The Arab Spring has become an Islamist Winter.
Tunisia’s weekend vote, the brutal killing of a brutal dictator in Libya, Egypt’s upcoming legislative elections, and Barack Obama’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq are among the current events sparking observers to rethink future events. Might the oppressors we knew prove preferable in some cases to the oppressors we don’t quite know yet?
Tunisia held the first free elections in its history this weekend. The victors appear to be the Ennahda, or Renaissance, party, an Islamist movement which had opposed, sometimes violently, the fallen regime. “Allahu Akbar!” chanted hundreds of supporters gathered outside the headquarters of Ennahda, which some Tunisians regard as “God’s party.” But the party leader (in the temporal world, at least) Rachid Ghannouchi insists that there is no conflict between representative government and a party that represents Allah. “We have declared that we accept democracy without any restrictions and we accept the decision of the people whether they come with us or against us,” he explained in the wake of his political victory. “We accept the notion of citizenship as the basis of rights, so all citizens are equal whether they are Islamist or not Islamist.”
Next door in Libya, the Qaddafi-like torture, summary execution, and corpse humiliation of Muammar Qaddafi suggest that Libya’s “liberators” may have been more interested in replacing their oppressor than deposing him. “Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia),” the proposed new constitution decrees. Conversely, it also asserts, “The State shall guarantee for non-Moslems the freedom of practicing religious rights and shall guarantee respect for their systems of personal status.” As with Tunisia, Libya’s new rulers offer rhetorical ambiguity. But Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, has already lifted the old ban on polygamy and intends to impose a new ban on loan interest. Abdul-Jalil reasons, “Interest creates disease and hatred among people.”
To the east in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party campaigns for the 27 November parliamentary elections under the slogan: “Islam Is the Solution.” They’re not saying what the problem is. Judging by the exodus of 100,000 Coptic Christians in the last six months, and September’s invasion of Israel’s embassy in Cairo by an Islamic mob, the presence of anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist Muslim may be the unnamed problem they seek to solve.
Though Iraq’s liberation from a tyrant came eight springs before the Arab Spring, uncertainty abounds there as well. The announced December pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq will unleash unexpected consequences. Iraq, which some Westerners saw as the model for Middle Eastern democracy, may be so in ways unimagined. Already, the persecution of Christians, continuous terrorist attacks, state support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and strengthening ties with Iran show a nation at odds with the one envisioned prior to the U.S. invasion. That surprises will follow the withdrawal should not be much of a surprise.
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