The Coming Islamic Empire

Let me describe a few realities and you
tell me the common explanatory factor. First, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo is attacked
and the Israeli government sends jet fighters to evacuate the ambassador and
his staff members. Protesters stormed the Israeli Embassy and significantly
damaged the building. Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and used the
flotilla incident as evidence of its damaged relationship with Israel.
Netanyahu presides over and intransient right-wing coalition that has paralyzed
him. He cannot maintain his government unless he placates this coalition and
that prevents him from conciliation, negotiation, and movement toward the two-state
solution. The Palestinians are going to the United Nations to have the UN declare
the Palestinian state. It seems as if no amount of pressure from the United
States will stop them. Israel is increasingly isolated and the declaration of a
Palestinian state by the General Assembly is likely to cause violence,
confusion, and release a hornet’s nest of attacks on Israel as the Palestinians
gain access to United Nations resources such as the International Criminal Court.

The declaration of a Palestinian state –
even an observer state – will be nothing less than deadly for the peace
process. Israel will not recognize the conditions of the state and a half
million Israelis who live outside the recognized boundaries of Israel proper, but
inside the geography of the new Palestinian state, will be classified as
occupiers. As the relationship between the PLA and Israel deteriorates, and
their mutual security agreements fail, the PLA will slip into the hands of Hamas.
This cascade of events will result in an even worse situation in the Middle
East than is presently the case. What explains it? It is explained by the
coming Arab Muslim Empire.

The tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria,
all of which is supposed to be associated with an Arab Spring, has offered a
reality in striking contrast to expectations and images of a fledgling
democracy. Whether it be Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, or Tunisia it is
possible in every case to result in the rise of Islam. And even if dictators
and brutal leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Syria needed to be ousted the
alternative might not be very satisfying. And the not so invisible hand of Iran
is in the shadows of the background.

We have seen this all before: military
leaders enriching themselves; a few elites pulling the strings of power; inept
and incompetent state institutions; whining blame reserved for other cultures,
mostly Western; and the humiliation associated with the Palestinian situation.
In the earlier part of this century revolutions led to dictatorial leaders,
emancipatory political ideologies such as Marxism, and military rule. But this time
it is going to be Islam that is the big winner. Mark my words, Egypt is not
going to be ruled in the future by the enlightened young Facebook intellectuals
responsible for the revolution and who looked good on television. These people
do not fit the model of traditional communities; they will be out maneuvered by
stronger and more organized religious forces.

As Robert Malley and Hussein Agha argued
in the New York Review of Books,
“Islamists of various tendencies are coming in from the cold.”
Islamists are the largest group in all of these cultures and the best
organized. They have been silenced and repressed in the past but a little
democratic air will allow them to breathe more freely. There was an outcry when
Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza in 2006, but the same is true of
democratic elections as is freedom of speech – in for a dime, in for a dollar:
If we’re going to accept democratic elections as legitimate expressions of the
polity then we have to accept outcomes we don’t prefer. Islamic groups played an
important behind-the-scenes role in Libya, Egypt, and in Syria. They provide a
moral code that speaks to the population and will certainly be the primary
warrant for arguments about the political future of these cultures.

And Islamic parties will probably play
it smart. They will have learned that presenting themselves as Jihadists would
be a mistake and will likely do the opposite; that is, explain to the world
that they are the best defense against Jihadism. The US has dreamt of
democratic forces taking a stronger foothold but we will be mostly
disappointed. And even though the liberal democratic culture of the United
States is quite divergent from conservative Islamic cultures, we will be in a
better position than Israel to curry favor with these new developments. Still,
our political and democratic sympathies lay with Israel whose future in the
Arab world will be beset on all sides by the forces of difficulty.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on September 13, 2011, in Democracy, Israel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The below is from Herb Simons

    I agreed with Malley in NYRB, substantially. Revolutions eat their instigators, it’s true, and they are typically its idealists. But consider as well the positive effects: the constitutional reforms, the restoration of a sense of dignity, the denial to the Mubarak clan of a right of succession, the increased press freedoms, party-building and coalition-building by liberals and leftists, communication across previous divides, not-as-awful replacements of awful PMs, ministers, chiefs of police, etc., promises made by the military with some kept, some not.

    Will there be a counter-revolution? Perhaps. Too early to tell. The military will retain its perks.
    The oligarchs will wait to see whether they can maintain their cozy relationship with the military. If that happens they’ll be satisfied and their children will be pleased with them.

    Growing the Egyptian economy will be of crucial importance. Food prices are high, incomes low, and water may shortly be in short supply. Egyptians may long for a strong man if they can’t get jobs, food, water–the basics.

    For the most part I believe the MB has acted responsibly. It will render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s while maintaining Egypt as an Islamic state with (limited) freedoms for non-Muslims, and with the capacity to prevent those whom it dislikes from getting elected.

    Re foreign affairs, realism will reign. After a flurry of nationalistic excess there’ll be a return to normalcy. Re relations with Israel, much will depend on what Israel does or doesn’t do to make peace with the Palestinians. The Egyptians are not alone among Arabs on these issues.

    You may disagree on my last prediction: that the Salafists in Egypt will be marginalized.

    Herb Simons

  2. Well gee, I certainly did not mean to imply that there is no such thing as an “honest, moderate, politically successful Muslim! ” But I am motivated by what I believe to be the “hype meisters” about the Arab spring. I don’t believe, as I termed them, the Facebook intellectuals are going to be the future of the Arab world. I was hoping to simply describe the political situation in which the Islamic political parties are the strongest and most organized. Islam is a powerful and pervasive moral force in the region that gives the most genuine meaning to politics. Find the most recent edition of The New York Review of Books and read the piece by Rob Malley. He makes a similar argument.

    I make no excuses for strong support of Israel. I think much of their history and behavior is defensible. Remember democracy is a continuum and not a categorical variable. Israel’s democracy is not fully actuated but it is pretty darn good. Having said that, I do not think I fit into the category of blind support of Israel. There is much to be critical of and Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition deserve criticism. The US has many strategic interests in common with Israel. But we should use our relationship with Israel to push them toward a two state solution as well as for reconciliation on other matters. The Palestinian issue has got to be solved.

  3. I am thinking that Muslim brothers will be the main player for the coming years, they are the most and may be the only well organized and funded group, have an old experience in political negotiations, and a clear message to deliver to people. not like liberals and leftists who are still away from the public.

    talking to people in the street you will meet many of those who do not know, and do not want to know what is liberalism thinking it is all about humiliating their religious believes.

    Anyway, the islamist would be out the game only if we had another wave of revolution conducted by the workers (who are keeping protesting these days) and by the low classes who didn’t yet show up enough in my opinion.

    the coming months will reveal whether the workers’ movement is going to make a drastic change or we will be just stuck in between the militarists and the Islamic groups who are keeping the usual balance of power.

    as regarding relation with isreal i guess no big changes will happen giving the current situation, allowing the attack of the embassy was just a technical movement that was used to gain another sector of people against revolution, and to legalize more harassment to the activists.


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