It must be recognised that a powerful process of challenge goes on constantly in many Muslim societies. When places at university are limited in number, when the job market is stretched to capacity, when there is only so much ‘good’ to go round, there develops fierce competition between ‘brothers’.
Those holding power do all they can to protect their place of privilege. An under-the-surface rivalry continues through the web of various family and clan relationships, emerging now and then in public victory or ignominious defeat.
In the early development of Islam as an expanding force, a new layer of distinction came to eclipse former tribal renown. There is a pecking order favouring Arab over non-Arab, city-dweller above desert-dweller, because of the esteem given to Muhammad (both Arab and city-dweller) by the Islamic community.
Each locality knows its own hierarchy of privilege. Such are the stories found in the novel – God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi.
In Arab society, it often seems to be the case that more authority is exercised than responsibility shouldered. Such are things written in the short story – A Lone Woman by Zakaria Tamer.
In the post-independence era, many Muslim (Arab and other) nations have developed as dictatorships where the country’s wealth and control of its financial policies has become concentrated in the hands of a few ‘great’ families. There is no ‘exposure’ nor censure of those families as long as they remain united and powerful against all rivals.
As a result, absolute rule begets conspiracies, rivalries on a massive scale. David Pryce-Jones, in his incisive book on the Arabs, lists some of the plots and counter-plots that have marked Middle Eastern politics in recent decades.
The rivalry factor filters into every aspect of living. It elevates impersonal processes at the cost of human relationships.
Perhaps the most daring exegesis of ‘rivalry’ in recent years has come from the pen of Naguib Mahfouz in Children of Gebelawi. Can the ministry of ‘prophets’ make a difference on earth? The people are condemned to live in despair – not brothers but pawns in the power game.