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.


cato_the_elder 5 years, 2 months ago

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

cato_the_elder 5 years, 2 months ago

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

ThePilgrim 5 years, 2 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!

jafs 5 years, 2 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.

booyalab 5 years, 2 months ago

I think the word "democracy" gets thrown about a lot when people actually mean "republic". Or at least, I have to assume that's what they mean, since this country is not a democracy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

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

dinglesmith 5 years, 2 months ago

So, it's also OK with Chuck that we are rushing headlong into a conservative Christian theocracy, but not for Arabs to do the same. I would suspect there is at least as much, if not more, religious diversity in the parliaments of Arab states as there is in the US Congress. Democracies - particularly young ones - are messy things. Give them time.

pizzapete 5 years, 2 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.

pizzapete 5 years, 2 months ago

Attack the person when you don't have any real ideas to debate?

pizzapete 5 years, 2 months ago

Far from mocking our nation, I was just pointing out some of the absurdities of our own system. I guess questioning our own system of government is something you would rather not think about. It's not unamerican by the way to question the government and how it conducts its business. Even conservatives like myself don't always follow the status quo or what the official party line might be. But call me a Communist, Liberal, anti-american all you like if it makes you feel better about yourself.

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years, 2 months ago

Hey BAA ~ once again, I've never once claimed to be a "conservative". I know details are elusive to you though. Try to get it right next time, OK?

Paul R Getto 5 years, 2 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.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 2 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.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Many of the early Zionists were opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state, so, yes, trying to define any term, from within or without, is a tricky business.

But just as many self-described Islamists are xenophobic, murderous nut-cases, so are many self-described Zionists, and a whole lot of them are members of the current Israeli government.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Just can't help yourself, can you, Bozo? In a discussion about the Arab Spring and Islamists, your post is the first to include Israel. Not that many countries have Christianity as their official religion. Not that there is a strong religious movement in our country, our state. No, you choose to bring Israel into the discussion. Lower your skirt, Bozo. your true colors are once again showing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

WTF? You're the one who brought up Zionists. Is your memory really that bad that you can't remember what you typed in the immediately previous post?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

"So it's OK with Chuck that Israel ... " posted by you some 4.5 hours before my post. No poster prior had mentioned Israel. In a discussion that had nothing to do with Israel, you bring it into the discussion in your typical hatred filled way. And you have a history of doing so, over and over again. WTF is up with that, Bozo?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Huh? Criticism is not "hatred." Except to those who lack any sort of objectivity and instead attempt to portray their own parochial prejudices as "objective."

BTW, if you didn't want there to be any discussion of Israel on this thread (on an article written by a writer who rarely writes anything that doesn't boost Israel in one way or another, and/or attack Arabs/Muslims, including in this one) why did you make the above post about Zionists?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Your "special" criticism is reserved for one group, over and over again. Your first comment here is evidence of that special treatment you reserve for Israel. You could have picked on the growing radical religious groups within your state, your country. You could have made your point using a thousand different examples. But, as usual, you choose Israel for your "special" criticism.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, j, but you don't control the content of my posts, and as I already pointed out, this column was written by a hard-core, wholly uncritical supporter of the worst excesses of Israel, wholly blind to the very undemocratic characteristics of that particular theocracy, hypocritically criticizing the Arabs and Muslims he hates so much.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Here's the deal, Bozo. If there was a story about crime and I made some remark that reflected poorly on Blacks, you might take note. If another story about drugs came along and I made another comment that reflected badly on Blacks, you might begin to see a pattern. If another story brought another derogatory remark, then another and another, at some point it becomes reasonable to note that my continued remarks about Blacks constitutes racism.

That's your problem with Israel, Zionism and Jews. You've called American diplomats who are Jews traitors. You badmouth Israel at every opportunity, even when the topic at hand is not about Israel. You take quotes out of context. And you apologize for every action of Israel's opponents. Just as a charge of racism is appropriate in the hypothetical I outlined about, so is the charge of anti-semitism appropriate with you.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

The problem lies with you-- you (just like Krauthammer) are incapable of seeing the Israeli/Palestinian issue with any sort of objectivity. And you have completely intractable double standards that you regularly apply to that situation.

And this article is yet another-- Krauthammer sees no irony in criticizing the theocratic tendencies of Arabs/Muslims as when they have elections, but can't see the same tendencies in Israel.

And when I observe it, you go all apoplectic. Get a grip, dude.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Krauthammer did not mention Israel, you did. If he had wanted to look at the rise of radical religionists in a thousand cultures, Israel would probably be amongst them. As would what is happening in Topeka. Likewise the people we in Kansas elect to Washington. Likewise in many parts of this country. Heck, we can probably see examples of it happening right here in Lawrence and in Douglas County. But for you to once again focus on one country, one culture, one religion is nothing but a continuation of your one sided focus that is inappropriate, often wrong and certainly discriminatory.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

"Krauthammer did not mention Israel, you did. "

So what?-- he was painting Arabs/Muslims with a broad theocratic brush that he can't bring himself to do with respect to Israel. And given his history, his motivation is clear-- put them down in order to perpetuate his common drone about mythical Israel.

And mere mention of Israel brings out your own knee-jerk defensiveness.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Look to the chronology of this thread, Bozo, and you will see that my comment was not a knee-jerk reaction to your comment. You made your comment and I said nothing for hours. Only later, and not in response to your comment, did I caution against non-Muslims trying to define and then criticize Islamists. Then came your knee-jerk response, just minutes later.

If Krauthammer was painting with too broad a brush, just say so. If you need examples, use them, as there are many to choose from. Many. Many. But again, to focus on one example, one people, one culture, one country, one religion, as you do, shows your true intent. It wasn't to suggest that Krauthammer was over-generalizing. It's an opportunity for you to do what you do, criticize Israel. More "special" treatment.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm just amazed that your knee is still jerking so wildly. It's a medical wonder.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Translation: I have nothing of substance to say, as usual.

jaywalker 5 years, 2 months ago

"Criticism is not "hatred." Except to those who lack any sort of objectivity and instead attempt to portray their own parochial prejudices as "objective."

Don't look now, you just contradicted yourself by defining yourself. Well done!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

OK, tell me specifically what prejudices you believe I have. (or is this just another one of your drive-by snipes?)

jaywalker 5 years, 2 months ago

Oh please! Drive by sniping is your forte, pal. And life's too short to pore over your issues, bozo, thanks but no thanks.

jaywalker 5 years, 2 months ago

He mentioned Zionism merely as an example of who defines what it is. You then went off the rails.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

I made a completely factual comment. No rails were involved.

jaywalker 5 years, 2 months ago

Only because you were off 'em. And factual doesn't mean on topic.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Depends on the context. Clearly, the Israeli thugs have our Congress by the short hairs.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Not necessarily. The feel good answer to your question would be yes. But in reality, an honest answer would have to be no. Hitler was democratically elected. Would an attempt to overthrow that regime be terrorism?

The point is that each situation needs to be looked at independently. Each situation needs to be put into appropriate context. Simple answers to complex questions will usually yield foolish answers.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

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

Orwell 5 years, 2 months ago

Each religion may be unique, but all those who wish to use government to impose their various religious beliefs on others are very much the same.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 2 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.

tbaker 5 years, 2 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.

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