Not since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War has the Middle East experienced such radical change. Dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; Syria is suffering civil war; and rebellion is cooking in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.
But with several revolutions behind us, the question remains of whether the revolutions will result in democracy or radical Islamic rule. In western eyes, democracy means the freedom to elect your government representative, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of mind.
But what happens when in the name of freedom and through free elections the people choose radical political parties? Will their freedom last or will the freedom to vote remain the only free choice there is? Political Islam is riding the wave of democracy all the way to victory. Wherever we see revolution in North Africa and the Middle East, the rise of political Islam follows. It’s all done in a democratic fashion with free elections, but the end result is the rise of political Islam.
Some Islamic parties are more moderate than others, but at the end of the day, their goal is Islamic domination, and Islam is not a tolerant religion.
Post-revolution countries, such as Libya and Tunisia, are struggling to rebuild and find the right balance between religion, politics and newly found freedom. Yet under growing Islamic control, Christians and liberals fear for their freedom and rights.
In Tunisia, the birth bed of Arab Spring revolutions where the “moderate” Islamic party won 40% of the vote in free elections, liberals and Islamists faced off this weekend. Thousands of Islamist supporters swooped on central Tunis on Saturday to confront liberal demonstrators rallying against extremism as MPs were drafting a new constitution for the country. The protest was partly a response to ongoing demonstrations at a university outside the capital, where Islamists disrupted courses, demanding a stop to mixed-sex classes and for female students to wear the full-face veil, or niqab.
Egyptian Copts, the Middle East’s biggest Christian community, are fearful of what an Islamist landslide in the country’s election will mean for their community. “All Coptics are very worried. We didn’t expect this,” said Girgi Szaki, a 42-year-old engineer with two children. “We wanted some liberals to be elected. In the other stages, maybe there’ll be a change.” Many Christians are now saying the Mubarak era was better than now.
US’ Secretary of State Clinton said that promoting democracy is in America’s interest – “Americans believe that the desire for dignity and self-determination is universal.” Moreover, democratic governments tend to be more stable, peaceful, and prosperous she added.
Is this naïve approach in line with the events we see in the Middle East? Or is democracy abused to allow the rise of radical Islam?
There is no doubt that people all over the world deserve freedom. But rocking the explosive region of the Middle East and North Africa is not the way to achieve that. We need to work with current leaders of Arab countries and African countries, encourage change and reform, and promote democracy and freedom. Seeing the events of Arab Spring, many leaders are more open to concessions and are willing to make changes in a responsible manner.
We need to work with leaders of Africa’s major countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and more. These countries represent a growing powerful economic base, and the West should foster relations and promote democratic reforms for the people in those countries.
In places like Egypt where elections brought radical political Islam to power, we need to do what we can to make sure minorities freedoms remain in place. US foreign assistance to Egypt is set to be over 1.65 Billion dollars in 2011, 1.3 billion of which is reserved for military aid. Other major areas of funding are economic development (246 million), Education (43 million) Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (30 million) Health (20 million) and Environment (10 million). We need to use that aid as leverage and make sure the new leaders do not impose swift radical changes that will diminish the hard won freedom of the people.
Change in itself is not a goal – change can be for better or for worse. Let’s hope that the Arab Spring will not result in the explosion of the Middle East and Africa.