Between Revolution and Political Stability: The Perceptions and Influences of the Arab Uprisings among the Islamist Movements in Malaysia
Saidin, Mohd Irwan Syazli Bin
Date: 7 March 2018
University of Exeter
PhD in Middle East Politics
This thesis examines the attitude of Malaysia’s Islamist movements – (1) The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS); (2) The National Trust Party (AMANAH); (3) The Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) and (4) the Malaysian Muslim Solidarity Front (ISMA) towards the 2011 Arab Uprisings events or popularly known as the ‘Arab Spring’ in ...
This thesis examines the attitude of Malaysia’s Islamist movements – (1) The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS); (2) The National Trust Party (AMANAH); (3) The Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) and (4) the Malaysian Muslim Solidarity Front (ISMA) towards the 2011 Arab Uprisings events or popularly known as the ‘Arab Spring’ in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, it explores the knowledge and perceptions of selected Islamist movement activists, politicians and members in Malaysia towards the Arab Uprisings as well as considering how the events impact their activism, political approach and attitudes towards the issues of regime change, civil disobedience, political revolution, democracy, Islamism and political stability. This thesis also identifies a number lessons learnt by the Malaysian Islamists from the development of post-Arab Uprisings in the MENA region. The tendency of Malaysian Islamists to be influenced by the development in the Middle East and global political Islam are not seen as something new as evidently shown in the case of the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. This popular event was known for its indirect impact on the political activism and approaches of PAS and ABIM in Malaysia back in the 1980-1990s, as well as inspiring many Malaysian Islamists to uphold the struggle of establishing an Islamic state in the country. Following the recent uprisings in several Arab states, which also witnesses the rise of Arab Islamist parties in securing a ruling power, these events have also been widely followed by the Malaysians in general and the Islamists in particular with great interest. Furthermore, the major involvement of Malaysian Islamists in a series of mass protests, popularly known in Malaysia as the “Bersih movement” (circa 2011-2016), against the ruling government, were perceived by numerous local and foreign journalists as an attempt to create a “Malaysian Spring” which inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ phenomenon for the sake of toppling the current regime. However, there have been strong opinions voiced by the Malaysian authorities and various local scholars suggesting that there was no basis for presuming an Arab Uprisings impact in the context of the Malaysian experience. This raises the question of the relationship between the Arab Uprisings and Malaysian Islamists. Nevertheless, no matter how relevant the questions raised between Malaysia’s Islamist movements and the ‘Arab Spring’, the central concern that needs to be highlighted is the extent to which Malaysian Islamists grasp the fundamental issues of the 2011 Arab Uprisings before jumping to any conclusion about the polemics of the “Malaysian Spring”. In so doing, both quantitative and qualitative methods were applied through a questionnaire based-survey which was conducted in Malaysia involving 530 respondents, primarily among the registered and active representative of Malaysian Islamist between the ages of 18 and 45, as well as 15 in-depth interviews with selected Malaysian Islamist activists and leaders ranging from those in opposition political parties (PAS and AMANAH) to those in non-government Islamist organisations (ABIM and ISMA). The survey of Malaysian Islamists’ attitudes towards the Arab Uprisings development covered a variety of dimensions, namely understanding the general issues about the Arab Uprisings’ phenomenon, factors that lead to the Uprisings, the role of Islamist movements, the influences of the Uprisings on Malaysia’s Islamist movements activism and finally lessons learnt from the Arab Uprisings. The data is statistically analysed with the assistance of the SPSS computer package, and by using a number of statistical procedures, such as frequencies and cross-tabulations. The outcome of this research shows that the majority of respondents have an outstanding knowledge on the Arab Uprisings which was mostly obtained via new social media such as Facebook and Twitter, along with mixed perceptions toward the events. Furthermore, they also reached an understanding that the uncertainties in the Arab world would eventually lead to another wave of uprisings in the long term. Speaking of the global impact of the Arab Uprisings events, some elements of political repression, coupled with corruption and power abuses (which some claimed to be practised by the Malaysian regime), led to a number of Malaysian Islamists believing that they were inspired by the acts of mass street protests during the Arab Uprisings. This inspiration came when they witnessed the ousting of several long-serving autocratic Arab rulers in their respective states by the Arab protesters. However, the fear of insecurity and political instability which is currently evident in the post-Arab Uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the Yemen led to many respondents favouring political stability rather than regime change. Most of the respondents were quite sceptical about the polemics of the “Malaysian Spring” as most of them neither disagreed nor agreed that the series of political rallies by the Bersih movement were an indirect effort to topple the ruling government which was ‘accused’ by several pro-government media, politicians and authorities in Malaysia. Overall, this empirical research found that the majority of Malaysian Islamists from PAS, ABIM, ISMA and AMANAH are supportive of a free and democratic elections as a relevant medium for political change, rather than overthrowing the current regime via civil disobedience, street demonstration, or ‘revolution’.
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