Thursday, July 19, 2012
By Barry Rubin
Hussein Ibish is one of the more interesting Arab writers on regional affairs. In a piece published by the liberal site “Lebanon Now” he contemplates the broader meaning of the Libyan election. Although official results are not in yet it appears that the U.S.-backed National Forces Alliance led by the NATO-installed leader, Mahmoud Jibril, won a big victory.
In this light, Ibish critiques the idea that “assumes the inexorable rise of Islamist parties.” He is right and properly adds: “Libya shows that Islamists can be defeated in contemporary Arab elections, and this should be celebrated and emulated, not ignored or dismissed.”
Part of the problem, of course, is that the mass media and the analysts it generally features have so often—with almost monopolistic power—repeated that Islamists wouldn’t win or that it didn’t matter because they are really moderate. This has created a reaction among wiser people who warn the Islamists are winning and aren’s moderate.
Ibish doesn’t want the Islamists to win and stresses that they can be defeated. The question, of course, is how they can be defeated.
To begin with, seeing what happened in Libya reminds us that Islam is not some monolithic force that is inevitably radical or Islamist. Just because revolutionary Islamists can validly use quotations from the Koran and other Muslim holy books to justify their ideology doesn’t mean everyone will be convinced they are right.
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Ibish quotes the columnist Charles Krauthammer as writing that what’s “taking place in the region is an Islamist ascendancy, likely to dominate Arab politics for a generation.” And Ibish responds:
“There is no doubt that Islamist parties will be major factors in the coming decades. But what Jibril’s victory demonstrates is that the `Islamist ascendancy’ is by no means assured or even likely.”
I think Islamist ascendancy is likely but not assured. That’s not because I believe Arab politics are “relatively homogenous,” far from it. The problem is the collapse of Arab nationalism coupled with the weakness of liberal reformist views, and the Islamist side’s relative coherence and organization.
Let’s briefly look at some countries:
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, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent 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 and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.