A better world?

Can we truly say that the world is better off by has optimistically been referred to as the Arab Spring?

Time person of the year 311 (photo credit: Courtest of TIME)
Time person of the year 311
(photo credit: Courtest of TIME)
Time has chosen “The Protester” as its 2011 Person of the Year. Mexicans who took to the streets against drug cartels, Greeks who marched against austerity measures, the American Occupy Wall Street movement and Russians’ opposition to the Putin regime were all included.
But there was another grouping of archetypical “Protester” crowned with Time’s Person of the Year title: The millions of activists from Tunisia and Libya to Yemen, Syria and Egypt who took part in mass demonstrations against their respective autocratic dictatorships.
The magazine’s managing editor Rick Stengel wrote, “There’s this contagion of protest. These people who risked their lives... I think it is changing the world for the better.”
But can we truly say that the world – or at least this small slice of it in the Middle East – is better off one year after Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, and unwittingly set in motion what has optimistically been referred to as the Arab Spring? From the point of view of Hamas, the answer is resoundingly affirmative.
Speaking on Wednesday in Gaza to a crowd of 350,000, Hamas’s leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the popular demonstrations that spread across the region for helping bring to power Islamists. Gazans had gathered to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the establishment of Hamas, which roughly coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Arab Spring. And there was more than one reason for Islamist radicals such as Haniyeh to celebrate.
After decades of persecution under dictatorships, Hamas and fellow Islamists seems to be vindicated by the Arab Spring. Muslim reactionaries’ struggle to establish a radical Islam with strong elements of misogyny, discrimination against non-Muslim minorities and rabid opposition to Zionism is on the way to being realized.
The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the single largest party in the first round of Egyptian elections, followed in a close second by Salafists, who are even more radical and uncompromisingly violent in their outlook.
In Tunisia, the Ennahda party, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and its late leader Sayyid Qutb, has achieved a similarly impressive victory in a country that had offered the most promising chance in the region for true democracy.
Libya also appears to be in danger of falling under the influence of Islamists.
Spain’s former prime minister José María Aznar revealed recently that Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a rising star in the Libyan power structure, was one of the suspects in the 2004 Madrid train bombing that left 192 dead and 2,000 wounded. And Sheikh Ali Salibi, labeled by The Washington Post as “the likely architect of the new Libya,” was a close associate of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood.
But while the Arab Spring’s direction is a cause for celebration for Hamas, Westerners – including Israelis – have a bit more difficulty agreeing with Stengel that the protests are “changing the world for the better.”
Unfortunately, it is unclear how the West can counter the trend toward Islamization spreading across the region.
The case of Iraq seems to prove that the use of military intervention to impose and direct a transition from dictatorship to democracy is immensely complicated and provides no guarantees that state-building will succeed. True, President Barack Obama declared last week that the Iraq War a success as the very last US forces prepared to leave.
But Iraq's future remains uncertain. The US paid enormous human and financial costs. Almost 4,500 Americans were killed, some 30,000 were physically wounded (many more carry emotional scars) and a $1 trillion bill was generated for American taxpayers that has significantly harmed the US economy. Yet Iraq is not a democracy.
The region is not stable and Iran has an inordinate amount of influence, perhaps even more than the US, even though the Shi’ite Islamic Republic appears to be one of the losers in the Sunni Arab Spring.
With the US now focusing on recuperating from the trauma of nearly nine years in Iraq, Americans are less willing than ever to get involved in yet another military operation in the region. While eminently understandable, this American mindset further emboldens the radical elements that have been brought to power by popular demand.
So while it may be tempting to believe, as Time apparently does, that the representative “Protester” of the Arab Spring is “changing the world for the better,” this conclusion is far from apparent, unless you happen to share the radical worldview held by Islamists such as Haniyeh.