Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The new conventional wisdom

Islamists in power may prove more manipulable by the Western-Zionist nexus than the nationalist regimes that preceded them, writes Azmi Ashour

Al-Ahram Weekly

The conventional wisdom about this region has shifted since the onset of the Arab Spring. Things that were out of the question have materialised, and friendships that were once taken for granted have been abandoned.

You may remember the regime changes the Americans sought to enforce in Afghanistan and Iraq, presumably for democracy’s sake. You may also remember how Israel used to complain that it was the only democratic country in a sea of tyranny. None of that holds true anymore.

The Arab Spring has upended conventional wisdom. Tyrannical regimes were toppled not by foreign invaders but by mass protests. And the Arabs, like everyone else, seemed to be serious about freedom and democracy.

Ironically, the revelation turned out to be uncomfortable for American and Israeli politicians.

Israel didn’t enjoy the idea of power being handed down to the people. If all power was in the hands of the people, how can Israel go on denying the Palestinians their rights?

That was when religious radicalism came to the rescue. The same radicalism that once played havoc with countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq is now at the forefront of regional politics.

Consider the role that Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first Muslim Brotherhood president, played in the recent crisis in Gaza. Morsi may have engaged in highly controversial policies at home. But once he offered to mediate in Gaza, he was immediately appreciated by American and Israeli officials.

The fact that Morsi’s perplexing constitutional declarations threw domestic policies off kilter didn’t bother the Americans, whose one and only wish was to see a strong government in Egypt. The fact that Morsi was faced with massive demonstrations in Egyptian cities was beside the point.

Israel too is getting used to radical Islam. If anything, it hopes that radical Islam would sweep the region and keep its people busy with domestic squabbles — civil wars even.

So what if radical Islamists keep calling Israel names? Israel is not only used to this kind of talk, it will use it to get more foreign aid. In a world where the fight against terror is a definite priority, Israel will capitalise on radical Islam. And if the radicals cross the line, a foreign invasion may be arranged.

The Americans believe that they can handle the Islamists. They like their greed for power and their pragmatism. Combined, these qualities may impel the Islamists to give Israel the concessions it had always hoped for.

A Muslim Brotherhood-led regime in Egypt, the Americans hope, could act as the policeman of the region, the one that does the bidding of the Americans, keeping Islamists in other countries at bay, telling them how to behave.

A veneer of democracy is all the Americans are asking for. Once this veneer is in place, the Americans will make friends with anyone who can deliver, anyone who can protect their interests and ensure the safety of Israel.

This is the new conventional wisdom of the region. The Arab Spring, with all its promise of democracy and freedom, is boiling down to the bare necessities of realpolitik.

After the initial shock of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the Americans and Israelis have figured it all out. After years of relying on tyrants to do their bidding, America and Israel now set their eyes on the Islamists.

 

The writer is managing editor of the quarterly journal Al-Demoqrateya published by Al-Ahram.

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