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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail