Arab Spring actually Islamist ascendancy

July 14, 2012


— Post-revolutionary Libya appears to have elected a relatively moderate pro-Western government. Good news, but tentative because Libya is less a country than an oil well with a long beach and myriad tribes. Popular allegiance to a central national authority is weak. Even if the government of Mahmoud Jibril is able to rein in the militias and establish a functioning democracy, it will be the Arab Spring exception. Consider:

Tunisia and Morocco, the most Westernized of all Arab countries, elected Islamist governments. Moderate, to be sure, but Islamist still. Egypt, the largest and most influential, has experienced an Islamist sweep. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t just win the presidency. It won nearly half the seats in parliament, while more openly radical Islamists won 25 percent. Combined, they command more than 70 percent of parliament — enough to control the writing of a constitution (which is why the generals hastily dissolved parliament).

As for Syria, if and when Bashar al-Assad falls, the Brotherhood will almost certainly inherit power. Jordan could well be next. And the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing (Hamas) already controls Gaza.

What does this mean? That the Arab Spring is a misnomer. This is an Islamist ascendancy, likely to dominate Arab politics for a generation.  

It constitutes the third stage of modern Arab political history. Stage I was the semicolonial-monarchic rule, dominated by Britain and France, of the first half of the 20th century. Stage II was the Arab nationalist era — secular, socialist, anti-colonial and anti-clerical — ushered in by the 1952 Free Officers Revolt in Egypt.

Its vehicle was military dictatorship and Gamal Nasser led the way. He raised the flag of pan-Arabism, going so far as changing Egypt’s name to the United Arab Republic and merging his country with Syria in 1958. That absurd experiment — it lasted exactly three years — was to have been the beginning of a grand Arab unification, which, of course, never came. Nasser also fiercely persecuted Islamists — as did his nationalist successors, down to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the Baathists, Iraqi (Saddam Hussein) and Syrian (the Assads) — as the reactionary antithesis to Arab modernism.

But the self-styled modernism of the Arab-nationalist dictators proved to be a dismal failure. It produced dysfunctional, semi-socialist, bureaucratic, corrupt regimes that left the citizenry (except where papered over by oil bounties) mired in poverty, indignity and repression.

Hence the Arab Spring, serial uprisings that spread east from Tunisia in early 2011. Many Westerners naïvely believed the future belonged to the hip, secular, tweeting kids of Tahrir Square. Alas, this sliver of Westernization was no match for the highly organized, widely supported, politically serious Islamists who effortlessly swept them aside in national elections.  

This was not a Facebook revolution but the beginning of an Islamist one. Amid the ruins of secular nationalist pan-Arabism, the Muslim Brotherhood rose to solve the conundrum of Arab stagnation and marginality. “Islam is the answer,” it preached and carried the day.

But what kind of political Islam? On that depends the future. The moderate Turkish version or the radical Iranian one?

To be sure, Recep Erdogan’s Turkey is no paragon. The increasingly authoritarian Erdogan has broken the military, neutered the judiciary and persecuted the press. There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in China. Nonetheless, for now, Turkey remains relatively pro-Western (though unreliably so) and relatively democratic (compared to its Islamic neighborhood).

For now, the new Islamist ascendancy in Arab lands has taken on the more benign Turkish aspect. Inherently so in Morocco and Tunisia; by external constraint in Egypt, where the military sees itself as guardian of the secular state, precisely as did Turkey’s military in the 80 years from Ataturk to Erdogan.

Genuinely democratic rule may yet come to Arab lands. Radical Islam is the answer to nothing, as demonstrated by the repression, social backwardness and civil strife of Taliban Afghanistan, Islamist Sudan and clerical Iran.

As for moderate Islamism, if it eventually radicalizes, it too will fail and bring on yet another future Arab Spring where democracy might actually be the answer (as it likely would have been in Iran had the mullahs not savagely crushed the Green Revolution). Or it might adapt to modernity, accept the alternation of power with secularists and thus achieve by evolution an authentic Arab-Islamic democratic norm.

Perhaps. The only thing we can be sure of today, however, is that Arab nationalism is dead and Islamism is its successor. This is what the Arab Spring has wrought. The beginning of wisdom is facing that difficult reality.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


tbaker 1 year, 9 months ago

Follow the constitution, stay out of foriegn wars, develop domestic energy sources, use CNG to bridge the gap between now and the day we do not need crude oil for transportation. We need to get to a point where the US no longer cares about the Middle East and their 12th century life style, and no longer sends them trillions of dollars for something we have right here.


Agnostick 1 year, 9 months ago

It's very, very telling that the usual screed voices are parroting the usual "Obama handled it wrong"... but no one is offering up anything of substance.

If you know enough to know that Obama was wrong... then what was the correct way?

I'll name names:

cato_the_elder... BornAgainAmerican... rockchalk1977

So, how about putting your money where your mouth is?

Had you been in the Oval Office... how would you have handled it differently ?

What would you have done?


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 9 months ago

"Islamic Ascendancy" would be grand. 'Some' women look 'better in a "burka". And believe me. 'Most' complex Liberal females, if not all, like Madame Pelosi, Rosie O'donnell and the rest, would look 'smashing' in a "burka".

Oui, can only "Hope and Change" for " Islamic Ascendancy" under "The First Gay President"


Lateralis 1 year, 9 months ago

“Hence the Arab Spring, serial uprisings that spread east from Tunisia in early 2011. Many Westerners naïvely believed the future belonged to the hip, secular, tweeting kids of Tahrir Square. Alas, this sliver of Westernization was no match for the highly organized, widely supported, politically serious Islamists who effortlessly swept them aside in national elections.” – Krauthammer

This is a great point. What the west saw with the Arab Spring was a corrupt media trying to further the idea that democracy works for everyone and more importantly that the mid-east event wants our twisted form of democracy. The interviews of clean shaven, English speaking, young Arabs, represents a very small part of the 85 million Muslims worldwide. In large part much of the mid-east is a little put off by our imposition of our version of democracy. The US and it’s foreign policy preach due process, liberty, and humanitarian rule yet fails to carry it out within its own boarders. Paired with our support of dictators only for us to turn around and remove these dictators or offer support for their removal, it’s no wonder that we are not favored in a positive light. Cause and effect I guess.

Democratic countries that we have helped covertly overthrow or more delicately put helped implement regime change:

Iran 1953 Guatemala 1954 Tibet 1955-70’s Cuba 1959 Democratic Republic of the Congo 1960-65 Iraq 1960-63 Dominican Republic 1961 South Vietnam 1963 Brazil 1964 Greece 1967 Chile 1970-73 Argentina 1976 Afghanistan 1979-1989 Turkey 1980 Poland 1980-81 Nicaragua 1981-1990 Cambodia 1980-95 Angola 1980’s Philippines 1986 Afghanistan 2001- Present Iraq 2002 - present Venezuela 2002 Palestinian Authority 2006 – present Somalia 2006-2007 Iran 2005 – present Libya – 2011

Is there no end to our reign terror?


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 9 months ago

We have too many Krauthammers offering advice on things they know nothing about.

If anyone ever was loonie enough to implement Krauthammer's worldview, the people in that country would probably end up like Easter Island. We would have nothing left to determine what happened but a bunch of stone faces staring at the ocean.


Paul R Getto 1 year, 9 months ago

"Religionists" is, I believe, what we should call our American brothers who are trying to establish their own new 'Caliphate.'


jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Speaking of Muslims electing Muslims, let me add that I am very uncomfortable with the notion that we in America, a predominately Christian country, allow ourselves the luxury of defining what is a Muslim or what being a Muslim should be. That is equally true when we use the term "Islamist", as if there was some universally accepted definition. There seems to be a desire to not only define what it is, what it should be, and then be critical of it if it doesn't meet our expectations. In my opinion, we should defer to Muslims to define the term, or in this case, the movement we loosely call Islamists.

The same would be true for Muslims or Christians trying to define Zionism. It's not their place to do so. Just as it would be inappropriate for Jews or Muslims to define Christianity and how they express themselves.


grammaddy 1 year, 9 months ago

I just love it when the right wingnuts try to blame Obama for who other countries vote into leadership.They're Muslims who elected Muslims, get over it.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 9 months ago

More proof Obama has failed miserably at both foreign and domestic policy. No wonder he would rather divide the country into little groups and throw stones at Mitt Romney than talk issues. The American people are much smarter than that and Obama will lose his big house, private jet, private helicopter, and gas-guzzling SUV in January. Jimmy Carter has to be smiling.


Paul R Getto 1 year, 9 months ago

Establishing a Theocracy is a goal in this country; we should not be surprised when others attempt the same using (ironically) the same god of Abraham. Democracy is a strange thing sometimes.


pizzapete 1 year, 9 months ago

I think it was a bad idea for us to think we could bring democracy to the Middle East and that it would work in Americas favor to do so. Maybe a fake democracy like we have in the U.S. would be a better fit. It might work better if they could come up with only two viable political parties, limit the candidates to the few who can raise the most money, and enact an electoral college to actually choose the leader. They might also want to keep the people uneducated, disenfranchise the poor, and make it difficult for any minorities or people with foreign sounding names to vote. We could even send them some of our dubious electronic vote counting machines. And if all that doesn't work we can always start a war or assasinate the leaders we dissagree with a la Sadam Hussein.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

So, it's OK with Chuck that Israel has an ultra-conservative theocracy, but not for Arabs to do the same.


jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

This raises the interesting question of how we view democratically elected groups that we may not like.

If we are pro-democracy, then we should support the right of other countries to choose their leadership in that way, even if we dislike their choices.


ThePilgrim 1 year, 9 months ago

One of the problems with democracy is that someone or some group will vote in a candidate that is extremist or won't play well with others. Bush lauded democracy and seemed genuinely surprised when the West Bank voted in Hamas. Duh, what did you expect? In this country special interest groups vote in the candidate that will be in their best interest. And we wonder why. Duh!


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 9 months ago

Anderson Cooper, "I am gay" giddily said, Arab Spring is "celebration."


cato_the_elder 1 year, 9 months ago

The disappointing outcome of the so-called "Arab Spring" represents just one more abject failure among many in Obama's failed presidency.


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