What started in Tunisia and Egypt, spread to Libya and Syria, and its aftershocks are being felt in Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Political Islam is strengthening.
The Middle East is going to look vastly different in the mid to long-term future. In political Islam, there is scant regard for what we in the West call universal human rights and the supreme value of human life. Peace agreements with non-Muslims are only honored when it is politically expedient to do so, women’s rights are not respected, and homosexuals are hunted down.
What started as a democratic movement for socioeconomic rights is turning into an Islamic political takeover which is going to look far different than a Western democracy: will there be respect for a free and independent press, civil society – will NGOs be allowed to work, will there be policies to strengthen the middle class, and perhaps most importantly, will there be a strong, independent judiciary in the countries ruled by Islamic parties?
The region is in flux, and could stay that way for quite some time. The Muslim Brotherhood do not recognize borders. They are a religious order, a cultural, religious, and political movement with branches across the region whose aim is to establish a Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East under Sharia Law. And they have time and patience.
Now the Muslim Brotherhood are the power in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, and Gaza. They will eventually be a power in Syria. But they do not, and cannot, wield absolute power in these countries.
Take Egypt for example. The Egyptian military has in its hands much of the real powers of the Presidency, and the Parliament is not in control of the country. One of the main bones of contention in Egypt between the military and the Islamists is over who will write the country’s new constitution. So far, the military has not allowed the Parliament to determine the nature of the new constitution, and it is unlikely that they will allow this in the future. In the current impossible economic and diplomatic situation that Egypt finds itself in, the military cannot allow the Islamists to create the conditions for an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, antagonistic to the West. Egypt is on the brink of economic meltdown: tourism has taken a huge hit and their oil reserves are spent. There is a reduction in the number of ships passing through the Suez Canal because of piracy and the attendant rise in insurance costs, and in addition, the canal is still not able to support the passage of very large tankers. Add to this the recent uptick in the demands of African nations to change the Nile Waters Agreement status quo, especially South Sudan, which is demanding a redistribution of water. Internal security issues are also a challenge for the authorities. Add all of this together, and you get a picture of a country in trouble, with the ruling military council wanting desperately not to allow a slide into the abyss. Tantawi and his mates get the picture. They are not inclined to let the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood take total control of Egypt. A change in the constitution, a halt to US military and financial aid, this is too high a price for the Egyptian military. There are enough actors in Egypt who want to avoid a total Islamist takeover.
What happens in the coming few years will very much determine the nature of the regimes around us. Now is not the time to wait and see, now is the time to act, to shape, to win friends and influence people. It is not a given that every regime in the region becomes Islamist-led and fundamentalist. It’s not yet a done deal, and there are internal and external forces working to create a different alternative, and these forces must be supported.
If the Muslim Brotherhood seek western legitimacy then the West must make them accept minority rights and women’s rights (democracy’s basics), and to respect the peace with Israel.
For Israel to deal with this new situation it needs strong alliances with America, Europe, and the Christian African states in its periphery. But sadly, it must also be prepared to hunker down for a long and bitter struggle against political Islam who sees the return of the Jews to the region as a fundamental wrong that needs correcting, as a religious duty without compromise.
There is room for optimism. The future lies in open democracies developing in this region. The great thing for Israel is that it’s a genuine, open democracy. It’s not just elections, it’s a strong, independent judiciary, a free press, minority rights, gay rights, women’s rights. We need the people of this region to see that. This is why the erosion of our democracy, where and when it happens, is so dangerous.
In the meantime, God have Morsi on us all.