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

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail