Will Islamist betrayals destroy the Arab Spring?

Anyone can notice the worrisome signs these days in many post-Arab Spring countries.  Will pledges made by “moderate Islamists” to respect democracy, hold honest elections, protect human rights and treat religious and ethnic minorities as equals be honored or ignored, as in Iran?  Even the influential “Erdogan model” in Turkey is showing authoritatrian tendencies–arresting journalists who criticize or expose ills, seizing generals and holding them without bail on what appears to be light and questionable evidence, targeting minorities by promoting hate-inspiring, nationalistic rallies, etc.    Let’s look at a few Arab Spring countries:

EGYPT: Egypt’s Islamists, who will have a major say in Egypt’s consititution, overwhelmingly believe that no woman should serve as head of state even if popularly elected.  They remain silent while Egypt’s generals promote the idea that demands for human rights and democracy are “foreign inspired, while NGO’s are trashed and foreign employers arrested as “spies.”  You’d think the victims were promoting fascism or communism rather than human rights and democracy–supposedly Arab Spring goals.   The real conflict of interest is with those behind such tactics.

By no coincidence, such tactics resemble exactly those used by the mullahs to sieze power in Iran after the Shah’s ouster.  Appealing to ultra-nationalism and xenophobia, the Bad Guys cloaked their intent.  Theyt hang on now by the same means.  As  Samual Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” 

LIBYA: a mess dissoliving into Irag/Somalia/northwest Pakistan-style anarchy on which radical Islamists always feed.

SYRIA: The longer Assad insists on staying where he isn’t wanted, the more likely Syria will end up like Libya if not worse.  Al Queda and its experienced bomb makers may have their uses now, but they won’t conveniently vanish when the regime goes down.

TUNISIA:  Salafists (estimated at 3% of the population, are using plainclothes mobs to intimidate secular types.   Will we soon see equivalents to the Abadan fire and Iran’s acid-in-the-face tactics to eliminate undesired secular behavior?  

People say the Arab Spring has been a “half-revolution.”  There are worse things.  Like Iranians after 1979, Arabs could wind up under regimes infinitely worse than those they removed. The behavior and life expectancy of such regimes will be determined by the presence or absence of oil.


The “curse of oil” corrupts ruling clerics as badly as secular dictators.  So long as oil revenues survive, so do evil regimes.  When it comes to getting out from under, people in oil rich countries will have a harder time than counterparts in oil poor countries–the only reason Iranians are not already free.   Sunni Islamists will seek Islamist allies but Iran won’t be among them.  The IRI’s regional ambitions and covert destabilization schemes make it an Enemy for Life.

Otherwise Radical Islamist rulers need isolation for the same reason they must rely on brutality and intimidation.   Of course their nations and peoples would be even better off economically if oil wealth could be supplemented by income from tourism, a diversified economy, promoting a middle class, retaining friendly relations with the outside world, participating in the modern global economy, etc.   However, the political minuses for insiders outweigh the massive economic pluses for everyone else.  Such policies are incompatible with promoting xenophobia as a popular diversion.  Secondly, such policies would require more cultural and political openness that lead to demands for reform, human rights, democracy and end to censorsorhip.   Hence whole countries must forego potential in order to string out days of rule for an oppressive class. 


Even if oil poor states do not fall to radical Islamists, they may experience years of violent Algerian-style attacks which make no distinction between civilian and military targets.  The disenchanting effect of radical Islamist rule will be greatest in the most advanced and westernized countries (Tunisia, parts of Egypt) and smallest in places like Yemen (a potential Afghanistan).  

1. Countries lacking oil require revenue from tourism.  Who wants to travel in oppressive countries ruled by Islamists and their spoil-sport religious police?   Can you say: “Hajib, everyone?”   Paris yes, Afghanistan or its equivalent, NO!

2. Countries lacking oil cannot afford to alienate or drive out the middle class ( I do not refer to middle class of bazaar merchants who are right at home with religious conservatism and who have been around for thousands of years).  It is only natural that this class of economic enables always comes to demand a share in political power proportionate to its contributions.  It is a natural, not foreign-insipired process where such classes appear–a process now at work in Russia and China as well.

3. Countries lacking oil badly need economic diversity and effienciency to survive and thrive.  They also must particpate in the world economy to become a South Korea.  As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”  The cathc is that doing so inevitably encourges cultural and political “infections” from outside.  Once again, oil-poor Islamist states don’t  have the luxury of choice.

4. The usual method to counter such outside ideas is to promote xenophobia which discourages all three previoius items. 


Outsiders provide major boosts for Islamists seeking power or trying to retain it.  Who finances all those seductive Salafist charities that provide a political edge?  Who finances covert training and arming of Islamist militias?.  Conservative sheiks in the Persian Gulf area. Once Islamists in oil-less states acquire power, the same sheiks supply cash but there are limits.  They have only so much oil.  How many economically incompetent regimes can they keep afloat and for how long?   Meanwhile, some Gulf states are already grasping the need to diversify and modernize as their oil runs out. Ironically, the original homeland  of powerful Islamists may be the first to make the breakthrough into real democracy just as some Arab Spring states take a proven and discredited “Road to Hell.”  

Opting for rule by radical Islamists is as nutting as returning to another failed experiment (commmunism)  in 2012.  These choices squander years or decades pursuing an ideology while giving up what might have been.   If moderate Islamists double cross the people and renege on promises, Arab clerics will be as discredited as Iran’s mullahs or Catholicism’s pedophile priests.  It would be tragic for the Arab peoople if they must go to go though the same hard lessons as Iranians or the West (Spanish Inquistion, Thirty Years War) to grasp the dangers of religious excess and arrive at Enlightenment. 


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