The question of political Islam must be our focus when thinking about developments in the Arab world, or even the Middle East as a whole. Two scenarios are possible: either democracy will be imposed by force with a flavor of political Islam, or wide-ranging cultural conflicts will break out.
I may disagree with many observers on the theory of the Arab Spring’s definitive end, especially since the term has no clear definition. We disagree on the Arab Spring’s definition in terms of geography and economy, and reject it based on our intellectual and political references. However, regardless of the reasons and designations, the Arab Spring that took the region by storm during the last decade produced a political collapse that incurred heavy losses on major Arab countries that used to be axes of stability in the region. A decade later, the Arab Spring proved to be a political phenomenon that shook the region through the quest for sound political solutions to deal with the outcomes of this Arab Spring, as the West likes to call it to promote the idea that it will generate democratic standards in Arab states that resemble Western ones.
If we take the West’s experience in confronting the Soviet ideology, we can see that it did not wane, but rather burdened the entire Western democracy. Following the fall of the USSR, this unrest disappeared and turned into a different confrontation model. Washington, precisely, discovered that the fall of the Soviet Union alone does not turn the US into the sole international power; for the absence of communism was only an opportunity for different nationalist, more ferocious movements to emerge. The manner with which China presents its ideology is confusing to the West, and so it will remain. But how does that relate to what is happening in the Arab world? Does Washington fear the ideological solidarity that China can offer the Arab region at the expense of Western presence there? The West realizes that democracy cannot be achieved without a harsh and prolonged political process coupled with bloodshed, at the expense of a suitable nationalist process for the creation of democracy.
Today, the West is shifting in our region to the post-Arab Spring stage, especially with the US attempt to interpret the Arab revolutions that took place over the past decade as a comprehensive, nationalist breakthrough attempt through a new model of the state which seeks justice and human rights. However, history teaches us that only the use of power and force makes people accept the imposition of a different political regime in their country. No state has ever changed its political system simply because it was asked to do so, whether in peace or in war.
The Arab Spring is not over, and its effects will remain for years to come. However, what is happening in Tunisia today raises critical questions about the naive impulse to discuss the Tunisian issue. But before that, we must stop and think about what is happening in countries that are politically and intellectually harmonious with political Islam, as well as in Afghanistan, where developments suggest that despite spending billions of dollars in the country, the US is now paving the way for the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan, all while realizing that current developments in Afghanistan cannot guarantee the return of al-Qaeda.
Perhaps the most pressing question today is: what does Washington want from the Middle East, and why is it threatening to withdraw from the region? It has become clear that Washington’s vague vision for the region requires an appropriate, logical political awareness. Is it possible the US believes that democracy in the Arab world and the Middle East can be provided by ideological political parties? The answer is unclear.
Over the past eight decades, since Israel arrived in the region, the Arab world has been in a state of political confusion with varying effects. When evaluating Arab countries and their development processes, the situation can be envisioned easily. However, the truth is that the Middle East is suffering and will continue to suffer in the future, what with the multitude of unsustainable movements that developed in these countries, ranging from ideological, to nationalist, to liberal. For political Islam to enter through the Arab Spring’s back door and present itself as an alternative to genuine democracy would be truly controversial after these long decades.
The question of political Islam must be our focus when thinking about developments in the Arab world, or even the Middle East as a whole. Two scenarios are possible: either democracy will be imposed by force with a flavor of political Islam, or wide-ranging cultural conflicts will break out. We must realize that the waving of the banner of Islam by political parties is the most dangerous indicator of the Arab world’s return to square one. Democracy as the West wants it is impossible. What we must genuinely fear is the portrayal of political Islam once again as an opportunity for Arab peoples to experience the sweet breeze of a new spring. Therefore, monitoring the political situation in Tunisia is vital to understanding the potential products that could emerge as viable examples to be followed in several countries; only then do we realize that the next spring is one for political Islam.
This article was originally published and translated from Saudi daily Al-Riyadh.