The feeling of euphoria on winning parliamentary elections in several countries in the Arab world has resulted in spokesmen for political Islam recommending the possibility of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate.
How should this idea be considered?
To begin with, according to Islamic traditions, the Caliph holds two authorities: temporal and spiritual. Obeying him is incumbent upon clergymen and politicians alike.
These temporal and spiritual authorities go beyond borders and nationalities, and in their political and geographical characteristics are above "nationalism" and the "nation state."
Such characteristics contain problems that need innovative and new solutions. Problems include: the nationality of the Caliph, the mechanisms of choosing him, the manner of establishing his authority and ensuring its sustainability, the method of applying his policy and submitting to his decisions, the manner of "deposing" him if he goes beyond the will of the "Ummah" [nation of Islam], and the procedure to transfer powers from one successor to another, whether through inheritance or elections.
Further, the issues of the Caliph's nationality and the mechanisms of choosing him fall under what in modern times we call "legitimacy," now controlled by elections, ballot boxes, transitions of power, and mechanisms for financial and administrative monitoring.
The Caliph's nationality is a complex issue. In some traditional Islamic schools, the Caliph should be of "Quraysh" (the tribe of the prophet) and from "his family or bloodline." This tradition has been subject to different interpretations, resulting in sectarian divisions and in the past, igniting the flames of countless civil and tribal wars.
Suppose, however, that the representatives of political Islam succeed in finding a righteous "Qurayshi," will the Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Tunisians, Palestinians, Lebanese, and Algerians agree to submit to his authority? What about the Turks and the Iranians?
If they do agree, then what are the potential mechanisms to express this agreement: through ballot boxes, or through their representatives in elected parliaments? What about the Indonesians and Malaysians, and what about European, American, Chinese and Indian Muslims? What about the issue of dual loyalty, which is rejected in American, Asian, and European systems?
To consider the problem in a different way, suppose an Egyptian of the Muslim Brotherhood or some other Islamic group earned this honor. Would the Saudis, Qataris and Emiratis accept this, especially as the Caliph's authorities are earthly and spiritual, and obeying him is part of the Shariaa ["The Way": Islamic law according to the Qu'ran]?
If we assume that the Caliph is accepted, regardless of the way, and that he becomes interested in the Muslims' well-being and therefore decides to seize the revenues of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE for three years to lift Egypt out of its economic ordeal, would the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwaitis and Emiratis agree to divide their oil revenues with the Egyptians?
What if a country defied the Caliph's orders, would the solution be negotiations or war? Would the Caliph have the right to decide on oil policy, for example, and review the contracts for armaments and trade with the United States? Would he have a sovereign view that eclipses the existing Arab and Islamic nations' considerations regarding Israel, Jerusalem and the peace treaties?
Suppose again that they accepted the Caliph, regardless of how, will Pakistani generals agree to put their country's nuclear capabilities under the command of a ruler from outside their country? And if they did, would the Chinese, Americans, Europeans, and Indians agree?
In addition, as the Caliphate is a Sunni institution, would the Caliph be accepted by the Shias in the Arab and Islamic countries?
Setting aside the ideas of political authority, political science and sociology in modern times, what would the Caliphate look like from a historical perspective?
The Caliphate in its latest manifestation, during the Ottoman Empire, fell for internal and external reasons: Internal due to the rise of nationalism among its peoples, and external because the Western countries wanted to divide its spoils. This nationalist tendency, responsible for the fall of the Caliphate, is presently a thousand times stronger than it was a hundred years ago: it has succeeded in establishing institutions of statehood and local identities within defined and recognized boundaries.
Throughout most of the history of Islam, regional, tribal and ethnic tendencies have transformed the authority of the Caliphate into a symbolic one. While local rulers established kingdoms, sultanates and states, which in their administrative and political sense do not fall under the authority of the Caliph, he has become a hostage to strong rulers in one state or another.
In the same context, the presence of the same party, or of the same ideology, in two different countries does not, in any manner, guarantee success in uniting two countries under one authority. The Baath party in Syria and Iraq failed to accomplish this despite the rhetoric about the "one Arab nation" and its "eternal message." Marxism in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba also failed, despite all the internationalist, working class, and anti-imperialism rhetoric.
Is it possible to establish "supranational" identities in modern times? The Soviet Union was a multinational empire with different nations, languages and culture. Yet it collapsed not only because it was insolvent, which many of the Arab nations are not, but also because the Soviet ideology and state could not reshape nationalities, languages, and cultures into one single identity. The United States also is an "empire," but the American "Caliph" does not have the right to remain in power for more than eight years.
The Caliphate will not heal divisions, it will cause them; as a way of unifying dissimilar groups, it will not work. Presently we have the model of Nabil al-Arabi, general secretary of the Arab League, as well as the model of Ehsan Oglu, general secretary of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Is it advisable to overpower these two models?