After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
The shouting and the crying Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
–T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”
By Barry Rubin
Let’s be 100 percent clear here: In theory there might be such a thing as a moderate who wants more Islamic influence in political life—I can think of some very tiny groups that might be able to claim that distinction—but the party that won the Tunisian election is definitely not in that category and the same applies to the significant Islamist forces in Libya and Egypt, too.
Indeed, the winning party in Tunisia is the Muslim Brotherhood. For years, those of us who have been studying this country and movement have known this to be true. The statements by the Tunisian branch of the Brotherhood, except when they were made for Western ears explicitly, have been very hardline indeed.
Here’s the great Martin Kramer recalling why the United States refused to give Rachid Ghannouchi, the new “moderate Islamist” leader of Tunisia, a visa in 1994. Even in the 1980s, some were calling him a “moderate” even as he supported the most extremist ideas and actions. For example, “We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world.” And here is Ghannouchi in 2001 extolling suicide bombers and advocating anti-American violence. No one seems to believe it necessary to offer any actual evidence that he’s changed his views. He hasn’t.
Anyone claiming that this is a moderate group is either lying or has been deceived.
But why, then, are other parties in Tunisia so willing to work with them in a unity government? Simple.
First, many of these groups agree with a lot of their ideas.
Second, they live in the country and have to try to do anything possible to moderate those whom they cannot defeat.
Third, they opportunistically hope to get a share of power and that, of course, means patronage and money.
Fourth, remember that this elected assembly is drawing up the new constitution and there will be more elections in a year or so. If I were a Tunisian moderate, I’d sure try to get some concessions on what the constitution will contain rather than let the Brotherhood do whatever it wanted. I’d hope then—if you live there you have no choice—to beat the Brotherhood in the next election and save Tunisia from a radical Islamist regime.
Remember, the whole point of the new Turkish Islamist model is to advance down the road to Islamist dictatorship only as fast as is possible. So by forcing them to share power, you can hope to slow down that process.
These considerations don’t apply, however, to those of us who aren’t Tunisians and should make clear what’s going on and how disastrous it is for regional peace, hope for real democracy (including human rights), and Western interests.
I try to be cautious in my analysis. So I predicted that the Ennahda party would get at least 20 percent of the vote and come in first against a divided opposition. Apparently, they got 40 percent. So remember my prediction is that the Brotherhood will get 30 to 40 percent of the seats in Egypt should now be raised to a near or actual majority in the parliament there after the November 28 elections.
Incidentally, I must quote from the New York Times’ coverage to show how off-base Western (mis) comprehension of these events is.
“In the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza.”
Actually, what happened was a Hamas-Fatah agreement to form a coalition government, followed by a bloody Hamas coup (including throwing Fatah people off buildings and machine-gunning the wounded in hospitals), and only then came a conflict with the West.
Remember this because when Islamists kill, imprison, and repress their rivals in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, we will be hearing the same stuff about their winning the election and then some problems developing that we’ll be told weren’t their fault.
But at least it is permissible even for the New York Times to say what I’ve been writing since January: the Arab Spring is merely an Islamist takeover:
“Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big victories in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition.”
Then there’s this fascinating sentence that leads to no analysis whatsoever. Among real moderates:
“In Tunisia and elsewhere some are wary of the Islamists’ surge, arguing that party leaders sound moderate now but harbor a conservative religious agenda.”
Ok, so is this true? Could we hear some evidence for their wariness? How about dozens of quotes from Ennahda leaders favoring Sharia law, genocide against Israel, and things like that? Well, the Times reported that some think they might not really be moderate but tells nothing to its readers to show that it’s true. And the rest of the coverage, including the headline, says the exact opposite.
And what’s this about a “conservative religious agenda”? Saudi Arabia is conservative; al-Azhar and the mufti of Egypt are conservative. They want to keep Islam the way it has been interpreted and practiced for centuries. But the Islamists are revolutionaries. They have a radical religious agenda.
While Ennahda’s critics are given no real space, the Islamist party is allowed to repeat its lies:
“Leaders of Ennahda noted that their party championed a greater commitment to the principles of Western-style liberal democracy than any other Islamist party in the region, and they said they hoped their example would help lead other Islamists in a similar liberal direction.
“’We are the most progressive Islamic party in the region,’ said Soumaya Ghannouchi, a British newspaper columnist and a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the daughter of Ennahda’s founder and acts as a party spokeswoman.
“’Accepting each other, accepting pluralism, accepting diversity and trying to work together — this is the lesson Ennahda can give to other Islamic political movements,’ she said.”
So that’s one sentence suggesting Ennahda might not be moderate—with no specifics given—and three paragraphs plus a headline selling the “moderate Islamists” line.
In fact, the article continued to assert directly that the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood victory is a good thing:
“In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth—groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder.”
What a bunch of [expletive deleted].
Ok. now take the test. Here’s the question:
Because the Muslim Brotherhood won in Tunisia by concealing its agenda, that will make Egyptian Islamists say:
A. “We should be more moderate!”
B. “We should also pretend to be more moderate. But, after all, we already learned that from the Turkish Islamists.”
Finished? The correct answer is B.
Finally, the Times tells us that the Egyptian
“Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state.”
Of course, the Brotherhood has also repeatedly called for an Islamic state, indeed has been campaigning for it daily for decades. The Salafis are not “ultraconservatives,” since conservatives are generally held to be people who don’t want dramatic change, but ultra-radicals.
But we are being set up. When the Brotherhood wins the Egyptian elections, we’ll be told: “Thank goodness those terrible Salafis didn’t win. Now everything’s going to be okay.” Then the liberal Wafd Party, which will probably come in second, will form a coalition with the Brotherhood, as it had until a few days ago, and we will be told that all will be fine there, too.
Walking through Amsterdam to an art museum last week, I by total accident came upon a demonstration of about 600 Egyptian Coptic Christians (supported by no more than a dozen sympathetic Dutch Christians) protesting repression in Egypt. Some were recent arrivals. The next day there was no mention of the demonstration in any of the Dutch media.
A few days later I asked a friend about a courageous and genuine Egyptian moderate.
The response: Leaving Egypt next week after receiving 20 death threats.
Of course, around mid-2012 the mass media and politicians will (maybe) catch on and start writing about the tens of thousands of refugees; daily violence; assassinations of secularists; Kristallnachts for Christians (mass destruction of churches); torture and murder of homosexuals; and the massive military build-up of Hamas.
Or maybe, since the junta will not turn over power completely, those events will be postponed until mid-2013. It’s just a matter of how long the transformation takes. But, then, that’s the new “Turkish-model” “moderate” Islamists for you. Either they’ll just chop off half your head or they’ll take their time doing it.
Now, can you handle the truth? We’ve been handed 30-50 years (that’s the optimistic assessment) of bloodshed, oppression, social stagnation, war, terrorism, and anti-Western hatred. We must now devise a strategy to deal with this situation and survive it. Rule 1: Ignore the bad policymakers, bad analysis, and bad reporting. The starting point must be the truth, however ugly it may be.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com