Monday, 31 December 2012

MIDDLE-EAST: ''Post-Revolution'': Islamism- Secularism and Disillusionment

Syria is caught up in a civil war, Islamists are in power in Cairo and Tunis, Turkey is caught between fronts and the Middle-East peace process is stalled. What to make of the region two years after the Arab Spring?

Two years after the beginning of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, the Islamists seem to have emerged as the clear winners. Many are now claiming that the Arab Spring has been followed by an Islamist winter.

The euphoria over the fall of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is gone. The bloody civil war drags on in Syria, as a horrified public and helpless politicians stand by. And the persistent and massive repression of the opposition in Bahrain has nearly disappeared from the headlines.

The Arab world has once again become a greater source of worry than hope to the Western world.
The struggle for the Arab soul hasn't been decided yet.

The new conditions have led to power shifts in the region: Syria has lost its leading position, while Egypt appears to be regaining its usual role as Arab leader. The upheaval in the Middle East marks the end of the post-Ottoman system, a political world view created by Britain and France.

The post-Ottoman system relied on Sunni domination, a model that was shaken by the first Gulf War and the creation of the Kurdish security zone in northern Iraq, is dying out, and a new order of political Islam and Nationalism are taking shape.

In Syria, where the war is still raging, the question remains as to whether the secular state will be jeopardized if more radical forces within the opposition prevail.

In Tunisia, an Islamist Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, is running the show since 2011. His Ennahda Party, a branch of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, had repeatedly assured Tunisians that it did not intend to introduce Islamic law or curtail the rights of women. Tunisia's Islamists have distanced themselves from that position since summer, and yet they are still behaving more reasonably than their counterparts in other countries in the region, as they observe from a safe distance the game President Mursi is currently playing in Egypt.

In Egypt, an Islamist President, Mohamed Mursi has now dictatorial special powers, after the majority of Egyptians clearly voted in favor of ''sharia law'' constitutional reform, in rushed proceedings.

In Iraq, kurdish nationalism is now on the rise and Sunni domination has been surpassed by the rise of Shiite Islam, with ethnic and religious minorities splintering off all over the place. This process is most evident in Syria, where the peaceful uprising of opposition groups against the Bashar al Assad's regime has become a multi-ethnic civil war.

Throughout the Middle East and North African region, there are really only four countries that are reasonably stable: Iran, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. Only one of these countries, Egypt, is almost entirely Sunni. But even these four states have been rocked by internal and external conflicts.

Set against these dramatic upheavals, Turkey has gained greater importance in the region. The secular state, a NATO member, is expected to serve as a model for the post-revolutionary Arab states with their new Islamist governments.

This model has not succeeded, and now Turkey offers a new direction. Even though it may not be perfect, it could show the people of Tunisia and Egypt how to combine Islam and democracy, and even Islam and secularism. But caution is required when it comes to use Turkey as a model. Turkey's geopolitical interests  are in collision with Egypt's, Tunisia's. These two are more inclined toward political Islam than western sense of democracy.

Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic party AKP, Turkey has become a one-party state in which the Alevi minority are suppressed and excluded and only party members can find jobs. Democratic rights have been terminated, the media has been silenced and the legal system has been eroded. Instead, Turkey shows that Islamic parties are able to take power through democratic elections, and then take advantage of their power to destroy democracy.

Along with Turkey, the European Union has also been directly affected by the developments in the Middle East and North Africa and bears some responsibilities in this political maze in Arab world and North Africa.

For example, Europe is struggling to twist Israel's arms to hold the construction of new settlement in West Bank, vaguely named E1, despite international condemnation. In Egypt, Europe falls short to criticize Mursi's new sweeping powers and the new ''sharia law'' constitution adopted recently.

The EU's associated partnership program was designed to help 16 neighboring countries from Belarus to the Caucasus, the Middle East and northern Africa. The goal had to be to create a region of stability, security and prosperity. But the EU was quickly reaching its political and financial limits, not least because of differing interests among its own member states.

The ubiquitous idea of a Marshall plan for the Middle East is something that could only ever work with the support of the wealthy Arab monarchies.

Many analysts, including myself, strongly criticize the EU's policy on the Arab world and the long-standing cooperation between Europe and the now fallen dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

The EU has no human rights policy. In future the European Union should only commit to achieving human rights goals in writing if Brussels was prepared to work toward actually reaching those targetsrope.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Reuters