Last Updated: Sun Nov 06, 2011 10:39 am (KSA) 07:39 am (GMT)

The Muslim Brotherhood Spring

Mshari al-Zaydi

Shock is acceptable if one is surprised by something completely unexpected.

This is something that does not apply in any way, shape, or form to some Arab and non-Arab writers, media figures, and [political] analysts, who are today expressing their shock and disappointment with regards to the course that the so-called Arab Spring has taken. Today, those who supported the Egyptian revolution are in a state of shock with regards to the domination of the political arena by religious parties and currents.

This is something that has expanded beyond the Egyptian scene. Indeed what we are seeing is a political Islamist tsunami occupying the scene and
displacing the “civil” youth. In Libya, we find [religious] fundamentalists of all backgrounds, from those who have taken up arms, to those who are making speeches and giving sermons, inside the country and abroad, not to mention figures like Ali al-Salabi.

Whilst in Tunisia, the [Islamist] al-Nahda party, and supporters of its leader Rashid Ghannouchi, are in the political ascendency. As for Yemen, we have the Islah [Reform] party, not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood and the Huthi rebels.

I recall how many Arab writers at the beginning of this year - the year of the Arab Spring - prophesied that what we were witnessing were uprisings staged by non-political civilians and youth, and claimed that not a single radical or ideological slogan was chanted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, or any other Arab public square.

They said that this proves that the Arab regimes were lying to the world – and to the political elites who champion the idea of the civil state – when they said that should their regimes be toppled, this would result in Islamists and religious fundamentalists coming to power. Those who supported the Arab Spring always countered that this was nothing more than a lie fabricated by these regimes to remain in power, and that the Arab Spring youth had proved their mettle and their belief in civil values.

Now, these same well-intentioned writers – or at least many of them – have returned to warn against the Arab Spring being hijacked and despoiled. They have expressed their confusion about the presence and popularity of these radical Islamists who are overwhelming the political scene, and are asking: where did the Facebook youth go?

These writes are perplexed. Some have claimed: this situation [hegemony of the Islamists] is the work of the remnants of the former regime that have reformed their ranks and are working to abort the revolution. Whilst others have claimed that there are foreign hands tampering with the revolution and attempting to alter its course, however they then go on to disagree as to just which foreign party is responsible for this. Is it Iran or Israel? The US or Saudi Arabia? Perhaps it is China, or maybe even the Comoro Islands? Who knows? It’s all just a shot in the dark!

Whilst there are also those who say that it is only natural for there to be confusion and a lack of vision during a post-revolutionary period, and that this is something that is often exploited by political figures. Of course those same writers and media figures were not voicing such opinions at the beginning of the year. In fact, they were attacking anybody who expressed any suspicion or scepticism regarding the outcome of these chaotic uprisings!

The realists amongst those who are now “shocked” by the outcome of these uprisings and revolutions, are now saying: fine, let the Islamists try their luck. Either they will develop in the same manner as Turkey’s Islamist political parties – which is what we want – or they will fail and we will be spared their evil in the future!

In my view, this last argument is misleading because it is based on a faulty assumption that Islamists in the Arab World have never been in power, and that this is their first opportunity to do so. However the facts show that Islamists have ruled Sudan and Iran and that they are now ruling Iraq (the al-Sadr and Maliki version of Islamism, at least).

This is not to mention the fact that Islamists have been strongly present in successive Jordanian and Yemeni governments, indeed the Islah party were partners in government with the ruling party in Yemen for a number of years.

Therefore this is a wrong assumption. The other issue is, what guarantee do we have that these religious fundamentalists will relinquish power once their failure is revealed, particularly as all the elements of power will be in their hands? Did this work out in Iran which has been ruled by Khomeneist disciples for over 3 decades?

Rather than expressing shock and surprise, the question that should be asked is: how should we deal with this critical period which should be called the Muslim Brotherhood Spring, not the Arab Spring?

Mshari al-Zaydi, is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is also Asharq al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor. The article first appeared on Nov. 5, 2011 in Asharq al-Awsat

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