we have repeated a thousand times.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of Tunisia’s relations with the Middle East and the Arab Gulf?

[Ghannouchi] Tunisia is part of the Arab world, and is keen to establish good relations on the basis of fraternity, joint cooperation and non-interference in the internal affairs of others. We only want the best for all our Arab brothers, and we are working with them to develop our bilateral relations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the questions that have been raised about your repeated personal visits to Qatar, and the consultations that are taking place there? There are fears that this represents interference in Tunisian sovereignty, whilst questions have also been raised about the nature of your personal relationship with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi? Would you characterize al-Qaradawi as the “spiritual godfather” of the Tunisian revolution, as some claim?

[Ghannouchi] As for my visits to Qatar, these are normal visits taking place in the context of fraternal relations [between Qatar and Tunisia]. Qatar has contributed significantly to the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia, through the cross-media support these revolutions received from Al Jazeera [based in Qatar]. We look forward to developing our relations with all our [Arab] brothers, therefore our visits have not been limited to Qatar; we have also visited Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Egypt…whilst other such visits are in the process of being organized. We do not reject any invitation [to visit] any Arab country, for we believe Tunisia’s relations with the Arab world to be most important, and someone who loses his brothers will not have much gain with others.

As for al-Qaradawi, he is the head of Islamic jurisprudence today, the president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is an organization that I have the honor of having a prominent position in, and I consider him to be one of my great teachers. He [al-Qaradawi] was and continues to be a strong supporter of the Arab Spring, and a strong voice in these revolutions. I do not think the man has any political ambitions, not in his own country, nor in any other country; rather he is doing his Islamic duty to provide advice and scientific knowledge which God entrusted to the Islamic scholars in supporting what is right and in order to combat injustice everywhere.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many believe that Tunisia is following in Turkey’s footsteps, with regards to its political system, and the role of Islamists there. Will Tunisia be influenced by the Turkish political system, and if so, how?

[Ghannouchi] Turkey is a large Muslim country that has a long Islamic history, and today it is returning – thanks to the Justice and Development party – to its historic position in the region, combining the dreams of the reformers since the 19th century in Cairo, Istanbul, and Tunis; between Islam and progress. This was after Turkey succeeded in establishing a pioneering democratic experience. We have had close links with the Islamic experience in Turkey since the 1970s, and these were consolidated thanks to the similarities in the historic context of the two countries, Tunisia and Turkey, although each has its own special circumstances. There has truly been an exchange of influence between the two [political] experiences [of Turkey and Tunisia], for anybody who observes Turkey’s Islamic experience is aware of the status of the ideology of the Ennahda movement there, and indeed my own personal ideology, in this experience. An example of this can be seen in the fact that my books are more popular in Turkey than they are in Tunisia, and most of them have been translated into Turkish, whilst they were banned for more than 30 years in Tunisia, until the blessed revolution occurred and this ban was lifted.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The statements attributed to you and published by the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, about 2012 being the end for Arab monarchies, were strongly condemned by certain parties, who viewed this as a violation of state sovereignty. You previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that these statements were “fabricated”, and you accused “Zionist parties” of being responsible for this, but whose interests are served by this? You also said that the Washington Institute has a well-known history of supporting Zionism, in which case why did you even agree to attend a seminar there?

[Ghannouchi] I visited the US at the invitation of “Foreign Policy” magazine, which has invited 100 figures the magazine considered the most influence in the world this year. On the sidelines of this invitation, I held conversations with a number of think-tanks – and there are many in Washington – which have different political orientation; right-wing, left-wing, moderate, extremist, conservative, etc. Traditionally, dialogue conducted under such circumstances is not for publication and are not recorded, particularly if the objective [of this] is to provide an opportunity for dialogue between the [political] elites and the specialists working at the think-tanks. All of the think –tanks I held discussions with held to this tradition, with the exception of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, which not only published what was said – which resulted in us complaining about this and them issuing an apology – but they also distorted my statements and took it out of context. The purpose of this is clear, namely to harm Tunisia’s international relations, particularly with our brothers in the Arab world. This resulted in our completely denying these comments, and publishing the original text of my statement on my Facebook page.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view Tunisia’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, following the uproar that occurred as a result of these statements?

[Ghannouchi] We hope to have good relations with all regional countries, and particularly the Gulf States, for the Gulf States are the second most important group of states following the Arab Maghreb States with regards to our Arab relations. That is why the political program of the Ennahda party seeks to lift visa restrictions on Gulf visitors to our country. Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Gulf, and so the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the gateway for whoever wants to have good relations with the Gulf. We only want the best Saudi Arabia, for it is the qibla [direction faced during prayers] of the Muslims

[During my comments to the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy] I said that all Arab states are in the process of reform, and we hope that [the Gulf States] take the easier and less costly path, avoiding social upheaval whose consequences are not reassuring. This is what we expect from the reformative initiatives undertaken by the [Gulf] rulers themselves in response to the demands of their people. An example of this can be seen in the [reform undertaken by] Kingdom of Morocco. We hope that the reforms put forward by the King of Morocco, if these continue, will ensure Morocco escapes the social upheaval that it would do best to avoid.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have not issued any clear position regarding Tunisia’s future relations with Israel, and whether there is any possibility of Tunis normalizing relations with Tel Aviv or not? The world, particularly the Arab world, is keen to hear your view on this issue.

[Ghannouchi] We are part of the Arab League, and the Arab League does not recognize Israel so long as the Zionist entity fails to recognize the rights of the Palestinians and restore their occupied territories. Although the Arab League has accepted the two-state solution, whilst the Palestinians – since Arafat to Abbas to Hamas – have recognized this…however the Zionist entity continues its aggression and cancerous settlement-building policy in order to destroy what remains of Palestinian territory. This question should not be asked of the Arabs, but of the other side [Israel], who must respond to the demands of the Palestinians who have been subject to brutal occupation and destruction. We do not deal with assumptions, and every action has a reaction, and so we support the Palestinians right to have their land returned to them and have the injustice that they have suffered for more than half a century lifted from them. During this time, the world has failed to lift a finger to even impose the UN resolutions that the Zionist entity continues – till this day – to refuse to implement.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some observers believe that the Tunisian government – led by the Ennahda party – intends to draw up a new map with regards to Tunisia’s relations with the West, and that the US and Britain may benefit from this? Is this true?

[Ghannouchi] We confirmed, in our electoral program and campaign, that we must base our relations upon our geographic reality, and that includes our relations with Europe, our near neighbor. We also confirmed that we will not only preserve our partnership with the European Union [EU], but we will also work to increase this partnership which Tunisia signed in the mid-1990s. We will also seek to expand and diversify our foreign relations, and we will seek to move and advance the stalled project, namely that of Arab Maghreb unity, which represents one of our priorities. We will also seek to develop our relations with the Arab world, particularly the Gulf States, whilst also extending our relations with Africa, as we are part of the African continent. In addition to this, we will seek to expand our relations with Asia, particularly with India, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The gateway to Europe will remain open and we are committed to this, but we will open other gateways as well. Tunisia has a lot of doors open to it, and its foreign policy will not be drawn up by Ennahda party alone, but in harmony with its [political] partners. This is our view as the Ennahda party, and speaking on behalf of the [Tunisian] government.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your position on the Syrian revolution?

[Ghannouchi] We support all those revolting against injustice, and the worst injustice that can be seen in the world today is taking place in Syria.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Although the Salafists represent a minority in Tunisia, they have begun to agitate against a number of traditional and ordinary Tunisian social phenomenon; what is your position, as an Islamist party – albeit a more moderate one than the Salafists – on this issue? How will you deal with them in the future?

[Ghannouchi] The Salafists are part of the Tunisian people; they faced what all members of Tunisian society who confronted tyranny faced. This group faced the worst suppression [from the former regime] after the Ennahda party; indeed their members have taken the place of the Ennahda prisoners. They are our people, and we have been prevented from carrying out our duties towards them [during the previous era]. If some of them are known for extremism, this is a response to the state’s suppression, and the harsh laws, and so their reaction must be equal to the [original] action.

The Salafists in Tunisia are not a single party or trend, there are a number of Salafist trends, and we expect that with the absence of suppression and the provision of an atmosphere of dialogue and freedom, the phenomenon of extremism will decrease, and that the Tunisian religious outlook, that is known for moderation, will prevail in the end, and that all political trends in society will exist within a compassionate national unity framework.

The Salafists are definitely part of our society, and I have seen many Salafist youth. We grew up in the 1970s in a hostile atmosphere, for [former Tunisian president] Bourguiba was an enemy of Islam, and so he suppressed the Islamists, and so we grew up to understand extremism…but after 10 years of dialogue with him [Bourguiba] we reached a point in the middle of the road, after he moved in the direction of religion, and we moved in the direction of moderation. Tunisia’s Salafists will certainly follow the same course, particularly with regards to the presence of freedoms [following the revolution]. We are defending their rights for freedom of expression in mosques…despite our differences of opinion on some of their views, as well as our differences of opinion with our brothers in the Hizb ut-Tahrir. Despite this, we have defended their presence, and rejected the campaign against the veil, even though we do not support those who believe that wearing the veil represents a religious duty for women. We have defended their presence from the gateway of freedom. So why should they not be allowed to object to women appearing in swimsuits on beaches?

Isn’t a woman free even to be contrary to Islam or even to identify with models that possess attributes of modernity? Are we not supporters of women’s rights? We must give women the right to choose their lifestyle, and we must deal with women with a policy of mutual respect. The uproar raised by secularists, and which ended with the closure of secular media outlets, was all because a girl wearing the veil was refused her right to education, and this is intolerance akin to that of Jacobite France…particularly as we see women wearing the veil attending universities in Britain and America, and nobody has any problem with this.

This is an artificial problem, and the era of dominating people is over, whether this in the name of modernity or in the name of Islam. Caliph Umar [Bin Al Khattab] once said “how can you enslave people whereas they were born free?” Questions of belief and expression of belief are personal issues that have nothing to do with others, and it is the individual who is responsible for this. As for the state and its institute…their task is to provide services to the people, not impose edicts regarding their beliefs or lifestyle.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Protests have continued in Tunisia since the Ennahda party came to power, demanding freedom of expression and guarantees for women’s right. Do you believe these protests are organized by certain parties for political purposes, or is this just the fears of the people?

[Ghannouchi] We cannot definitely say it is one or the other; for the media continued to raise fears about the Islamists for more than a quarter of a century; they were portrayed as the demon attacking society, confiscating its freedoms and destroying its gains, particularly in the fields of law, the arts, and women’s rights. Although the Islamist trend succeeded in convincing a majority of people in Tunisia that such black propaganda is false, and the evidence is the large number of votes won by Islamist movements, men and women, and the presence of 42 female Ennahda party MPs in parliament, which is evidence that the Tunisian women have trampled this black propaganda underfoot after they saw that it is the Ennahda party that guarantees their freedoms, not our political opponents. Despite this, there is a minority that still maintains this same propaganda, some of whom innocently because our rhetoric has not reached them or perhaps because we have a weakness in the media field, and others are maintaining this propaganda on purpose in order to distort our image for their own benefit…in order to spread fear and intimidation, and even incitement to violence as well as inciting burning of factories, cutting off of roads and disruption of public facilities, as is happening now in the mining and industrial region of Gabes (southern Tunisia). This does not change the general picture of the country, and the atmosphere is one predominated by optimism, and around 92 percent of Tunisians are optimistic about the future, whilst 96 percent of women in Tunisia are optimist about the country’s future. The country is in a state of security, and as I always say, Tunisia is beautiful, and it has become even more beautiful with the absence of Ben Ali.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] With Islamist movements coming to power in Morocco, and soon in Libya, according to many reports, as well as Egypt, according to the first two phases of parliamentary election, do you have any ambitions of establishing an Islamic “caliphate” particularly as Tunisian PM Hamadi Jebali raised this issue recently?

[Ghannouchi] I personally have no ambition for any [Islamic] caliphate, emirate, or any other –ate. The Islamist movements are operating within territorial countries, not within the framework of a caliphate state. They are committed to the legal and constitutional frameworks of these countries, and every country is working to preserve its national unity and the country’s development and progress. At the same time, these countries are working to increase the overall level of relations with its fraternal countries, to a level greater than cooperation and interdependence and mutual interests, and reach progressive levels of Maghreb, Arab, Gulf, and Islamic unity. There are organizations of unity that remind us that we are one ummah [Muslim community], despite the divisions of our states and countries, and these institutes achieve something of the dream of unity, like the Arab Maghreb Union, the Arab League, and the organization of the Islamic Conference. They are present, but they are almost devoid of any true unity. Therefore it is legitimate for us to reconstruct these unions and organizations by looking to the Maghreb, Arab, Gulf and Islamic markets, and coordinating on all levels, political, cultural, and educational. Is this a crime in the era of European, Asian, and Latin American union?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] A number of economic reports have recently been issued about tourism in Tunisia, and Tunisia has been heralded as being one of the hotspots for European tourists in the future. Do you have any reservations about Tunisia’s tourist industry? Are there any redlines for the Ennahda party with regards to Tunisia’s tourist sector?

[Ghannouchi] Tourism represents an essential resource for our economy, and Tunisia is a country that is open to the outside world. Islam is not a religion of isolation, but a religion of openness to the world. Indeed, even in the Quran it is said to Muslims “travel through the earth” [Surat Muhammad; Verse10]. Therefore, we will work to develop Tunisia’s tourist industry and rid it of the crisis that has been affecting it, with regards to poor services and poor tourist choices. We intend to diversify our tourist industry, and become an attractive destination for tourists from our neighboring countries, like Algeria, Libya, and the Gulf States, as well as Japanese and American tourists.

Our policy will focus upon diversifying our tourist industry, with regards to what is on offer as well as what kind of tourists we are seeking to attract. Tunisia has been limited to being viewed as a tourist destination for those wanting to visit the beaches…but we want to diversify our tourist attractions, and provide other tourist services, for we have a lot to offer, including desert tourism, cultural tourist attractions, as well as even educational and environmental tourist attractions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your son in law, Rafik Ben Abdessalam, has been nominated to be the new Tunisian Foreign Minister. What is your opinion to those who say this is a case of nepotism? Isn’t this a very sensitive issue, particularly as nepotism was one of the major features of the ousted Ben Ali regime?

[Ghannouchi] I believe that the questions raised about this are not appropriate, and such questions are being raised from the door of political opposition. Political appointments and others must not be based on whether one is – or isn’t – a relative or friend, but rather based upon the candidates abilities and capabilities. So one should not be prevented from obtaining – nor guaranteed – a political position based upon their family connections, but rather based upon their capabilities and efficiency; whoever is most capable should be given the position.

We hope that our ministers are efficient and capable in all regards, and we accept discussions on this level only; otherwise the issue of one’s family becomes a means of persecuting others…and family members might find their career path restricted, and find themselves prevented – when they are successful – of attaining certain positions because they happen to be family-members of this leader or that leader, in which cases ones family connection could be viewed as a curse. This issue was raised within the Ennahda party, and it received support from some and opposition from others, however one of our female party members – responding to the opponents – asked: in that case, must a minister divorce his wife [to avoid his family connections being a source of harm]?

Best Regards

With Dr. Azzam Tamimi (a British Palestinian, the director of Institute of Islamic Political Thought) at Trafalgar Square, London


Corporate Governance in Islamic Financial Institutions: An Ethical Perspective


Dr. Zulkifli Hasan

1.0 Introduction

Islam is neither simply a religion nor a mere ideological vision. It is a practical system of life and balance between human bodily requirements, spirit and reason. Islam is a comprehensive religion and it covers aqidah (belief), Shari’ah and akhlaq (ethics). In contemporary perspective, the ideal practice of Islamic finance tends to provide evidence about the comprehensiveness of Islam by invoking these three core elements.

Contrary to the ideal assumption that Islamic finance is about belief, Shari’ah and ethics, it is observed nevertheless that in actual practice, Islamic finance is more anxious on the legal and mechanistic aspect of Shari’ah compliant. At this point, Balz, (2010: 250) views that Islamic finance is now experiencing a “formalist deadlock” where the industry is more concerned with formal adherence to Islamic law instead of promoting Islamic ethical values. This is affirmed by El Gamal, (2006) when he severely criticized the practice of Islamic finance particularly by highlighting the issue of Shari’ah arbitrage. Significant criticisms by numerous scholars about the current practice of Islamic finance have led to series of questions as to the distinctiveness of Islamic finance with its conventional counterparts. Chapra, (2010) and Siddiqi (2007) for instance view that the practice of Islamic finance seems unable to attain its authenticity and share many common similarities with conventional finance. As a result, Islamic finance industry is also experiencing the impact of recent financial crisis such as in the case of closure of Ihlas Finance House in Turkey, the Islamic Bank of South Africa and Islamic Investment Companies of Egypt. These corporate failures raise an issue on the importance of ethics as the core element of Islamic finance.

There are numerous observations about major causes of corporate difficulties as experienced by several IFIs and one of them is weak of corporate governance . The analysis of such corporate failures in the existing literature nevertheless is found to heavily emphasize on the aspect of regulatory failure, management failure and control failure in corporate governance structure. It is observed that there is lack of discourse on the issue of ethics or the ethical failure aspects in IFIs that lead to such corporate difficulties. In view of scarcity literature on this subject, this article aims at providing general overview and basic understanding on the ethical perspective of corporate governance in IFIs. This article adds the previous literature on ethics and corporate governance by highlighting the distinctiveness of Islamic ethical principles and possible mechanism to institutionalize it. The remainder of this article is structured as follows. The next section reviews western and Islamic literature on ethics and corporate governance and section 3 specifically explains conceptual framework of Islamic ethics and its underlying principles. Section 4 attempts to highlight possible approach to promote and implement ethics by advocating the institutionalization of ethics and finally, section 5 concludes the discussion.

2.0 Ethics in Western and Islamic Theory of Corporate Governance

Becht and Barca, (2001) provide a literature review of a number of corporate governance models as possible solutions to solving the collective action problem among shareholders such as takeover model, block holder model, board models, executive compensation models and multi-constituency models. Another examination of the existing corporate governance theory can be found in Lewis, (1999: 33-66) where he examines the Anglo-Saxon model, the Germanic model, the Japanese model, the Latinic model, the Confucian model and the Islamic model. Generally, all of these corporate governance theories are either developed on the basis of agency theory or stakeholder theory orientation.

The Anglo-Saxon model of corporate governance which is also known as market-based systems or shareholder-value system or principle-agent model is considered as the most dominant academic view. Miller (2004:2) views that shareholders value orientation concerns on the sovereignty of individual where sole consideration is given to shareholders. Stakeholders’ value model on the other hand focuses on a relationship-based model that emphasizes on maximizing the interests of a broader group of stakeholders (Adams, 2003: 4). Both these Western theories of corporate governance tend to focus on the mechanism of resolving the agency problems. These theories nevertheless have failed to certain extent to take into account the element of ethics as an essential component of corporate governance. Only after the incident of significant corporate failures and financial scandals due to lack of ethical consideration, there were suggestions to integrate ethics into corporate governance framework such as Drennan, (2004), Cladwell and Karri, (2005), Arjoon, (2005) and Sullivan and Shkolnikov, (2007) .

The notion of integrating ethics as part of corporate governance system then raises an issue of philosophical foundation of ethics in conventional literature. Basically, the ethical dimension in western theory is built on the basis of utilitarianism, relativism and universalism (Beekun, 1996). The ethical principles that extracted from these theories are based on philosophical ethics which is constructed from social interaction. All of the universal ethical principles which are applicable to corporate governance such as accountability, transparency, fairness and responsibilities are socially constructed through human reason and experiences.

On the other hand, Islamic model of corporate governance advocates comprehensive approach by emphasizing the elements of ethics as propounded in al Quran and al Sunnah. Unlike ethics from western theory perspective, the Islamic ethical principles are divine and religious construct. Wilson, (2002: 53) states that the Islamic ethics as being enduring and based on holy revelation while the ethics in western theory derived from social values are more transitory in nature. Al Quran and al Sunnah provide guidelines and principles of ethics that can be universally applied including in the matter of corporate governance.

3.0 Ethical Dimension of Corporate Governance from Islamic Perspective

3.1 Conceptual Framework of Ethics

The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, which means character or custom (Solomon, 1984: 3). It represents a wide meaning of character, behavior or code of conducts. In Islam, the word ethic is synonym with the term adab and khuluq (Siddiqui, 1997: 423). These two terms denote good behavior or a standard of conduct to be observed in social interactions (Saedon and Kamal, 1992: 51-62) or the set of moral principles that distinguish right and wrong (Beekun, 1996: 2). In the holy al-Quran the term khuluq can be found in Surah al-Qalam verse 4 as Allah says: “And surely you (Prophet Muhammad) have the best form of morals,” and in surah al-Shu’ara verse 137: “There is no other than khuluq of the ancient”. Apart from these, the Prophetic hadith had also made reference to ethics and morality where Aishah reported that that “the Khuluq (Morals) of the Prophet was based upon the Qur’an” and the Prophet says that “I have come to complete the code of moral conduct” (Muslim).

In deconstructing the Islamic ethical principles within the realm of economic, Naqvi, (1981: 45-57) advocates four important axioms that specifically reflect its relevancy in determining the rules of economic behavior in a society. The axioms of unity, equilibrium, free will and responsibility are the basis for deriving a set of ethical system and principles that would be appropriate to nurture and guide the economic behavior from Islamic point of view . These divine formulated axioms provide very useful guidelines in identifying and recognizing legitimate ethical principles in economic.

Another construct of ethics to legitimize the ideal Islamic economic behavior refers to the principle of adl (justice), amanah (trust) and ihsan (benevolence). Based on the ethical axioms of unity, equilibrium, free will and responsibility, Islamic ethics must at least have three important characteristics namely the criterion of adl (justice), amanah (trust) and ihsan (benevolence) (Beekun and Badawi, 2005: 134-135). The first feature of ethics in Islam requires all individual to behave justly to all . The managers for instance shall treat equally the employees without discrimination. The concept of amanah then further characterizes Islamic ethics by considering individual as a vicegerent of God and he is accountable to Him in which requires him to be responsible in whatever he does. Finally, the concept of Ihsan represents the core and most important element of Islamic ethics. Unlike justice which is mandatory, Ihsan denotes what is above and beyond mandatory (Al Qurtubi, 1966) . In this regard, Ihsan requires extra caution, effort and good intention where the individual performs good deeds with the realization that Allah is watching him at all times . The criterion of ihsan then expects all stakeholders in IFIs regardless of shareholders, managers, board of directors (BOD) and employees to observe the set of Islamic ethical principles which is divinely revealed and clearly stipulated in al Quran and al Sunnah.

3.2 Ethical Principles

In discussing ethics in the context of corporate governance in IFIs, this article highlights several Islamic ethical principles that relevant to key stakeholders and these include prohibition of riba, maysir and gharar, to observe good behavior and conduct with candor, courtesy and fairness, to acquire knowledge, diligence and competence, to uphold interest of all stakeholders, fair competition, transparency, confidentiality and fair price and wages. All of these ethical principles are extracted and derived from the Islamic ethical axioms of unity, equilibrium, free will and responsibility as well as the criterion of adl, amanah and ihsan. It is worth noting that this list is non-exhaustive.

Islamic Ethical Principles

(i) Prohibition of Riba (Interest)

“O you who have attained faith! Remain conscious of God, and give up all outstanding gains from Usury, if you are (truly) believers” (Al Quran, 2: 278) .

(ii) Prohibition of Maysir (Gambling)

“O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satans handwork: Abstain from such (abomination), that you may prosper. Satans plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: Will you not then abstain?” (Al Quran, 5: 90-91).
Prohibition of Gharar (Uncertainties) Hadith narrated by Muslim, Ahmad, ‘Abu Dawud, Al Tirmidhi, Al Nasa’i, Al Darami and Ibn Majah on the authority of Abu Hurayra where the Prophet prohibited the pebble sale and the gharar sale.

(iii) Good Character and Behavior

Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr said, the Prophet used to say: “The best of you are those who have the most excellent morals” (Bukhari, 61: 23).

Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, the Messenger of Allah said: “The most perfect of the believers in faith is the best of them in moral excellence, and the best of you are the kindest of you to their wives” (Al Tirmidzi, 10: 11).

Muadh Ibn Jabal reported that the Prophet said: Fear Allah wheresoever you may be, follow up an evil deed by a good one which will wipe (the former) out and behave good-naturedly to people” (Al Nawawi, 2001: 35).
Generosity in Doing Business Uthman bin Affan reported that the Prophet said: “Allah will admit to the Paradise a man who is lenient as a seller and a buyer.” (Ibn Majah, 3: 2202)

Jabir bin Abdullah reported that Allah’s Messenger said: “May Allah have mercy on the bondsman who is kind when he sells, kind when he buys and lenient when he demands (his debt)” (Ibn Majah, 3: 2202)

(iv) Diligence and Competence

The Prophet said: “Allah loves to see one’s job done at the level of itqan or wisdom” (Cited in Al Dimasqi, 2006: 385-388).

Saidatina Aishah reported that the Rasulullah said: “The deeds most loved by Allah (are those) done regularly, even if they are small” (Bukhari and Muslim).

(v) To Uphold Interest of All Stakeholders

Ibnu Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: “A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim; he does him no injustice, nor does he leave him alone (to be the victim of another’s injustice); and whoever does the needful for his brother, Allah does the needful for him; and whoever removes the distress of a Muslim, Allah removes from him a distress out of the distresses of the day of resurrection; and whoever covers (the fault of) a Muslim, Allah will cover his sins on the day of resurrection”(Bukhari, 46: 3)

Anas reported that the Prophet said: “Help thy brother whether he is the doer of wrong or wrong is done to him.”They (his companions) said, O Messenger of Allāh! We can help a man to whom wrong is done, but how could we help him when he is the doer of wrong? He said: “Take hold of his hands from doing wrong.” (Bukhari, 46: 4).

(vi) Fair Competition

The Messenger of Allah said: “Do not hate one another and do not be jealous of one another and do not boycott one another, and be servants of Allah (as) brethren; and it is not lawful for a Muslim that he should sever his relations with his brother for more than three days” (Bukhari, 78: 57).
The Prophet declared that: He who monopolizes is not but a wrongdoer” (Al-Tirmidhi, 6: 23).

(vii) Transparency

“And if you are traveling and cannot find a scribe, then there be mortgage taken..…and do not conceal not evidence for whoever hides it, surely his heart is tainted with sin and Allah is knower of what yo dou do.” (Al-Quran, 2: 283).

Abdallah reported that the Prophet said: “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to Al−Fajur (i.e. wickedness, evil−doing), and Al−Fajur (wickedness) leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before Allah, a liar” (Bukhari, 8: 116).

(viii) Confidentiality

Hadith reported by Abu Hurairah, the Prophet said: “Whosoever relieves from a believer some grief pertaining to this world, Allah will relieve from him some grief pertaining to the Hereafter. Whosoever alleviates the difficulties of a needy person who cannot pay his debt, Allah will alleviate his difficulties in both this world and the Hereafter. Whosoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the Hereafter. Allah will aid a servant (of His) so long as the servant aids his brother. Whosoever follows a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. No people gather together in one of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that tranquility descends upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them, and Allah makes mention of them amongst those who are in His presence. Whosoever is slowed down by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage” (Cited in Al Asin, 1970: 14-15).

(ix) Fair Wages and Price

“Withhold not things justly due to others” (Al Quran, 26: 18).

Hakim bin Hizam reported that the Prophet Muhammad said: “The seller and the buyer have the right to keep or return the goods so long as they have not parted or till they part; and if both the parties spoke the truth and described the defects and qualities (of the goods), then they would be blessed in their transaction and if they told lies or hide something, then the blessings of their transaction would be lost ” (Bukhari, 3: 293).

The command to avoid riba, maysir and gharar is considered as main characteristics of Islamic ethical principles. The prohibition of riba, maysir and gharar is clearly mentioned in al Quran and al Sunnah. Unlike the western ethical code which is based on social interaction in which riba, maysir and gharar are tolerable, Islam vividly declares these three elements to be unethical and can not be compromised at all times. The remainder of the underlying Islamic ethical principles however may share some common similarities with the western ethical code.

4.0 Institutionalization of Ethics in IFIs

Institutionalization of ethics is one of the best approaches to promote and implement the Islamic ethical principles as highlighted above in any organization. Basically, the process of institutionalization of ethics requires a formal initiative to guide key stakeholders in the corporation to implement and promote ethics. Such process is very important in order to control the problem of ethical issues in the corporations (Vitell and Hidago, 2006). The existing practice shows that institutionalization of ethics in corporation can be in the form of establishing permanent board-level committee that responsible to set the policy on ethics , issuance of code of ethics, organizing ethics training, reinforcing the employee’s organizational commitment, and encouraging an ethically-oriented organizational culture (Sim, 1991). All of these actions would be able to create awareness about ethics and at the same time to promote the implementation of ethics as part of corporate governance framework.

Any action and effort to institutionalize ethics adheres most to its key players within the corporate governance structure of the organization. This raises an issue as to the need for specific agent for such purpose. At this point, several key participants of corporate governance either external such as regulatory and supervisory authorities or internal as in the case of BOD, shareholders, managers, employees and Shari’ah board are considered as agents of ethics.

The regulatory authorities play a key role in promulgating a set of law or code of ethics on corporate governance. To complement this function, the supervisory authorities have duty to supervise and monitor the implementation of this code of ethics effectiveness of corporate governance system and to check its. Shareholders have responsibilities to ensure that all business transactions and investment activities are conducted in ethical way. The BOD has responsibility to specify the code of conduct and standard of appropriate behavior for internal usage. Unlike the BOD, the management has fiduciary duty to implement the ethical policies and strategies set by the BOD while the employees, to practice and observe every aspect of ethics as stipulated in the code of ethics.

The most essential agent of ethics in IFIs is Shari’ah board. Basically, the functions of Shari’ah board are two-folds i.e. advisory and supervisory and these include advising IFIs in its operation, to analyze and evaluate Shari’ah and ethical aspects of any banking and financing activities and to monitor and supervise the extent of Shari’ah compliance. Considering to their expertise and knowledge on Shari’ah and the state of its independence, Shari’ah board shall play an active role to promote Islamic ethics and values within the organization. The existence of Shari’ah board within the internal corporate governance structure shall be the advantage for IFIs to further promote the implementation of ethics in daily business activities, decision making process, management style, financial products and services and etc.

5.0 Concluding Remarks

In spite of its similarities and some common principles with the western theory of corporate governance, Islam adds additional value to the existing governance framework whereby it emphasizes on the element of faith, Shari’ah and ethics. The foregoing discussion on the ethical dimension in Islam further validates the need for inserting ethics as part of corporate governance framework in IFIs. Islam highly insists stakeholders of IFIs particularly shareholders, BOD, managers, employees and Shari’ah board to preserve standard of conducts, to observe good ethics, conscience and piousness. Since this article is theoretical in nature, further study is really needed in order to explore the extent of ethical practice in IFIs. This triggers the call for future research to complement the existing theoretical studies on ethics with appropriate empirical data and information.


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For full article click here

Dr. Zulkifli Hasan

Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
More than 8000 Muslims were killed here by units of the Army of Republika Srpska in July 1995

Present Islamic banks no different from other banks, experts lament

Present Islamic banks no different from other banks, experts lament

By MOHAMMAD SHOEB Available at:

DOHA: Some in the Islamic banking industry lamented that the difference between the Islamic banking and conventional banking is becoming thinner by the day.

Experts attending the ongoing 8th International Conference on Islamic Banking and Finance believe that the present Islamic banking system is no different from interest based banking.

“The Islamic banks are doing business the same way as the conventional banks and the only difference is that, proverbially speaking, the interest-based banks hold the nose straight, while their Islamic counterparts catch it by twisting the arm around their neck,” said Dr Sayyid Tahir.

Professor at International Islamic University, Malaysia, he told The Peninsula on the sidelines of the Islamic conference being held at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) that the current form of Islamic banking system would in future face similar problems that the interest based banking system is facing today.

“The vocabulary used in the Islamic banking for various transactions is different and documentation is complex but in practice the difference between the two systems is becoming thinner,” he said.

There is growing concern that if the Islamic banking system is not “corrected” there could be an identity crisis sooner rather than later. People would begin questioning that if the conventional banking system is faulty then why Islamic banking is correct?

And if Islamic banking is correct then why conventional banking is wrong, argues Tahir.

Talking of ‘Shariah-compliant’ and ‘Shariah-based’ banking, he cited an example to make the difference clear and said when an Islamic bank accepts deposits on ‘Mudarbaha’ basis (partnership sharing basis) the money is shared between the depositor and the bank.

It is kind of joint money. So when the bank lends this money to a business entity it should be given in both the names— the bank as well as the depositor—which is usually not the case. Tahir stressed that banks should only act for and on behalf of the depositor and not lend solely in their own name.

The Islamic banking system started without any formal well-developed model based on the Shariah. It emerged as a response to the Muslim bankers and Shariah scholars according to the then prevailing situation.

The Islamic banking system, though, has great benefits not for only individuals but also for the economy as a whole provided it is conducted on the basis of Shariah that safeguards the interest of all the stakeholders.

“Islamic banking does not support speculative transactions. It is linked only to real transactions, so everything is in balance. It leads to less inflation, more employment and better distribution of wealth and resources among the people,” Tahir said.

Best Regards

Kerisik Mosque, Pattani, Thailand (Built in 1472M)
34 Muslims were killed by the Thai soldiers in this mosque on 28 April 2004.

Refining the Misconception of Apostasy in Islam

Refining the Misconception of Apostasy in Islam

Dr. Zulkifli Hasan Available at:


Freedom of religion is frequently misunderstood by many and this includes the issue on apostasy. The misunderstanding of public and even Muslims community on the concept and legal position of apostasy has negated the image of Islam as a religion of peace. This is not surprising as there are numerous negative allegations upon the religion of Islam such as condemning it as barbaric and incompatible with modernity and human rights. This serious misconception should be rectified and in fact, it is a religious duty for every Muslim to portray a true picture of Islam and to response on any allegation and negative arguments upon this issue.

In view of this negative phenomenon, this article aims to refine the misconception of apostasy in Islam and attempts to response the previous two articles published by the New Mandala entitled ‘An Exploration of the Concept of Apostasy in Islam’ by Joshua Woo Sze Zeng and ‘Malaysian Muslims Responses to Conversion’ by Norani Bakar whereby the former heavily relies on the essay written by Abdullah Saeed entitled ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy, and Islam’ and the online resources and the latter highlights the Malaysian Muslims response to apostasy with reference to HIMPUN initiative by several non-governmental organizations.

Before presenting my arguments on the issue of apostasy in Islam, it is worth to emphasize here that I welcome any comments and views on this issue and strongly advocate the notion of promoting healthy discussion, interfaith dialogue and intellectual discourse rather than advocating any confrontation or provocation. With the aim of refining the misconception of apostasy in Islam, the preceding discussion in this article will consist of the position of the law of apostasy in other religions; the position of Islam in guaranteeing the freedom of religion, the limitation on freedom of religion, framework for implementation and finally the concluding remarks.

Apostasy is Not Unique to Islam only

The offence of apostasy is not unique to Islam and applicable to the Muslim community alone. The other religions such as Christian and Judaism also have their own legal mechanism to resolve problems on apostasy. In fact, both religions clearly declared apostasy as public offense and punishable by law. For instance in Deuteronomy 13:6-11, the stipulated punishment for an offence of apostasy is death penalty. This indicates that apostasy is not unique and exclusive to Islam but other major religions in the world also considers apostasy as a serious offence which is contrary to their basic religious epistemological foundation.

Islam Guarantees Freedom of Religion

Islam is the religion of peace and it protects the basic individual rights and these include freedom of religion. Islam treats freedom of religion as a matter of right. Every individual has the right and free to choose his religion either Islam or any other religions that he likes. This is unconditional freedom guaranteed by Islam. To evidence this, al-Quran strongly repudiates religious coercion as stated in (10:99) “Had your Lord so willed, all the inhabitants of the earth would have accepted faith altogether. Would you then coerce people to become people of faith”. In another verse (2: 256), Allah says “Let there be no coercion in religion.

Freedom of Religion is not absolute

Nevertheless, the situation is different once an individual is a Muslim. The right and freedom of religion is not absolute. As a matter of fact, the notion of absolute freedom itself is against the principle of natural justice. The freedom of religion should not be abused and any elements of irresponsible religious anarchy that may lead to religious disharmony should not be allowed. This is because Islam considers religious freedom as a matter faith and not as legal or political issues. In this instance, in order to protect the sanctity of this religion, Islam has laid down specific sanction on the matter of apostasy.

Fiqhi Issues shall not be the Reason of Negating the Compatibility of Islam with the Fundamental Right of Religious Freedom

The difference of opinion amongst the Muslim jurists should not be the reason of baseless allegation on the compatibility of Islamic law with human rights particularly freedom of religion. At this point, Professor Cherif Bassiouni known as ‘Father of International Criminal Law’ in his article entitled ‘Crimes and Criminal Process’ makes an interesting observation where he concludes that “the basic principles of Islamic criminal justice and the accused’s rights are well articulated and developed in the various jurisprudential schools, and some are more liberal than others. They correspond to many international human rights standards”.

As always happened and in fact it is a natural process to have different views upon any legal or fiqhi issues and this includes the punishment for apostasy. The first school of thought views that apostasy is an offence against the God as well as an act of treachery against the Muslim society. This view has a strong legal basis as it is supported by several Prophet’s traditions including the practice of Prophet’s companions. Interestingly, it is observed that the apostasy was never a real problem for the Muslim community in term of its implementation and theoretical issues as the people executed for apostasy in Islamic history were very few. Muslims as well as non-Muslim community for so long naturally accepted the law on apostasy as a necessary deterrent sanction and it ceases to be unusual or improper.

The opponent of this view on the other hand considers death penalty is not the absolute sanction for apostasy. In arguing this, they raise the issue of reliability of al sunnah that has been made as legal basis for death penalty for apostasy. As Islam does not regard ijtihad as fixed and must be followed, the authority has a freedom to choose either to take the view of the first school of thought or to take a liberal and more flexible approach in resolving the apostasy issues. At this juncture, the authority must take into consideration of all aspects including fiqhi issues, maslahah of the people, sanctity of the religion as well as the will of Muslim community.

Actually, even if the authority adopts the view that the punishment for apostasy is death penalty, there are strict legal requirements to be complied with either in term of law of evidence or conditions and pillars to convict any wrong doer for apostasy. This is in line with the Prophet’s tradition: “guard against (idra’u) maximum penalties (Hudud) by means of uncertainties (shubuhat)”. For instance, the charge of apostasy can only be established by the testimony of two just witnesses and the prosecutor must clearly specify the nature of apostasy, whether it was through word or deed. The wrong doer can only be penalized for apostasy if the prosecutor can established the case beyond reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the court may only pronounce the judgment after it grants sufficient time for the wrong doer for repentance. In this instance, Islam does not simply provide severe punishment for any offence without imposing strict legal requirements which is in parallel with the universal principles of justice.

Concluding Remarks

In the context of globalization and the current phenomenon of human rights activism, the issue of apostasy is actually not a theological or theoretical or fiqhi issues but rather political. It is found that this issue has been heavily politicized as an ideological weapon to get the support of the public particularly by secular humanists including many Western-oriented Muslim intellectual. If the element of politics can be put aside, the apostasy in Islam will not be an issue either in the aspect of human rights or fundamental freedom of an individual. For instance, the report on ‘Human Rights in Islam’ by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization vividly affirms that Islamic criminal law including law on apostasy has an inherent body of law for preventing crime and thereby protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people.

The preceding discussion concludes that Islam has a strong and solid theoretical and epistemological foundation for apostasy. The issue on apostasy does not negate the compatibility of Islam with human rights and in fact, Islam strongly protects fundamental freedom of the people. The debate and arguments on the law of apostasy in Islam is often superficial, marked by political intentions as well as religious prejudices. As a consequence, unnecessary issues and arguments are discussed and the key elements of such a debate are neglected and finally lead to confusion and misconception. The only mean we need to resolve this issue is an honest scholarly-led debate based on facts, textual injunctions analyses and focused on the real issues rather than blindly beating around the bush.

Best Regards

Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

What Happens when Parliament is dissolved? Caretaker Roles During the Period Preceding an Election

Caretaker Roles During the Period Preceding An election

With the coming of general election (PRU 13) insyaAllah early next year, I would like to share some information on the Caretaker Roles During the Period Preceding An Election.

– The caretaker period begins at the time the House of Representatives is dissolved and continues until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

-During the caretaker period, the business of government continues and ordinary matters of administration still need to be addressed. However, successive governments have followed a series of practices, known as the ‘caretaker conventions’, which aim to ensure that their actions do not bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action.

During the caretaker period, the government should avoid:

1. making major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government;

2. making significant appointments;

3. entering major contracts or undertakings.

4. international negotiations and visits

5. Government Agency’s involvement in election activities including advertising and information campaigns, internet and electric communications and use of agency premise.

6. Using government agency resources.

7. Requests for policy advice during the caretaker period.

8. Using public money for purpose of election campaign and any matter related.

9. Claims relating to the election campaign.

For further reading click here: Caretaker Roles During the Period Preceding An election

Best Regards

Aberystwyth, Wales

Should Erdogan Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

Erdogan’s Moment

By BOBBY GHOSH Available at:,9171,2099674,00.html

Red carpets, honor guards and gun salutes are for garden-variety visiting politicians and monarchs: for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Cairo put on the kind of reception usually reserved for rock stars. Turkey’s Prime Minister was greeted at the airport by thousands of cheering fans, many holding aloft posters of their hero. Fusillades of flashbulbs turned night into day. Journalists eager for a quote thrust microphones into Erdogan’s face, but he was drowned out by the chanting throngs. “Erdogan! Erdogan! A real Muslim and not a coward,” went one incantation. Another: “Turkey and Egypt are a single fist.”

Totalitarian regimes routinely orchestrate massive, faux-spontaneous welcomes for visiting dignitaries, but the beleaguered interim administration in Cairo didn’t need to rent a crowd for Erdogan: the Turkish leader is genuinely popular across the Arab world. He was ranked the most admired world leader in a 2010 poll of Arabs by the University of Maryland in conjunction with Zogby International. His stock has soared higher still since the Arab Spring. In countries where young people have risen against old tyrannies, many cite Erdogan as the kind of leader they would like to have instead.

A good politician knows how to milk his moment: the Cairo visit was the first leg of Erdogan’s triumphant mid-September sweep through the newly liberated North African states. There were tumultuous welcomes, too, in Tunis and Tripoli. Then it was time for Erdogan to take a bow on the biggest stage. The trip culminated at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, where President Obama, ignoring Erdogan’s recent criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East and his flaming diplomatic row with Israel, lauded him for showing “great leadership” in the region.

It’s not every day that a U.S. President and the Arab street are of one mind. But like the throngs chanting Erdogan’s name (not all of them aware it is pronounced Erd-waan; the g is silent) in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Obama is hoping that the new governments emerging from the ashes of old dictatorships will look a lot like the one the Prime Minister has built over the past eight years. Erdogan has greatly enhanced Turkey’s international reputation, has reined in its once omnipotent military, has pursued economic policies that have trebled per capita income and unleashed new entrepreneurship, and has for the most part maintained a pro-West stance.

He has, it is true, also displayed an occasional autocratic streak, running roughshod over political rivals, tossing enemies into jail and intimidating the media. Many political analysts, in Turkey and the West, suspect his desire to rewrite the constitution is designed to amass more executive power. But to his admirers, these failings pale against his successes. Democratic, economically ascendant and internationally admired: as political templates go, Turkey’s is pretty irresistible to people shaking off decades of authoritarian, impoverishing rule — and for Westerners worried about what those people might do next.

But perhaps its greatest virtue, in the eyes of many Middle Eastern beholders, is that the Turkish model was forged by an Islamist: Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party — better known by its Turkish acronym, AKP — have traditionally drawn support from the country’s religious and conservative classes and are regarded with suspicion by secular absolutists. For Arab Islamists, Turkey’s success is proof that they can modernize their countries without breaking away from their religious moorings. Erdogan’s Western admirers see it the other way around: proof that political Islam needn’t be an enemy of modernity. And if any evidence were needed that Erdogan’s way leads to political success, the AKP won its third general election in June, by a landslide.

But can Erdogan’s way lead Egypt, Tunisia and Libya to the political stability and economic strength Turkey now enjoys? Erdogan claims to be ambivalent whether Arab states seek to emulate his success. “If they want our help, we’ll provide any assistance they need,” he told TIME in an interview during his visit to New York. “We do not have a mentality of exporting our system.” But he doesn’t deny reaching out to the potential leaders of the Arab Spring states: “I intentionally wanted to talk to the presidential candidates, the new political parties there, and I had the opportunity to get together with lots of people in order to grasp the situation.”


The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

Robert Fisk: Bankers are the dictators of the West

Bankers are the dictators of the West

Robert Fisk Available at:

Writing from the very region that produces more clichés per square foot than any other “story” – the Middle East – I should perhaps pause before I say I have never read so much garbage, so much utter drivel, as I have about the world financial crisis.

But I will not hold my fire. It seems to me that the reporting of the collapse of capitalism has reached a new low which even the Middle East cannot surpass for sheer unadulterated obedience to the very institutions and Harvard “experts” who have helped to bring about the whole criminal disaster.

Let’s kick off with the “Arab Spring” – in itself a grotesque verbal distortion of the great Arab/Muslim awakening which is shaking the Middle East – and the trashy parallels with the social protests in Western capitals. We’ve been deluged with reports of how the poor or the disadvantaged in the West have “taken a leaf” out of the “Arab spring” book, how demonstrators in America, Canada, Britain, Spain and Greece have been “inspired” by the huge demonstrations that brought down the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and – up to a point – Libya. But this is nonsense.

The real comparison, needless to say, has been dodged by Western reporters, so keen to extol the anti-dictator rebellions of the Arabs, so anxious to ignore protests against “democratic” Western governments, so desperate to disparage these demonstrations, to suggest that they are merely picking up on the latest fad in the Arab world. The truth is somewhat different. What drove the Arabs in their tens of thousands and then their millions on to the streets of Middle East capitals was a demand for dignity and a refusal to accept that the local family-ruled dictators actually owned their countries. The Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and the kings and emirs of the Gulf (and Jordan) and the Assads all believed that they had property rights to their entire nations. Egypt belonged to Mubarak Inc, Tunisia to Ben Ali Inc (and the Traboulsi family), Libya to Gaddafi Inc. And so on. The Arab martyrs against dictatorship died to prove that their countries belonged to their own people.

And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against “governments”. What they have really divined, however, albeit a bit late in the day, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people’s power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of “experts” from America’s top universities and “think tanks”, who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters.

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries. The elections which give them power have – through the gutlessness and collusion of governments – become as false as the polls to which the Arabs were forced to troop decade after decade to anoint their own national property owners. Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland became the Mubaraks and Ben Alis of the US and the UK, each gobbling up the people’s wealth in bogus rewards and bonuses for their vicious bosses on a scale infinitely more rapacious than their greedy Arab dictator-brothers could imagine.

I didn’t need Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job on BBC2 this week – though it helped – to teach me that the ratings agencies and the US banks are interchangeable, that their personnel move seamlessly between agency, bank and US government. The ratings lads (almost always lads, of course) who AAA-rated sub-prime loans and derivatives in America are now – via their poisonous influence on the markets – clawing down the people of Europe by threatening to lower or withdraw the very same ratings from European nations which they lavished upon criminals before the financial crash in the US. I believe that understatement tends to win arguments. But, forgive me, who are these creatures whose ratings agencies now put more fear into the French than Rommel did in 1940?

Why don’t my journalist mates in Wall Street tell me? How come the BBC and CNN and – oh, dear, even al-Jazeera – treat these criminal communities as unquestionable institutions of power? Why no investigations – Inside Job started along the path – into these scandalous double-dealers? It reminds me so much of the equally craven way that so many American reporters cover the Middle East, eerily avoiding any direct criticism of Israel, abetted by an army of pro-Likud lobbyists to explain to viewers why American “peacemaking” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be trusted, why the good guys are “moderates”, the bad guys “terrorists”.

The Arabs have at least begun to shrug off this nonsense. But when the Wall Street protesters do the same, they become “anarchists”, the social “terrorists” of American streets who dare to demand that the Bernankes and Geithners should face the same kind of trial as Hosni Mubarak. We in the West – our governments – have created our dictators. But, unlike the Arabs, we can’t touch them.

The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, solemnly informed his people this week that they were not responsible for the crisis in which they found themselves. They already knew that, of course. What he did not tell them was who was to blame. Isn’t it time he and his fellow EU prime ministers did tell us? And our reporters, too?


  • Dubai Desert