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Raghida Dergham

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Is the West Hijacking Arab Revolutions to the Benefit of Islamists?

Posted: 10/28/11 08:52 PM ET

Dubai -- While the West speaks of the necessity of accepting the results of the democratic process, in terms of Islamists coming to power in the Arab region, there are increased suspicions regarding the goals pursued by the West in its new policy of rapprochement with the Islamist movement, in what is a striking effort at undermining modern, secular and liberal movements. The three North African countries in which revolutions of change have taken place are witnessing a transitional process that is noteworthy, not just in domestic and local terms, but also in terms of the roles played by foreign forces, both regional and international. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is trying to hijack the youth's revolution with the help of the West. This is while bearing in mind that Egypt is considered to be the "command center" for the Muslim Brotherhood's network in different Arab countries.

The followers of the An-Nahda in Tunisia are wrapping their message with moderation as they prepare to hijack the democracy that Tunisia's youth dream of, while being met by applause and encouragement from the West in the name of the "fairness" of the electoral process. Libya, where the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) is in a "marriage of convenience" with Islamist rebels, has become a hub of extremism and lawlessness, with a plethora of military aid being collected by an assortment of armed Islamists who aim to exclude others from power. In Yemen, where a struggle for power rages on, a war is taking place between extremism and a harsher and more violent brand of extremism, with so-called "moderate Islam" in the middle as a means of salvation, even as the latter's ideology remains neither modern nor liberal, and is rather lacking when it comes to the fundamentals of democracy and equality.

In Syria, where the battle for freedom is at its most difficult phase, the youths of the revolution fear what could very much be under discussion behind the scenes between the West and the Islamist movements, in terms of collaboration and of strengthening the Islamists' hold on power, in a clear bid to hijack the revolution of a youth that aspires to freedom in its every sense, not to yet another brand of tyranny and authoritarianism. Yet despite increasing talk and concern over the unnatural relationship between the West and Islamist movements in the Arab region, there is growing insistence among the region's enlightened and modern youths that they will not allow this relationship to direct their lives and dictate their course. It would thus be more logical for the West to listen carefully to what is happening at the youths' scene, as well as on the traditional secularist and modernist scenes, and to realize the danger of what it is doing for these elements and the road to change brought about by the Arab Spring.

The obsession of some Westerners with the so-called "Turkish model" of "moderate Islam," able to rule with discipline and democracy, seems naïve, essentially because of its assumption that such a model can automatically be applied on the Arab scene, without carefully considering the different background and conditions that exist in Turkey and the Arab countries. There is also some naivety in assuming that the "Iranian model" of religious autocratic rule that oppresses people, forbids pluralism and turns power into tyranny, can be excluded as a possibility. What the movements of modernity, freedom and democracy in the Arab region fear is the replication of the Iranian experience and its revival on the Arab scene. What took place in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution is that the Mullahs hijacked it, excluded the youths from it and monopolized power in the "Islamic Republic" of Iran for more than 30 years.

Perhaps the West purposely encouraged what happened to Iran and its exceptional civilization by taking it back to the Dark Ages, to live in seclusion and isolation as a result of the tyranny of the Mullahs. Perhaps taking Iran more than 50 years back in time was a Western goal, which would explain their encouragement for the peaceful nature of this revolution to be hijacked. It should be stressed here that it was Iran's 1979 revolution that sparked, throughout the Arab region, the movement of reverting to social rigidity instead of modernity and advancement. The environment created by the rule of the Mullahs in Iran led to restricting efforts in neighboring Arab Gulf region, which became unable to embrace modernity for fear of its repercussions and consequences. In fact, hawkishness gained more ground in the Arab Gulf as a means of containing religious extremism. Thus, sectarianism increased hand in hand with extremism, and the whole region became thoroughly consumed by the struggle of religions, away from the social development necessary to accompany the structural development represented by buildings, installations and other basic infrastructure.

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) play numerous roles, sometimes in concordance, and sometimes in contradiction and mutual opposition. The common denominator among them is preserving the monarchy and keeping the Arab Spring far from the Gulf region with a certain extent of reform, which could either be costly for the regimes or for their relationship with Islamists -- be they moderates or extremists. What is even more noteworthy is what is being said about the Islamic Republic of Iran, in terms of its occasional support of groups allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, which it sees as a means to weaken the influence of Saudi Arabia in the region.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the United Arab Emirates is supporting the movement closest to modernism in Libya by providing support in the form of training the police force and strengthening it with equipment. This is while Qatar supports Islamist movements with training and weapons, which undermines the ability of "non-Islamists" to compete for power, and in fact leads to excluding them from power. Regarding Syria, on the other hand, the UAE is worried about what regional interference could lead to, and fears what reaches the extent of preparing for after the revolution. This is why it hesitates to support the Syrian opposition despite its desire -- which it has, in fact, sometimes acted on -- to provide some support to non-Islamist forces.

GCC countries always have Iran on their mind, as it does them, especially through the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the many dimensions of the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites. Examining how the West's policies have evolved regarding this aspect in particular, would require greater space and a more in-depth study. Yet it is noteworthy that former U.S. President George W. Bush strengthened the standing of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its influence and its regional ambitions of hegemony, through his war in Iraq. As for the current President, Barack Obama, he seems to be in the process of strengthening "moderate Islam," specifically among Sunnis, for it to be the means to confront both Sunni and Shiite extremism, in a policy of attracting "moderate Islam" even at the cost of undermining the forces of modernity, advancement and secularism, and pulling the rug from under their feet. This policy of Obama's is no less dangerous than that of Bush. They both played the sectarian card at the expense of secularism, and they both adopted policies that lead to weakening the forces of moderation and strengthening the forces of extremism, regardless of whether it is "moderate extremism," as it at the end of the day is based on the ideology of monopolizing power and not separating religion and state.

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian judge, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, addressed the women of the Arab awakening at the Women's Forum in Deauville, France, and said: Do not repeat our mistake. She said that the separation of religion and state is the only guarantee of democracy, not because the flaw lies in the Sharia itself, but because it can be interpreted by men who want more domination, and who view democracy as an enemy of their monopoly, one that takes away powers they have hijacked and purposely kept women away from.

At the same conference, the Yemeni participant, a friend of Tawakel Karman, the first Arab woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said that Tawakel is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that, compared to the "Salafists," this group represents moderation itself, as well as salvation. This is an opinion which seems to have been embraced by the West, strengthened and driven forward amid the applause of Islamist movements that present themselves as the alternative moderation, blocking the way for movements of modernity by mounting the steed of democracy, most likely on a single path from which there is no return.

They are inflating themselves and their size, and entering into a temporary marriage with the West -- which in their opinion is naïve -- a marriage of convenience that is to their benefit as long as it breaks the back of secularists and modernists. In truth, the democratic U.S. administration is not the only one encouraging Islamist movements to take such a course, as there are also some republicans like Senator John McCain. McCain made sure to address Islamists from the rostrum of the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea during a seminar on the American-Arab relationship, calling for respecting their rights to power, and thereby sending two messages: one to Islamists under the headline "we are with you," and the other to the modernists under the headline "we do not care about you".

There are two schools of thought that do not agree with the opinion that there is no escape from accepting the movements of "moderate Islam" because they have been victorious in the revolutions and base themselves on the change brought by the Arab Spring. Those two schools do not agree that the Arab Spring is the spring of Islamists, and they do not agree to the claim that they are the makers of the Arab awakening or spring. These two schools want to stop the Islamists from hijacking the Arab Awakening and climbing to power with the help of the West, whether the latter is naïve or ill-intentioned.

One school says: let the Islamists rule the Arab region, as this is an opportunity to prove their failure at controlling a people that does not want them. Those affiliated with this school point to Hamas and the Palestinian people's reactions to it, in not accepting it and Islamist rule. They believe that the Arab people will defeat Islamist movements, and that they will fail. Then the modernists will return nearly victorious and welcomed by the people, and things will move forward. This, then, is an opportunity to prove the sure failure of Islamists, so let them fail.

The other school says: the greatest mistake is for the modernists to dwindle and withdraw from the battle now, because the Islamists reaching power will consolidate their rule for decades, not years. We must therefore immediately demand a transitional phase that would give these movements the opportunity to organize into political parties and enter the elections. This is while bearing in mind that the only organized party is that of the Islamists, having been the only opposition movement under the former rulers. Those who are of this opinion insist on yielding neither to the cunning of the Islamists nor to the naivety of the West, and on launching an awareness campaign for world public opinion about Islamists and Western governments hijacking the Arab Spring in order to exclude the modernists, young and old equally.

It would be more logical for Western capitals to hear and to listen closely, because their partnership in hijacking the Arab youth's ambitions of freedom, pluralism, democracy and modernity will come at high cost for them -- not just for the path of change that has emerged from the soul of the youths of the Arab Spring.

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