Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Is the Islamist Era Over?

July 18, 2013 5:36 am 5 comments

Hamas militants hold a poster of Morsi, as they celebrate in Gaza City soon after he won Egypt's 2012 presidential elections.

JNS.0rg – With the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, one is almost forced to question whether the global Islamist movement has been dealt a mortal blow.

The notion that the era of Islamism has come to an end is not as outlandish as it seems. While the faith of Islam crystallized in Arabia 15 centuries ago, the ideology of Islamism—which aims to place the imperatives of sharia law at the heart of a coercive and all-powerful state—is a product of the last century.

Like its totalitarian cousins—fascism, communism and national socialism—Islamism’s point of departure is a visceral loathing of the political liberties that are integral to liberal democracies. All these monstrous political systems were convinced that, once empowered, they would stay empowered.

Hitler, for example, spoke of a “thousand-year Reich.” At the height of the purges in the Soviet Union, Stalin told the writer H. G. Wells that, “socialist society alone can firmly safeguard the interests of the individual.” But the Nazi Reich perished in the ashes of Berlin in 1945, while the communist paradise of the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991.

Will 2013 go down as an equivalent year of defeat for Islamism? In answering that question, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the current turmoil in Egypt. After all, Egypt was where the Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928. It is the cradle of Islamism, and it is the country that gave the Islamist movement a pronounced taste of bitter struggle as far back as the 1950s, when the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser crushed the Brotherhood.

Yet Egypt is not the only Middle Eastern country where the Brotherhood’s insistence that “Islam is the solution” is being sorely tested. In Gaza, where Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been in power since 2006, the Egyptian crisis has exacerbated an already febrile situation. Infighting among its leadership, as well as worsening relations with its one-time allies, Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, is leading many ordinary Palestinians to question the competence of Hamas. In turn, Hamas is discovering that thundering slogans and terrorist assaults on Israel cannot feed, clothe, educate and employ a population in Gaza, or anywhere else for that matter.

In Turkey, a country that is light years away from Gaza in terms of its economic development, the Islamist government of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan has faced angry demonstrations at home and severe censure abroad. Here, too, the citizenry is beginning to realize that the Islamists cannot deliver when in government—corruption, nepotism and contempt for free speech are all hallmarks of Erdogan’s regime, and its talk of Islamic values seems increasingly hollow against that context.

It’s a similar story for Islamist parties and governments elsewhere in the region. In Tunisia, the secular political parties in coalition with the Islamist Ennahda party have been alienated by Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi’s support for Morsi in Egypt. In Sudan, the Islamist government of Omar al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal, remains embroiled in conflict with South Sudan, a largely Christian and African state that declared independence exactly two years ago. Meanwhile, Qatar, the oil-drenched monarchy deemed by Forbes magazine to be the richest country in the world, is rethinking its disastrous policy of supporting and financing Muslim Brotherhood affiliates around the Middle East.

Ironically, among some western policy analysts, there’s a widely held view that the current tribulations of the Muslim Brotherhood amount to bad news for democracy in the region. The military’s removal of the Brotherhood in Egypt, they say, will turn Islamists against the democratic process, just as it did when a similar scenario arose in Algeria in 1991.

But the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was committed to democracy in the first place is arrant nonsense. In certain countries, the Brotherhood has made a tactical compromise by participating in elections; in those cases, like Egypt, where the movement has won, autocratic and unconstitutional measures have quickly followed.

Moreover, what this debate ignores is the critical point that democracy is about much more than voting. Elections in countries where the press is muzzled, where opposition parties are intimidated, and where the military plays an explicitly political role, are a farce. Platitudes about respecting the cultural differences of the Muslim world only cement the absence of those liberties that are integral to a healthy democracy.

A related argument asserts that election-friendly Islamists will, as a result of the Egyptian experience, now be pushed into the arms of violent jihadi groups. There’s a certain degree of truth to that claim; western dithering in Syria has strengthened the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, and boosted the likelihood of a new war between secular nationalists and Islamists in the event that Bashar al-Assad’s bloody regime is removed.

But that line gives the Muslim Brotherhood far more credit than it deserves. Under Morsi’s rule, Egypt was as ugly and intolerant as it has ever been; any member of the Coptic Christian minority, which makes up 10 percent of the population, will confirm that. Having endured discrimination and pogrom-style violence during Morsi’s tenure, the Copts know only too well that the Brotherhood’s message to non-Muslims is simply this: convert or die.

Hence, there are many reasons to be both relieved and pleased that Islamism is now in marked retreat. Even so, we shouldn’t conclude that the triumph of liberal democracy will inevitably follow. In my estimation, it’s more probable that the Middle East will reflect the experience of Russia after 1991—anti-western, anti-democratic, and dominated by the military and the intelligence services—than of Germany after 1945, where a constitutional, stable democracy took root as a direct result of the Allied occupation. That is why, while the Islamists may be down at the moment, they are certainly not out.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

5 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish ‘Scandal’ Star Says He Remains True to Religious Ritual, Despite Scheduling, Dietary Conflicts

    Jewish ‘Scandal’ Star Says He Remains True to Religious Ritual, Despite Scheduling, Dietary Conflicts

    A star of the hit TV show “Scandal” told the community website Quora.com that, throughout his acting career, he has remained faithful to his Judaism, even when it has caused him to forfeit gigs. Joshua Malina, who plays the character of David Rosen on the ABC political-thriller series, reminisced about his early days in Hollywood, when he had no agent and could only go to open-call auditions. At one of these — a try-out for a commercial — he said he waited on a line that was “maybe a city […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    The Huffington Post is facing backlash after joking about a Jewish comedian’s  appearance at the Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday night. Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky took part in Nick Jonas’ performance of his song “Bacon,” staged in a New York diner — in a cameo role as a waiter throwing a handful of bacon in the air. Commenting on the show, the Huffington Post tweeted, “not thrilled at the fat jew [he] wasted all that perfectly good bacon!!!!!!” The message angered many Twitter users, who thought the joke […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli basketball fans mobbed Hapoel Jerusalem’s newest player, American pro Amar’e Stoudemire, dancing around with him during a practice open to the public. On Friday, the team posted a video on Twitter of the happy romp with fans jumping around Stoudemire, while chanting in Hebrew. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, Stoudemire pumps his fist in the air. The basketball player, who has Jewish roots on his mother’s side, also waved a flag emblazoned with Hapoel Jerusalem’s logo. The former New York Knicks forward retired from the NBA earlier […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    The Israeli version of the famed American Burning Man music festival is the “ultimate revenge on Hitler,” according to a column in Playboy magazine on Thursday. In his column, Jeff Weiss also took note of the fact that Midburn — a five-day bacchanal in the Negev Desert, self-described as an event celebrating “a communal life style, creativity, art and radical self-expression” — began on June 8, the day of the Sarona Market terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, which left four people dead. Weiss asked rhetorically, “What could needle the mustached […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →