Last year’s Arab Spring is turning into this year’s Islamic spring (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) PATRICK MARTIN CAIRO, EGYPT 04/24/12)
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Egypt votes for a new president in exactly one month, the remarkable
culmination of a popular uprising that, with a lot of help from the
country’s military, removed the leader of the most populous Arab
country and took a big step toward real democracy.
Last week, the country’s electoral commission retreated from that
step, voting on their own to bar three prominent candidates from
running; two of them were leading Islamist figures. It would appear
the country’s remaining powers-that-be got cold feet and want to keep
the next president less of an Islamist.
It’s too late, however, to put the genie back in the bottle.
While they didn’t initially take part in last year’s popular
uprisings in the Arab world, one by one, the region’s Islamist
parties, especially those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the
Islamic resistance movement that started in Egypt in 1928, came to
the fore in each and every country that rose against its non-
The original protesters – many of them young, secular democrats –
didn’t have a long-term political view, but the Islamists did. In
many cases the Brotherhood or its local variation, exploited
political apathy. “We never thought we’d succeed in getting rid of
Mubarak,” admitted a young Egyptian activist. “We hadn’t prepared for
the day after.”
In Tunisia, the Ennahda (Islamic Renaissance) Party, and in Egypt,
the Brotherhood’s Justice and Reform Party were well organized,
having toiled in the shadows for decades, and knew how to get people
out to vote. They also benefited from overall low voter turnouts. In
Tunisia, only 40 per cent of the people voted in October’s historic
election; in Egypt just 41 per cent cast ballots in December and
It was small wonder that the Islamists won a plurality of the seats
in both countries’ new parliaments.
Whether their political party is known as Justice and Reform in
Egypt, Reform and Change (as it is in the Palestinian Territories),
the Islamic Action Front (Jordan) or the Islamic Renaissance Party
(Tunisia) this moment in Arab history is all about the Muslim
Brotherhood, the movement that has spawned all kinds of Islamist
Years ago, the Brotherhood in Egypt eschewed violence and has been
playing a waiting game ever since. The main Islamist parties across
the crescent of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean followed
suit. Their form of nonviolent popular resistance in the face of the
regimes’ armed forces drew the world’s admiration last year and
emerged victorious in several states.
This moment also is about the Brotherhood’s great benefactor, Qatar,
the tiny but rich Persian Gulf state that has sought, successfully,
to influence the outcome in most of the Arab uprisings.
In Tunisia, it supported the now governing Ennahda Party, even when
the party was in exile, and the new Tunisian government’s foreign
minister is a former senior executive of al-Jazeera, Qatar’s popular
and influential television network. Qatar now has pledged $500-
million to help Tunisia’s economy.
In Libya, it was Qatar that led the attack against the Moammar
Gadhafi regime, prodding the Arab League and NATO to launch military
actions against the regime. Today, Qatar is offering financial
assistance to several of Libya’s political movements, almost all of
which are Islamist.
In Syria, it is Qatar that is driving the Arab League initiative
against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, cajoling Western powers into
supplying the opposition with money for weapons, even threatening to
put Arab troops into the fight.
Its long-time partner in Syria is the opposition’s largest single
group: the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever happens in the current Syrian
civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge stronger and more
credible than before. If genuine elections are held, the
Brotherhood’s political party will almost certainly take the largest
share of the vote.
In Egypt, Qatar has been part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s great
success, helping with funding, with coverage on al-Jazeera, and
through the preaching of the exiled Egyptian cleric, Yousef al-
Qaradawi, who lives in Qatar and broadcasts his popular message of
religion and resistance across the region every week on al-Jazeera.
It is a potent combination.
“This is Qatar’s moment in Arab history,” said Said Sadek, a
professor of political sociology at the American University of
Cairo. “It’s moving into the political vacuum left by countries such
as Egypt and Iraq.”
“Qatar is a country without ideology,” said Gabriel Tabarani, author
of In Jihad´s New Heartlands: How The West Has Failed To Contain
Islamic Fundamentalism. “Its leaders know that the Islamists are the
new power in the Arab world.” (© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia
Publishing Inc. 04/24/12)
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