The Islamist ascendancy

Post-revolutionary Libya appears to have elected a relatively moderate pro-Western government. Good news, but tentative because Libya is less a country than an oil well with a long beach and myriad tribes. Popular allegiance to a central national authority is weak. Yet even if the government of Mahmoud Jibril is able to rein in the militias and establish a functioning democracy, it will be the Arab Spring exception. (Charles Krauthammer – The Washington Post – 13/07/2012) 

Consider: Tunisia and Morocco, the most Westernized of all Arab countries, elected Islamist governments. Moderate, to be sure, but Islamist still. Egypt, the largest and most influential, has experienced an Islamist sweep. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t just win the presidency. It won nearly half the seats in parliament, while more openly radical Islamists won 25%. Combined, they command more than 70% of parliament, enough to control writing of a constitution (which is why the generals hastily dissolved parliament). As for Syria, if and when Bashar al-Assad falls, the Brotherhood will almost certainly inherit power. Jordan could well be next. And Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing (Hamas) already controls Gaza.

What does this mean? That the Arab Spring is a misnomer. This is an Islamist ascendancy, likely to dominate Arab politics for a generation. It constitutes the third stage of modern Arab political history. Stage I was the semicolonial-monarchic rule, dominated by Britain and France, of the first half of 20th century. Stage II was the Arab nationalist era, secular, socialist, anti-colonial and anti-clerical, ushered in by the 1952 Free Officers Revolt in Egypt. Its vehicle was military dictatorship, and Gamal Nasser led the way. He raised the flag of pan-Arabism, going so far as changing Egypt’s name to United Arab Republic and merging his country with Syria in 1958. That absurd experiment, it lasted exactly three years, was to have been beginning of a grand Arab unification, which, of course, never came. Nasser fiercely persecuted Islamists, as did his nationalist successors, down to Egypt’s Mubarak and the Baathists, Iraqi (Saddam) and Syrian (Assads), as reactionary antithesis to Arab modernism. But self-styled modernism of the Arab-nationalist dictators proved to be a dismal failure. It produced dysfunctional, semi-socialist, bureaucratic, corrupt regimes that left citizenry (except where papered over by oil bounties) mired in poverty, indignity, repression. Hence the Arab Spring, serial uprisings that spread east from Tunisia in early 2011. Many Westerners naively believed the future belonged to hip, secular, tweeting kids of Tahrir Square. Alas, this sliver of Westernization was no match for highly organized, widely supported, politically serious Islamists who effortlessly swept them aside in national elections. This was not a Facebook revolution, beginning of an Islamist one. Amid the ruins of secular nationalist pan-Arabism, Brotherhood rose to solve conundrum of Arab stagnation and marginality. “Islam is the answer”.

But what kind of political Islam? On that depends the future. Moderate Turkish version or the radical Iranian one? To be sure, Erdogan’s Turkey is no paragon. Increasingly authoritarian Erdogan has broken military, neutered judiciary and persecuted the press. There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in China. Nonetheless, for now, Turkey remains relatively pro-Western (though unreliably so) and relatively democratic (compared to its Islamic neighborhood). For now, new Islamist ascendancy in Arab lands has taken on the more benign Turkish aspect. Inherently so in Morocco and Tunisia; by external constraint in Egypt, where military sees itself as guardian of the secular state, precisely as did Turkey’s military in 80 years from Ataturk to Erdogan. Genuinely democratic rule may yet come to Arab lands. Radical Islam is answer to nothing, as demonstrated by repression, social backwardness and civil strife of Taliban Afghanistan, Islamist Sudan, clerical Iran. As for moderate Islamism, if it eventually radicalizes, it too will fail and bring on yet another future Arab Spring where democracy might actually be the answer (as it likely would have been in Iran, had the mullahs not savagely crushed the Green Revolution). Or it might adapt to modernity, accept alternation of power with secularists and achieve by evolution an authentic Arab-Islamic democratic norm. Perhaps. Only thing we can be sure of today, however, is that Arab nationalism is dead and Islamism is its successor. This is what Arab Spring has wrought. The beginning of wisdom is facing that difficult reality.


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Consultor Internacional

One Response to The Islamist ascendancy

  1. Vast areas of Egypt’s Sinai desert have descended into lawlessness in recent months, providing fertile ground for small cells of extremist militants that have emerged from the shadows and quietly established training camps near the Israeli border, according to Bedouin elders and security experts. The militants include men who have fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, as well as Islamists who were released from prison after the 2011 popular revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and drove much of his potent security apparatus underground. Drawing little notice during a period of dramatic developments in Cairo, the militants have become increasingly bold and visible amid a broader breakdown of security in the strategically important desert, a buffer zone between Israel and Egypt. The eclipse of authority has also given rise to Sharia courts run by Islamic scholars who settle disputes according to Islamic law. The Egyptian government’s failure to restore order in the Sinai has unnerved Israel, in part because of a recent attack on an Israeli border post. Some local residents worry that Israel might ultimately respond unilaterally, a prospect that alarms those who survived successive wars in the Sinai between the neighbors in the 1960s and 1970s. “In one year, this could all become extremely dangerous,” said Nassar Abu Akra, a merchant and elder in the area who fears that the rise of a violent militant movement could spark a crushing response from Israel. “If Israel responds to protect its land, it would be a disaster — a massacre. Even normal people, not just jihadis, would fight and die if Israelis came back.” U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about deteriorating security in the Sinai. The subject is all but certain to come up during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Cairo this weekend, particularly because two U.S. citizens were reportedly kidnapped in the area Friday. The Sinai peninsula was contested territory for much of the past century, largely because it is a gateway to the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and Red Seas. Israeli forces occupied the Sinai in 1956 and 1967 and fought a war against Egyptian troops in the following decade. Egypt regained full control of the Sinai after the 1979 peace treaty brokered by the United States. A U.S. Army battalion consisting of several hundred soldiers is stationed in the Sinai as part of an international peacekeeping force (…..)


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