FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
How Islamists hijacked the Arab Revolution
, February 4, 2012
Just over a year ago, popular uprisings broke out in the Arab world, in response to a crisis there arising from the corruption of despotic Arab rulers, chronic unemployment, soaring prices and a stifling lack of freedom of expression.
First Tunisia, then Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Syria have been convulsed by massive protests demanding an end to despotic rule, corruption and economic stagnation, which have paralysed these countries for decades, but which had been blamed on either the United States or Israel.
In the West, the response to the protests was euphoric. Leaders such as Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy were ecstatic about the new “Arab Spring”.
As Bruce Thornton wrote recently in the Hoover Institution journal, Defining Ideas, the American response was bipartisan. “To President Obama, the uprising in Egypt reflected the yearning of Egyptians for ‘the same things that we all want: a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair and just and responsive’.
“Visiting Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, Senator John McCain enthused, ‘[Libyans] have paid an enormous price for their freedom,’ and have earned ‘a chance for all Libyans to know lasting peace, dignity, and justice.’”
And Senator Joseph Lieberman wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Throughout the Middle East, we see the narrative of violent Islamist extremism being rejected by tens of millions of Muslims who are rising up and peacefully demanding lives of democracy, dignity, economic opportunity, and involvement in the modern world’.”
A year on, after the overthrow of rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and the collapse of Syria into virtual civil war, the nature of the democracy which has emerged in the Arab world is beginning to emerge.
In Tunisia, where an autocratic and pro-Western government was overthrown, the Islamist Ennahda Party won about 37 per cent of last October’s vote for the Constituent Assembly against about 20 other parties.
Ennahda is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the principal function of the Constituent Assembly is to draft a new constitution for a country which has historically been pro-Western.
In Egypt, following the uprising which began in January 2011, mass protests were met with repression and killings, but eventually forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, a former military officer.
A military council is now overseeing elections which are designed to lead to a new constitution, presidential elections and the establishment of civilian rule.
Elections for the lower house, the People’s Assembly, were held in December 2011 and January 2012. In these elections, the Muslim Brotherhood — campaigning as the Freedom and Justice Party — won 49 per cent of the vote.
The more extreme Islamist Salafi al-Nour Party won 20 per cent of the seats, and the remaining 30 per cent of the vote was shared by a variety of secularist, left-wing and pro-Mubarak parties.
Egypt is now firmly in the hands of the Islamists. Among those to feel the consequences are the 15 million Egyptian Christians, the Copts, who have been killed on the streets, their women kidnapped and forced to marry Muslims, and their churches desecrated.
In Libya, the overthrow and killing of former general and president Muammar Gaddafi last year led to the establishment of a National Transitional Council, which is now internationally recognised as the government of Libya, pending elections to be held mid-2012.
While the overthrow of Gaddafi was principally the result of thousands of NATO air strikes which crippled Gaddafi’s military machine, an important component of the resistance force which overthrew Gaddafi is the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an affiliate of al Qaeda which has supplied volunteers for al Qaeda operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj, is now a major force in the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the commander of the Tripoli garrison.
The NTC’s draft constitutional charter proclaims, “Islam is the religion of the state, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia).”
After Gaddafi’s death, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, Libya’s interim leader and leader of the NTC, told the crowds: “We are an Islamic country. We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion.”
One of his first pledges was to end the old regime’s ban on polygamy, since “the law is contrary to Sharia and must be stopped”.
With the Shi’ite fundamentalists of Iran extending their influence through Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, the clear signs are that the politics of the Middle East are shifting decisively towards the extremists, and that democracy is being used by them as a vehicle for transferring power to the Islamists.
Meanwhile, Western governments, which were so willing to denounce military dictatorships in the Middle East and to give moral support to those who overthrew them, are now powerless in the face of the upsurge of Islamic extremism which, unwittingly, they helped to unleash.