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
What is disturbing, however, is the loss of stability that has
prevailed until now and the chaos that is quickly becoming more
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.
democratic elections do not necessarily indicate the continuation of
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
in September, Ali Sallabi, a well-respected Islamic scholar, is an
influential political leader and could bring extremism to Libya’s eventual new
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.
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.
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
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.
Islamist forces just across the Mediterranean have made what Winston Churchill
once called the “soft underbelly of Europe” a true threat.
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
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.
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.