Stability and the scarecrow of Islamic rule

The Western fear that radical “Islamist” regimes may succeed the crumbling autocracies in revolting Arab countries is not one that Israel should share.

By RAPHAEL ISRAELI
May 17, 2011 11:21
3 minute read.
Muslim Brotherhood protest against Mubarak.

muslim brotherhood_311 reuters. (photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters)

 
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A twin fear underscores American and European foreign policy (if there is such a thing) regarding the Arab world: the concern for stability and a gripping anxiety that the current turmoil may lead to Islamic rule - wrongly termed by the chattering classes as "Islamist.” In other words, that control will be assumed by the Muslim Brotherhood or by one of its clones and affiliates that fall under the often misleading umbrella of "radical Islam.”

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Former US president Ronald Reagan defied the “stability” of the seventy-year-old Soviet Regime and its allies in the Soviet Bloc, and had a strong hand in causing the demise of what he dubbed to be the "Empire of Evil." Reagan realized that causing temporary instability was a necessary evil in tearing down evil regimes and insuring that a real stability of peace and freedom could endure in the long run.



Sadly, the list of regimes that promote long-term stability of the oppressive kind is long. It includes Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (30 years), the dynastic stability that the Alawite Assad family provided for 41 years in Syria, the military regimes established by deposed presidents Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the decades-long autocracies of Yemen (led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and Libya (led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi).

Amazingly, for decades these oppressive but “stable” regimes were not questioned by the West. Only when they began teetering on the edge of perdition by their citizens’ own volition did the West begin to remind itself that they were undemocratic regimes all along and that the rebels, attributed with disturbing the “stable” status quo, should in fact be encouraged and reinforced.

But just when the West came to that realization, the specter of Islam reared its ugly head over the horizon, causing the West to collectively shudder. What if Mubarak, an authoritarian who was considered a solid and credible ally of yesteryear, was replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood-led government that was democratically elected - even though those elections might very well be the last? An Islamic government could shun the Americans and even replace its military aid with some from another power (Russia again, or perhaps from Iran whose capacities are gradually mounting)?

Such a prospect deeply frightens Israel, especially in light of the prospects vying for presidential candidacy in Egypt. The parties running for parliament only reconfirms Israel’s need to abrogate the thirty-year-old peace with its neighbor, or at least to revise it. The peace agreement, signed by former Israeli PM Menachem Begin and former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat over three decades ago, is resented by much of Egypt’s populace – a fact that only highlights its frailty and demonstrated that just as a peace agreement can be signed at the whim of a dictator, so too can it be annulled at the whim of his successors.

It follows then, that more so for Israel than for the rest of the West, the consequences of an Arab revolt are far more pertinent and are often more dire than simply learning a lesson. But even in the unlikely outcome that relatively stable, democratic and moderate regimes emerge from all the turmoil, Israel can guarantee that there will be unprecedented pressure from the West to compromise with these new regimes, on the basis that democracy deserves Western sympathies.



But in the more likely outcome whereby doctrinal Islamic leadership wins elections, Israel may in fact earn itself some sympathy from the West. In light of this, the Islamic menace may ironically prove to be a better scenario for Israel than regimes run by Arab “moderates.” At least in the first scenario, Israel can hope that its allies will not abandon by .

The alternative means that Israel risks having the same fate of Poland following the Nazi invasion in 1939 as Europe stood idly by, and becoming what the then-British prime minister Winston Churchill termed as "magnificent and forlorn."

The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem  and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.

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