After the Arab Spring

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To give one example: There is no law in Egypt that says Muslim women must wear the veil, and until the 1980s most didn’t. But following a campaign of intimidation by the radical Islamists and the spread of Saudi-funded Wahhabi propaganda, which claimed that unveiled women were essentially prostitutes and should be shunned and harassed as such, almost all Muslim Egyptian women are now covered. To give another example: until the Jasmine Revolution, there were legalized and government-regulated red-light districts in every city in Tunisia, which was the most secular, progressive, and modern Muslim country the Islamic world has ever known. After the revolution, the Salafis firebombed them all, and so now there are none. Again, there has been no change in the law, and the mainstream Ennahda party, which obviously is against legalized prostitution, has condemned the violence, while obviously welcoming the consequences of it.

The closest parallel to the odd combination of highly organized structure and denial of responsibility this defines the tactics of the “moderate” Islamists in their first step to gaining power through elections is the European far right. Both groups are crypto-fascist in nature, neither have viable views on day-to-day policy, and both rely on a grassroots network of thugs of whose activities they can publicly wash their hands. Jean-Marie Le Pen of France never once admitted any connection with the skinheads who did his dirty work beating up immigrants and Jews, yet such politicians are quietly understood by the grass roots to represent them.

And now that the revolutions have created a security vacuum and clearly failed to alleviate the economic woes and human rights abuses that spawned them—indeed, in the case of Egypt, quite the opposite—the Islamists offer something seductive in the absence of meaningful solutions: a simple answer, Islam is the solution. The Islamists, in other words, offer solace in the face of insurmountable problems. The terrible price that the ordinary people of these countries will have to pay for that solace will only gradually become evident to them, as it did to the historically very liberal and tolerant Iranian people.

FP: What does all of this mean for Israel?

Bradley: At the beginning of the Arab Spring, Israel breathed a sigh of relief. Tunisia doesn’t matter geopolitically one way or another, but Egypt of course does. And in Egypt there was a military coup. The Egyptian military is very pro the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and its army is funded, trained, and equipped by America. The triumph of the Islamists in Egypt’s parliamentary elections last week doesn’t change things much vis-a-vis Israel, at least not in the short term. The parliament has limited powers, and all this talk about the Muslim Brotherhood taking on the military to push them to hand over to civilian rule is nonsense.

With real power comes responsibility and accountability, and while the Muslim Brotherhood may be many things, one thing they certainly are not is stupid. Even with the cleanest, most efficient government the world has ever known, it would take a generation or more to cleanse the country of its corruption, brutality, poverty, illiteracy, chronic unemployment, nepotism, and so on. This is one reason the Brotherhood are more interested in forming a coalition with the liberal block in the new parliament than with the Salafis: that way, when the next elections come round, they can blame the liberals for the ills that still plague their nation. And the Brothers will avoid direct confrontation with the military because their first priority is not the defense budget or launching wars but imposing Islamist dogma on Egyptian society, and that is what will preoccupy them during the first parliamentary session.

More generally, Israel must be putting all its hopes on its undeclared and bizarre, but very real, alliance with Saudi Arabia, which despite spewing anti-Semitic venom of the kind not seen since the Nazis poses no military threat to the Jewish state, is aligned with Washington, and hates the Iranian mullahs like the plague. Along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia has led a region-wide counterrevolution, shoring up pro-Western Persian Gulf monarchies as well as those of Jordan and Morroco, and backing the Muslim Brotherhood and its franchises in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen. The question we can’t answer at this stage is whether the Saudis, through their funding and Wahhabi doctrine, will be able to control the Islamist groups taking power everywhere in relation to their relations with the West and Israel, in the same way the House of Saud has more or less been able to control their own Wahhabi religious establishment.

FP: What isn’t the West doing right and what must it do in the future in facing this dire situation you describe?

Bradley: Unfortunately, the West just keeps making the same mistakes, over and over. After backing the Arab dictators in the name of stability, we’re now as a result backing the Islamists that have replaced them in the vague hope that the latter will live up to their promises of moderation. There was a chance that in the decade leading up to the so-called Arab Spring, serious and sustained pressure from Washington and Europe could have forced Tunisia and Egypt, for instance, to introduce meaningful reforms. And this might have averted the disaster of Islamist dictatorship we’re now seeing unfold throughout the region.

Washington’s current strategy of backing the Saudi counterrevolution is, sadly, the only option available to the pragmatists. The problem with the pragmatic argument, however, is that history has a habit of making mincemeat of it. The pragmatists backed one vicious South Vietnamese regime after another, but still lost the war and handed the region to China on a platter. The pragmatists backed the shah of Iran and the revolution in that country swept to power Ayatollah Khomeini. The shah fled at first to Egypt. Two years later his host Anwar Al-Sadat–who had given the shah refuge and was Washington’s closest Arab ally after making peace with Israel–was assassinated by radical Islamists.

In the 1980s, the Washington pragmatists armed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The pragmatists backed Al-Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, another willing Western stooge, and Egypt just witnessed an action replay of the Iranian Revolution. Then, to come back to the central point, there is Washington’s eight-decade-long “engagement” with Saudi Arabia, the regional superpower–whence came Bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on September 11.

By backing the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring, Washington proves only that it has learned no lessons from the past, and the consequences for the future of the Middle East, not least where pluralism and the fight against extremism are concerned, are dire. Washington should wake up to the fact that “moderate Islamism” is a myth. Islamism is a political ideology that takes a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran as a master plan for society: Islamic law, the segregation of the sexes, the subjugation of women, the submission of the masses to clerical authority. You are either an Islamist or you are not, in the same way that you cannot be a little bit pregnant.

As my new book shows, the only fundamental differences that exist between different brands of Islamism, whether Shia or Sunni, is in the speed and strategy with which they hope to achieve their aim of establishing an Islamist theocracy and the actual system of governance used to implement it. While we focus on short-term stability, foolishly putting our faith in so-called moderate Islam, the Islamists are more wisely putting their faith in the long term.

FP: John R. Bradley, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

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  • Alvaro

    Good article and very good analysis, until I read this:

    "In the 1980s, the Washington pragmatists armed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban."

    First of all, the "Washington pragmatists" armed the Mujahedeen, not Osama bin Laden. The latter belonged to a group of America hating foreign fighters who would rather drown in their own blood than being lackeys of Washington.

    Secondly, the Taliban did not even exist during the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. It only surfaced years after the war had ended, being created by the Pakistanis to etablish control in Kashmir.

  • Larry

    Stop calling them Islamists.

    They are not Islamists, they are devout mainstream muslims, nothing more, nothing less, and are following the dictates of the koran.

    Until that sinks in, that they are not radicals, they are not fringe dwellers, they are the mainstream of the muslim ideology, we will continue to fail in our approach to dealing with them.

    • ziontruth


      Additionally, they didn't hijack anything. The revolts produced exactly the result hoped for by the Wilsonians (heirs of Woodrow Wilson): Democracy, ballot box representation of the will of the people. It just so happens the will of the majority in the Muslim world—a world that is basically unmodified from what it was in the Middle Ages, never having undergone anything like the 18th-century Enlightenment—is shariah rule and jihad against the infidel.

      There are not just a few bad apples. The tree is the problem here.

  • StephenD

    If they only want to cut of your hand instead of your head, are they "Moderates?" We're going to see a continued and deepening headlong march straight into the 7th century for all of these people. Some of those poor and innocent victims will be just that, victims. We cannot save them. What we must realize is that we cannot "change hearts and minds" either. Let’s do business with them and keep them at arms length. Make it clear that ANY aggression toward our friend Israel is toward us and will be dealt with harshly. When we speak in terms they understand (brute force) they'll at least cooperate for their own survival. This is the best we can hope for while Islam is still on the earth.

  • MethanP

    The Islamists have "not" hijacked anything. When are we going to realize that this is the true face of Islam!

  • mrbean

    Hijacked? Dr Glazov knows full well that it any conflict it is always the more consistent and the more ruthless that always win. So-called moderate Muslims are ultimately impotent against the Jihadists for the struggle for power in today's world.

  • Ben

    Obama lost in the deep analysis. Conservatives are sure that Muslims in the west support Islamists,so it`s strange to hear that islamists are "hijacking "Arab spring".

  • Irandissident

    A Good article and a proper analogy with the Iranian revolution. However:

    1- the fact remains that neither revolution was "hijacked" by the Islamists, from early on, every observer could have detected the dismal presence of women in the Tahrir square ( also the mal treatment of women- some televised) as well as the Friday (prayer) surges within the movement, and should have concluded that THIS was what the future Egypt would look like: an islamist country with all its NATURAL attributes.

    2- As in many other "velvet" revolutions organized actively for several years by certain Western powers, the modernist upper middle class intellectuals and youth are organized and brought onto the scene AS SOLDIERS and as the face of the movement, while parallel arrangements and deals are made with deeply entrenched traditional social phenomena (like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or their Shiite affiliates and clones in Iran like Khomeini's Mullah factions ) to enter the scene in the process.
    The likes of the same Americans who openly called for the ouster of Mubarak by "high noon", also destroyed the Shah's dictatorial regime from within, only to replace it with a worse kind of dictatorship. The same people caused the switching of the Army's loyalty in both countries. The same people who called the Muslim Brotherhood as "Moderates" (remember?), called khomeini a "Saint" ( long before Khomeini was called an Imam in Iran itself!!!). The same people provided billions of dollars of free global propaganda, tens of millions of dollars for actual activities ( as in the Green movement in 2009 Iran) and trained youth leaders for "non-violent" revolutions, only to drop them in favor of islamists in the end.
    Where is the support for secularism and the separation of "Church and State"? Where is the support for human rights which are clearly incompatible with Shari'ah Laws ( as repeatedly declared and announced as such in Islamic countries)?

    In case any secular/liberal Egyptians are reading this, they should know that it took more than two years for Khomeini to impose Shari'ah laws of Qissaass, enforce the Hijab and similar Islamic laws. Stoning came later and the destruction of pre islamic Persian sites, relics and culture assumed a gradual form rather than the original attempt at Bulldozing the Persepolis which was physically stopped by the people in 1979.

    In Egypt, these will probably happen much faster. The seculars should know that democracy without secularism will be extremely repressive in Islamic countries where the masses identify with religion more than anything else. In such societies, the religious masses will vote for religion. Democracy should not be only about a majority vote but about human rights in general. Democracy should not be about the rights of a temporary majority to destroy minorities ( political minorities, social or religious….).
    The romantic and idealistic era in Egypt is over. The Tahrir square fervor has resulted in a dark age that will last for decades ( more, if the seculars do not unite in an anti islamist front to separate religion from government).
    Be patient but do not waste any more time on anything else. The sooner you realize you have NOTHING in common with Islamists of all shades and colors, the better off you will be.

    • Anamah

      What women are thinking there? Are they able to think? I can not understand how normal humans tolerate those arrogant psychopaths stature haranguing the masses towards destruction of minorities. There are people there realizing how despicable offensive and retrogrades their leaders are and how dangerous is the direction Islam is pushing them?

  • esperantominoria

    And the West will continue to believe the Islamists are "MODERATE",they can't be like the Taliban or Saudis.One who is in DENIAL is QUEEN RANIA of JORDAN:
    "Queen Rania of Jordan says the Koran does not Subjugate Women,she has Apparently Never Read It"