By Barry Rubin
It is amazing what nonsense appears in the mass media. Consider the following paragraph from a Washington Post story:
“A decade ago, the Middle East might have responded to the killing of Osama bin Laden with fury at the United States. But with the region convulsed by mostly peaceful popular revolutions, the response to his death has been muted, another signal that the old Arab order is being swept away.”
So what does this say? Ten years ago, there would have been fury in the Middle East about bin Laden’s killing but now, with the democracy movement, that’s no longer true.
Two governments have been overthrown in the Middle East, Egypt and Tunisia. These regimes were repressing Islamists. They would have cheered bin Laden’s death. So would every other government in the region. Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Syria was no fan of bin Laden, either, at least not publicly. Either these governments were anti-Islamist or, in Iran’s case, were a different kind of Islamist.
The same applies to the Islamist movements. The Muslim Brotherhood held no brief for bin Laden himself, though it supported the insurgent movement in Iraq that was led by al-Qaida. Hamas and Hizballah were not big supporters either. As a Shia group, Hizballah would not have mourned bin Laden, whose movement hated Shia Muslims. True, bin Laden—based on his recent September 11 success—was higher in the public opinion polls. But the few pro-bin Laden demonstrations would have been repressed by the rulers.
In fact, the situation was the precise opposite. Many Islamist groups were angry at bin Laden after September 11 just as an organized crime family would be outraged by some new gang who shot up the town and brought a police crackdown. As a result of the post-September 11 crackdown, Islamist agents were deported from Europe and arrested at home.
Every government could not only suppress their own Islamists with Western backing but also go after non-Islamist dissidents as well by portraying them as Islamist terrorists. Even Syria, for example, blamed internal dissent on al-Qaida and bragged about helping the United States round up a dangerous al-Qaida man.
Now, contrast this with the present-day era of upheavals. The government of the Gaza Strip and a key part of the Palestinian Authority condemned the killing and came out on bin Laden’s side. So did the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the single most powerful political force in the country whose influence has been expanded due to U.S. policy.
The old Arab order—except in Syria—was anti-Islamist! Removing it gives a blessed chance for democracy but it also provides an equal or better chance for radical Islamist takeovers. Each country is a different story. But if the Western governments don’t notice the problem how is it going to be solved?
An example. The British government heartily endorsed the Fatah-Hamas cooperation agreement. It’s not every day that America’s oldest and strongest ally cheers a coalition agreement that brings a genocidal, antisemitic, terrorist-supporting, client of Iran into a regime that survives on Western financial subsidies. But the fact that London took this action only hours after the highest Hamas political figure—certain to be playing a major role in any coalition government—endorsed Usama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are 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 http://www.gloria-center.org.