Many festive words had been written and uttered this past month in respect to “democracy” and “popular uprisings.” We were told about the downfall of Middle Eastern tyrants as if this is the 1989 Eastern Europe. A more realistic view may seek new democracies yet discover anarchy, death, aggressive rulers and radical political Islam waiting to take over.
There is not even one beginning of democracy in any of the “revolutions” we are seeing around us.
People are talking about Facebook and Twitter, yet in practice we have violent tribes competing for oil, as is the case in Libya, vengeful sects like in Bahrain, hostile regions that seek to disengage in Yemen, as well as wounded military establishments and severe violence.
The current regimes are not giving up easily and are putting up a fight, also in Sudan, Kuwait, and of course in Iran. So we are indeed seeing social networks, but also brutality and terrible repression of human rights. It is in fact the old Middle East that is speaking up.
Some will say that the revolution won in Egypt, yet this is a superficial view of reality. Mubarak was forced to step down, yet the military establishment that has been ruling Egypt for dozens of years now continues to rule it – and has now taken front stage, rather than staying backstage as it did in the past.
What we had in Egypt was a military revolution that put an end to an uprising on the street. Not even one opposition figure had been brought into the government thus far. One wonders when Egyptian protestors will realize that for the time being they’ve been fooled. The army indeed promised elections in six months, but for now it has all the time in the world to fix the results. Moreover, no dates for the vote had been announced yet.
If there is one change in Egypt, it has to do with the blunt emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which mocks democracy. The Islamists are already feeling like the state’s future masters.
The provocative return of the Egyptian Khomeini, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, was meant to grant this revolution a face and an identity; an Islamist identity. Qaradawi was the one who issued the call for Israel’s destruction last week in his appearance before hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of Egyptians in Tahrir Square. He opposes the United States and the Shiites, and is of course in favor of a religious Islamic regime in Egypt. This is a grave blow to anyone who thought that Egypt is moving towards democracy; it is also a sign of things to come.
Just like in Iran in 1978, secular leftist protestors fought to topple the Shah and in favor of Khomeini’s return, yet once he arrived he simply pushed them out of the way. The same is happening in Tunisia. Last week, we saw seculars protesting there after they suddenly realized what they did: With their very own hands they are paving the way for the rise of radical Islam in the country. Preacher Rashid Ghannouchi, who rushed to return to Tunis just like the Egyptian Qaradawi, is organizing the previously banned Islamist party ahead of the “democratic elections.”
The common perception is still about the “domino effect” – that is, tyrants shall be toppled with the click of a button. Another “Like” on Facebook, and we’ll have democracy. However, there are no suckers in the Middle East, and nobody will be giving up easily.
Many observers claimed recently that the warnings uttered by Arab rulers regarding the dangers of radical Islam are meant to keep these regimes in power. Maybe, but nonetheless they may be right. After all, radical Islam is the only organized alternative to the authoritarian regimes and has a solution for every problem: “Islamic law is the solution.”
The Middle East this year is just like what we saw in Iraq in 2003, in Iran in 1979, or in the Palestinian Authority in 2006: Nice talk and theories about liberalism and democracy, yet in practice what we have is anarchy and violence, terrible death, and Islamic autocracy waiting down the road.