In the span of one month, we saw a victory in Afghanistan and a defeat in Tunisia. Frustrated by repeated failures, the Taliban's takeover of power has awakened the hopes of political Islam groups and armed extremist organizations across our region. Its victory plastered over the defeat and elimination of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, which had looked like the end of the road for the religious current aspiring to rule in the region.
Are Islamists on the rise or fall?
The Taliban is not that similar to the Tunisian Ennahda, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the Sudanese Islamic National Front. The Taliban is a Pashtun tribal group led by religious leaders. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it is not a national struggle movement nor a localized group, but rather an international religious group that considers the entire Islamic world its state, all Muslims in the world its followers, and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate its agenda.
It is a means of reaching power, like Baathism with its hardcore Arab nationalist ethos under the slogan "One Nation, Bearing an Eternal Message," and similar as well to communism.
In my opinion, the local and international Muslim Brotherhood movement is in decline. Its followers attribute this to coups and conspiracies, but their defeat in Tunisia as a result of their own failure in the political experiment—causing widespread popular hatred against them—is something they cannot deny.
Are the political aspirations of the Brotherhood, which ruled or participated in ruling and then lost in Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia, dead, or are we facing the second wave of the political Islamist current? In the fallout we will see further decline, rather than any competing between the nation-state and the religious state.
Contrary to popular opinion, I think the rise of the Taliban will ultimately destroy the concept of the Islamic organization and state, whether civilian or armed. Those among the Islamists who boast about the victory of the Taliban and its return to rule Afghanistan, and the exit of the Americans, will distance themselves from it and declare their innocence later on from the Taliban, agreeing that it is a group that distorts the message of Islam. This is what I meant in my previous article when I said that it is a failed political investment. Evidence of failure began to appear on the surface and the mediators were forced to seek to persuade the American legislators to give the new government in Kabul a chance to prove itself as respecting international laws and norms. But it is hard to imagine the Taliban changing skins.
The Taliban is a religious movement that is socially straightforward and simple, not an evil political movement, like al-Qaeda and ISIS. What is horrifying is that it is easy to conflate extremist Islamic groups or even some regimes, because at its core, the Afghan Taliban discourse is similar to these groups. Like most similar groups, it is self-destructive, and will turn the world against itself because of its inability to adapt outside its borders. And it, like any other religious or ideological movement, will become more and more radical internally. Immediately after the Taliban's victory, the movement's spokesmen made sure to appear on television and sit with representatives of governments and international organizations, so as to appear as moderates with whom the world can coexist. Then a few days passed and it became clear that they were only the outer facade, whereas under the surface lies the real leadership: extremists bearing arms. This is common in secret organizations operating underground. Talking with a thinker and a leader in the Egyptian Brotherhood, such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, suggests objectivity, positivity, and moderation. Whether it was based on faith in him, or just good public relations, as others accuse him of, the fact is that decision-making and its implementation were in the hands of the extremist wing, and figures such as Khairat al-Shater, who believed that he was running the government even though he was not in power.
The Taliban of Doha are not the Taliban of Kabul. In the international media, they spun words that enchanted the West, and then in the following days we heard the real rulers in the streets of the capital saying the complete opposite of what was said in the press conferences. The victory of the Taliban is a defeat for the civil religious political groups which are in decline, while armed Islamic groups are on the rise.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.