Exit stability, enter Islamism

How this radical Islam revivalism is proving to be more dangerous as time passes.

By ISRAEL KASNETT
December 2, 2011 16:52
Arab voting

Arab voting 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Months have passed and a number of countries including Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria are still undergoing political upheaval and experiencing dramatic change. While encouraging to Israel and the West, the fall of an authoritarian regime and the rise of a peaceful, democratic government is a process that can take years.

What is disturbing, however, is the loss of stability that has prevailed until now and the chaos that is quickly becoming more rampant.

Authoritarian rulers aim to maintain a status quo as stability means the survival of their regime. Today, we are witnessing widespread collapse of authoritarianism, but its replacement is far from the West’s romanticized vision of democracy.

Yes, new parties can now register and voters have more freedom to choose, but elections are not the core element of democracy – rather they are a means to an end. Elections are not an indication of the presence of democracy but rather the beginning of its process.

And democratic elections do not necessarily indicate the continuation of freedom.

The Nazi Party rose to power in free and fair elections, as did the terrorist organization Hamas in 2006. Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerged the “winner” after democratic elections in 2009. Today, Islamists are taking over and they are pointing to the elections as proof of their support of democracy. In fact, they are using the system to rise to power, spread their hostile views and create chaos.

Already on Monday, on the first day of voting, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party tried to offer financial incentives to voters in return for support. And they stand a good chance of succeeding.



Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, an Islamist party, claimed victory in elections there. Though party leader Rachid Ghannouchi declared his intent to allow liberal policies to remain in place, it is highly possible that will all change as Islamists enforce their strict religious standards on the populace.

Morocco is also witnessing the rise of Islamism. Last week, the Justice and Development Party, which identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood, won the elections.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, an Islamist former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, one of Libya’s most powerful militias, and who may have had ties to al-Qaida in the past, has a very good chance of gaining power.

Likewise, as reported in The New York Times in September, Ali Sallabi, a well-respected Islamic scholar, is an influential political leader and could bring extremism to Libya’s eventual new government.

Judging from events in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, when Syrian President Bashar Assad falls, it is highly likely that his replacement will be an Islamist party. Among the main political organizations that have recently emerged within the Syrian opposition is the Syrian National Council which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and the Istanbul Gathering group, which is also largely Islamist.

It is easy to see that the Muslim Brotherhood has gained tremendously from the Arab Spring. Until now, its power and influence was limited, but the fall of regimes has created an opportunity for the Brotherhood to rise to power.

Other countries including Algeria, Somalia and Yemen have also recently seen a rise in radical Islam.

While unique in terms of scope, the strife (fitna in Arabic) that has gripped so many North African and Middle East countries and the subsequent rise of radical Islam is really not new. The 1975-76 Lebanese Civil War gave rise to Muslim radicals there. And though the 1979 Iranian revolution allowed for a democratic government, democracy was short-lived and six months later, guided by Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the extremists rose to power.

THIS RADICAL Islam revivalism is proving to be more dangerous as time passes. Israel is slowly becoming surrounded by countries within which radical elements that support the destruction of the Jewish state are gaining substantial power.

But the danger is not limited to Israel. Europe, so close in proximity to the chaotic events taking place today in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, now has a serious, growing threat on its doorstep.

Radical Islamist forces just across the Mediterranean have made what Winston Churchill once called the “soft underbelly of Europe” a true threat.

Europeans should not ignore this.

Last year, in an article titled “The Mediterranean Crucible,” Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former foreign minister, wrote, “It is time to think geopolitically, not just fiscally, about the Mediterranean. What the EU is facing in the Mediterranean isn’t primarily a currency problem; first and foremost, it is a strategic problem – one that requires solutions urgently.”

Though, while Fischer understands this urgent issue, it is less clear whether other European nations have followed suit.

So what can be done? Israel and the West must find a way to fund and assist the moderate voices in these countries. The West should make their aid contingent on the level of freedom and democracy.

The West must engage these governments to the fullest extent possible, and offer incentives, such as trade agreements, to encourage cooperation.

Israel can do its part as well by offering to help build infrastructure, provide farming and water-conservation techniques and military assistance, and even help set up hi-tech industries, but it needs backing from an enlightened West. Western nations must wake up and realize that if they do not act now, and fast, radical Islam will soon cross their doorstep and instigate chaos.

It is imperative that the world work to suppress the extremists and offer those who value freedom and democracy for all, the ability to rise to power and steer their respective countries guided by the ethos of life, liberty and justice, and progress towards economic growth and political calm.

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