In my most recent book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (completed July 4, 2010), I argued that civil societies in the Greater Middle East (GME) and Arab World had reached a “critical stage” in their repudiation of all authoritarian forms of government: regime, theocracy, military and ultra-nationalist. The projections therein were based on a thorough study of antecedent Cedars and Green Revolutions in Lebanon (2005) and Iran (2009) respectively, both with limpid narratives, particularly online, and both auguring a continuation of bottom-up, regime-crumbling uprisings in the region.
Even before the region’s revolutionary meltdowns began, our findings were accompanied by a sober warning–a grueling contest would ensue between the dispersed and disorganized proponents of liberal democratic reform and the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Indeed, as soon as the uprisings erupted on the streets of Tunis and Cairo, the Islamist political machine went into high gear. With Al Jazeera’s influential backing and the support of Qatar’s “diplomatic duo” and Turkey’s Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) (English: Justice and Development Party), the region’s mostly-Sunni Islamist movements gradually rose from the bottom and seized the initiative.
The first of three tactics the Islamists have pursued in their protest-infiltration strategy was avoidance of any statement or action that might associate the demonstrations with long-term MB goals. MB members were put on notice–no mention of Sharia or the Caliphate. The second was to focus on the affected regimes, not on the West. U.S., European and even Israeli flag burning were forbidden. The third tactic involved invoking Shabab al Thawra (English: “youth of revolution”), a rubric the Islamists used repeatedly to camouflage their predatory intentions with the uprisings’ secular, liberal democratic lexical accouterments. While masses, and particularly real revolutionary youth, were exploding against dictators from Egypt to Libya and Yemen to Syria, Islamist networks were systematically climbing the ladder of each national revolt.
Like the anti-Tsar Bolsheviks of the October Revolution and the anti-Shah Khomeinists of the Iranian Revolution, the MB are hampered in their own milieu by citizens’ knowing them well enough to see through their maneuvers. In the West, on the other hand, the Ikhwan are supported by a vast army of apologist elites who obfuscate their mission by referring to them as “revivalists,” a misnomer that has been spoon-fed to the public and policymakers for years. As evidence that this propaganda still achieves its intended effect, a high-ranking US official recently referred to the Ikhwan as “a loose network of secular groups.” Thus the Ikhwan, far better organized and funded than their authentic counterparts in the region and buttressed by an illusory international reputation, are riding the turbid wave and controlling the dynamics of the so-called Arab Spring created for them by the region’s true secular reformers.
While chaos reigns among MB-infiltrated pro-democracy forces in Egypt, Ikhwan in the Land of the Pharaohs are preparing for parliamentary and possible Presidential elections. They are launching a political party, a media campaign, and preparing for a political offensive that will run into the millions. The MB has also been coaching Egypt’s armed forces on regional diplomacy. This has resulted in the opening of Gaza’s gate to Egypt and Hamas being hosted in Cairo. Similarly, in Jordan the MB is backing the Islamist Action Front in a move directed against the Jordanian Monarchy.
Cousin to Egypt’s Ikhwan, the Islamist al Nahda movement in Tunisia is positioning itself for greater influence in that country’s leadership. In Libya, the Shabab al Thawra (English: “Youth of the Revolution”), considered legitimate by many European Governments and Qatar, is having a significant impact on the Interim National Council in Benghazi. By abstaining from publicly declaring their ideology, the Islamists in Libya have the upper hand so long as NATO continues to support their efforts with airstrikes on the “apostate” Gaddafi regime.
The MB has insinuated itself into Syria’s popular uprising against that country’s Ba’athist dictator. The MB in Syria has a score to settle with the Assad dynasty over the massacre of thousands of Ikhwan faithful in the 1980s; their strategic plan is to ride the Syrian revolt to the very end.
By penetrating tribal boundaries and Yemen’s armed forces, Yemeni Salafists have positioned themselves strategically while they launch their own version of Shabab al Thawra. The Yemeni Republic’s first and current President, Ali Abdallah Saleh, will fight until his resources are exhausted and his enemies gain the upper hand. Nevertheless, the Islamists in Yemen are readying themselves for the post-Saleh era.
The regional consortium of Ikhwan and their Salafist allies has its eye on several other countries in the region as well, including Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and eventually, parts of Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan. While moving with stealth and efficiency, the MB is also pausing to obviate concerns that might arise over possible MB-Western partnerships. The U.S. and European decision to designate 40-billion dollars to the Arab Spring will ineluctably profit the MB who President Obama referred to in his speech as those who do not necessarily believe in “our view of representative democracy.”
In the meantime, the authentic democratic reformers–the Arab popular majority, young Arab men and women, and ethnic minorities–who have borne on their shoulders the brunt of the non-violent revolts, could still be outmaneuvered and marginalized by the MB. Today’s Arab “Bolsheviks” could win the day if the West doesn’t wake up soon and respond accordingly. If the West can’t be roused from slumber, the Arab Spring may well become the Middle East’s “Prague moment.”