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.