Tuesday, November 08, 2011

8-Nov-11: Get ready for a long Arab winter

Cairo's central square - 25th January 2011. You have to be brave or
polyannish to not see the rolling tide of Islamism that has steam-rollered
the so-called Arab Spring
Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal this past week, tells some home truths about the role that Islamism is playing in the over-optimistically-named Arab Spring. It's entitled "Why Islamists Are Winning: When secular politics fail, Islamism is the last big idea standing". Some extracts:
  • Europe's foremost authority on political Islam, in an essay published days after Hosni Mubarak was forced from power in February[wrote] "Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation"...
  • "I am not in the least bit worried about the Muslim Brotherhoods in Jordan or Egypt hijacking the future," confided New York Times columnist Tom Friedman...
  • Added his colleague Nicholas Kristof in a dispatch from Cairo: "I agree that the Muslim Brotherhood would not be a good ruler of Egypt, but that point of view also seems to be shared by most Egyptians."
  • What reassurance. Nine months on, the Islamist Nahda party has swept to victory in Tunisia, the one Arab state in which secularist values were said to be irreversibly fixed. Libya's new interim leader, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, came to office promising "the Islamic religion as the core of our new government"; as a first order of business, he promises to revoke the Gadhafi regime's ban on polygamy since "the law is contrary to Shariah and must be stopped." Later this month, Islamist candidates—some of them Muslim Brothers, others even more religiously extreme—will likely sweep Egypt's parliamentary elections.
  • It doesn't stop there. Hezbollah has effectively ruled Lebanon since it forced the collapse of a pro-Western government in January. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Islamist prime minister, cruised to a third term in parliamentary elections in June. Hamas, winner in the last vote held by the Palestinian Authority in 2006, would almost certainly win again if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dared put his government to an electoral test.
  • [Why is this happening? asks Stephens.] Mideast scholar Bernard Lewis noted in an April interview that "freedom" is fairly novel as a political concept in the Arab world. "In the Muslim tradition, justice is the standard" of good government—and the very thing the ancien regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya so flagrantly traduced. Little wonder, then, that Mr. Erdogan's AK party stands for "Justice and Development," the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's new party is "Freedom and Justice" and, further afield, the leading Islamist party in Indonesia calls itself "Prosperous Justice."
  • There is also the comprehensive failure of the Muslim world's secular movements to provide a better form of politics.
  • That sour history leaves Islamism as the last big idea standing—and standing at a moment when tens of millions of young Muslims find themselves under-educated, semi- or unemployed, and uniquely receptive to a world view with deep historic roots and heroic ambitions.
  • The good news is that after 31 years most Iranians have grown sick of Islam always being the answer, and the collapse of the regime awaits only the next ripe opportunity. The bad news is that a similar time-frame may be in store for the rest of the Muslim world, until it too becomes disenchanted with Islamist promises. Get ready for a long winter.
Stephens' essay is worth reading in full.

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