According to a report in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press Western leaders are nervously watching the next phase of the “Arab Spring.” Writes Hannah Allam:
The U.S. and other Western powers -- along with Arab liberals and religious minorities -- are watching with alarm as conservative Muslim politicians have filled the power vacuums left by the rebellions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. They fear that Taliban-style religious extremism will replace the old order's secular autocracy. (“Islamists' rise being closely watched”).
Is there alarm in the U.S.?, because I haven’t detected it outside the blogosphere. On the other hand, continues Allam:
Supporters say the extremist threat is exaggerated and that no other political force is as trusted, disciplined or efficient to guide these scarred nations toward democracy.
They note that across north Africa, Islamists are forging alliances with political rivals, meeting with Western envoys, courting foreign investors and spending millions of dollars on sophisticated campaigns.
Which is exactly why I haven’t had much confidence in optimists about the “Arab Spring.” If it’s true, and it probably is, that the Islamists are the most “trusted, disciplined,” and “efficient” political force in these countries, why is that any reason to assume they will use that force to “guide these scarred nations toward democracy”? Especially when the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are committed opponents of democracy? Just because Islamists are running around, “forging alliances,” courting investors, and spending millions on “sophisticated campaigns” doesn’t mean democracy is their goal. Dictatorships need to consolidate power, too, and need to gain popular support (in the beginning) through “sophisticated campaigns.”
Why, then, would anyone conclude from all this that the Islamists just might want a free society?
As Allam herself writes, a year ago the Muslim Brotherhood leaders were carefully staging the Tahrir Square demonstrations, “making sure that their young activists weren't using religious chants or banners; they had issued strict orders not to make the revolution seem Islamist in nature.”
Why not let the revolution seem Islamist in nature? Because the world knows that Islamism and democracy are incompatible.
Even Allam’s analysis treats it matter-of-factly:
So far, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Nahdah in Tunisia and other mainstream Islamists throughout the region have offered assurances to their many critics, treading carefully so as not to squander their newfound authority and freedom.
While they make little secret of their long-term goal of establishing Islamic nations, analysts said, for now they're willing to strike shrewd deals with non-Islamist blocs and focus on collective grievances such as unemployment, inflation and the lack of security.
Maybe if I were an “analyst,” I’d understand how the Islamists’ stated intention of establishing Sharia states is less worrisome because now they’re striking “shrewd deals” and focusing on “collective grievances.” This is like an “on the one hand, on the other hand” kind of article where both hands are the same hand. From what I can see, the Islamists aren’t even pretending any more that if we just wait and see we’ll soon behold free and open societies blossoming in North Africa. Muslim Brotherhood official Mahmoud Ghozlan said, “Islamists are the new reality.”
Whether all those protesters a year ago in Egypt, or Tunisia, or Yemen were interested in democracy or not, I’m hardly in a position to say.
What I do know, and what I can say, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not interested in democracy in Egypt, or Tunisia, or Yemen, or anywhere. They’re interested in gaining political power so they can impose Sharia states. They’re interested, as their leader said three weeks ago, in “establishing a righteous and fair ruling system, with all its institutions and associations, including a government evolving into a rightly guided caliphate and mastership of the world.”
That’s the new reality.