FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Islamists on Probation

by RAMZY BAROUD

Following Tunisia’s first fair and free elections on 27 October, the Western media responded with a characteristic sense of fear and alarm. For many, it seemed that the ghost of the Islamic menace was back to haunt Western Values throughout the Arab world. The narrative employed by media outlets was no more than cleverly disguised Islamophobia, masquerading as genuine concern for democracy and the welfare of women and minority groups.

The victory of the Al-Nahda (Renaissance) Party was all but predictable. Official results showed that the party won more than 41 per cent of the vote, providing it with 90 seats in the 217-member new Constituent Assembly, or parliament.

To quell fears of Islamic resurgence, leading party members seemed to direct their message to outsiders (the US and Western powers), rather than the Tunisian people themselves. Al-Nahda Secretary General Hamadi Jebali, slated to be the next prime minister, laboured to “reassure secularists and investors, nervous about the prospect of Islamists holding power in one of the Arab world’s most liberal countries, by saying it would not stop tourists wearing bikinis on the beaches nor impose Islamic banking”.

Jebali, like the party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, understands well the danger of having Al-Nahda blacklisted by disgruntled Western allies, whose past conduct in the region is predicated on ostracising any political entity that dared to challenge their interests. The European Union welcomed the results of the elections, but, of course, the subtle line was one of “let’s wait and see.” Al-Nahda’s own performance is likely to determine its ability to overcome the difficult, albeit implicit probationary period designated by Western allies in these situations.

“The moderate Islamist Al-Nahda Party is in talks with secular rivals about forming a coalition government,” reported Voice of America. The patronising language of moderation, extremism and secularism is once again being employed to define the Arab political milieu. These are convenient labels that change according to where Western interests lie. The irony is completed by the fact that former Tunisia president, Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali, and now jailed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, were once models for both secularism and moderation from American and European viewpoints.

The Western assessment of Tunisia’s future under an Islamic-led government actually has little to do with bikinis or alcohol. The question is entirely political, and is concerned with Tunisia’s attempt at seeking true sovereignty and independence from Western hegemony.

Now that Al-Nahda has won Tunisia’s elections, and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt is expected to secure substantial gains in Egypt’s first post-revolution elections in November, a debate is raging around the new political map of the region.

Syria, naturally, is high on the agenda. The debate is rife with mixed messages. Countries like the US and France, for example, pose as the guarantors of democracy, yet consciously confuse the term with sheer economic interests and military influence. This deliberate moral and political flexibility is what Ed Hussein addressed in the Council on Foreign Relations website when he asked, “Is the US better off sticking with Syria’s Al-Assad?”

The subject is meant to be examined entirely from a rigid realpolitik perspective, without allowing any ethical considerations to taint the investigative process. “Therefore, the assumption that a Syrian regime without Assad and the Alawites at the helm would mean an isolated Iran is wishful thinking at best, and uncertain at worse,” he concluded.

It other words, if Western invention in Syria can contribute to Iran’s isolation, then the US would abandon Syria’s Al-Assad in exchange for a more advantageous alternative. While one appreciates such candid, although amoral, analysis, we must remain vigilant of any attempt at confusing the practical and materialist drive behind US and European foreign policy with notions of women’s liberation, minority rights or any other. If Tunisian (or Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan, etc) freedom was a paramount concern for Western powers, they would have isolated the dictators who emasculated and tormented their countries for many years.

Unfortunately, it is Western media that often determines the nature and extent of political discourses relevant to the Arab and Middle East region. Despite their repeated failures, they continue to unleash one offensive after another, creating fears that don’t exist, and exaggerating small events to represent grave phenomena.

One example is James Rosen’s article, “Arab Spring Optimism Gives Way to Fear of Islamic Rise,” which was published on Fox News online. “From the first stirrings of change in the Middle East nine months ago, optimism at the prospect of 100 million young people rising up to seize their democratic freedoms has been tempered by fear in Western capitals that radical Islamists might also rise up and try to hijack the so-called Arab Spring,” he wrote.

It matters little to the writer that Western powers were in fact filled with nothing but trepidation when the throne of Mubarak — once America’s most faithful ally in the region — was taken down by millions of Egyptians. Nor is it important to him that it was NATO that hijacked the Libyan uprising (and they attempted to repeat their costly act in Syria). What seems to matter to Rosen is the inflated notion that radical Islamists might rise up and hijack the Arab Spring.

The debate regarding Islam in politics is likely to continue and intensify. Attempts will also be made to heighten or lower Western anxiety regarding the future of the Arab Spring. This discussion is not concerned with religion or the rights and welfare of Arab people. It is based only on crude political calculations, as demonstrated in an House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington.

The Middle East “really worries me”, said Congressman Dan Burton. He asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton what the Obama administration “plans to do make sure that we don’t have a radical government taking over those places”.

“I think a lot of the leaders are saying the right things and some are saying things that do give pause to us,” she said. “We’re going to do all that we can within our power to basically try to influence outcomes.”

Is any further comment necessary?

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). 

Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch

THE SLOW DEATH OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH – Nancy Scheper-Hughes on Clerical Sex Abuse and the Vatican. PLUS Fred Gardner on Obama’s Policy on Marijuana and the Reform Leaders’ Misleading Spin.  SUBSCRIBE NOW

Order your subscription today and get
CounterPunch by email for only $35 per year.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail