Why are they after the Islamists?

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Why are they after the Islamists?

It does not seem to be pure coincidence. A clear pattern is evolving in the Arab Spring countries that denotes that there is a concerted campaign to deny Islamist parties their electoral due.

The sustained and violent street demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia betray one fundamental characteristic on the part of the anti-government activists: the refusal to accept electoral outcomes and to accept with grace the role of the loyal opposition. This is not to say that a free election is a sufficient condition for successful democratization. It is, however, a necessary condition. One cannot conceive of democracy without free elections. Its absolutely essential corollary is the graceful acceptance by the losing parties of the electoral outcome and the willingness on their part to wait for the next round when they may be able to reverse the current results.

This is a lesson that opposition forces in Egypt and Tunisia are unwilling to learn. The tendency to take to the streets, accompanied usually by violent confrontation with the security forces, demonstrates this state of mind. This is the result in part of their political immaturity, since they have been denied access to participatory politics for decades. It is also in part the result of missteps and policy failures on the part of newly established governments that are still struggling, particularly in Egypt, to come to terms with entrenched remnants of the old regime in the bureaucracy, the army and the judiciary.

Furthermore, it is the result of provocative moves, especially by the Salafi extremists interested in forcing the pace of Islamization in their societies. These extremists use a confrontational strategy in great part to embarrass the moderate Islamists in power by demonstrating that the latter are not “good” Muslims. Such moves, they believe, help them to capture part of the moderate Islamists’ political base. These Salafi groups, whether in or out of government, are in fact albatrosses around the necks of Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt because they legitimize to some extent the extra-constitutional attempts by the opposition to remove the moderate Islamists from power in Tunis and Cairo.

Residual opposition

But, this does not seem to be the end of the story. There appears to be a visceral antipathy toward the Islamist parties on the part of opposition elements that, particularly in Egypt, include remnants of the old dictatorial regime that are bent on preventing the Islamist governments from functioning at all cost. In the process they are discrediting the entire democratic experiment in their countries whether by accident or design. This antagonism seems to be based on the fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia are able to provide even half-way decent governance to their countries then the opposition elements are doomed for all time to come. This may appear to be strange logic as far as people in established democracies are concerned. But the fear among the opponents of the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia appears to be based on the realization that the Brotherhood and Ennahda are the only parties with the political base and the organizational skills to provide decent governance to their countries and, therefore, once entrenched in power may be difficult to dislodge.

There is also a further and more fundamental apprehension on the part of the Islamists’ opponents in Egypt and Tunisia that despite the high level of noise they can generate and despite the uneven electoral performance of the Islamists, particularly in Egypt, the silent majority of Egyptians and Tunisians would rather identify with their moderate Islamists than with the secular, elitist, city-dwelling opposition leaders.

Egyptians (as well as Tunisians) are no fools. They are fully aware of the fact that current opposition stalwart, Amr Moussa, was serving as Mubarak’s foreign minister and later as the Mubarak-appointed secretary-general of the Arab League, and that his prominent colleague Mohamed El-Baradei was the occupant of a plush office as director-general of the IAEA in Vienna at a time when Morsi and his Brotherhood colleagues were manning the barricades in Cairo against Mubarak’s repressive regime. The Islamists’ opponents realize that once the Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia are given the time to govern their countries and clean up the mess created by their authoritarian predecessors, there is every likelihood that their own chances of success will diminish rather than increase in the next round of elections. To them this is a good enough reason to keep the Islamist governments off-balance and topple them, if possible, in the shortest possible time, so that they do not have time to put down roots in the governing structures of their states. These opposition elements do not care that in the process they are jeopardizing the prospects for democracy in their countries.

Mohammed Ayoob is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Policy. He is also a distinguished professor of international relations, Michigan State University, and adjunct scholar, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

This article was originally published by Today’s Zaman.

ISPU scholars are provided a space on our site to display a selection of op-eds. These were not necessarily commissioned by ISPU, nor is their presence on the site equal to an endorsement of the content. The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISPU.

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