Thursday, January 6, 2011
Tunisia's Crisis: Searching For Islamists
By Dr Hamad al-Majid
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 06/01/2011
The West is fearful of the Nahda Movement’s influence in Tunisia, and this has caused America and its European allies to turn a blind eye to the mistakes committed by the Tunisian government. However, of course, the government has been responsible for some development achievements witnessed in the country.
The US, and influential western countries, are committing a grave error when dealing with some of the more repressive countries in the Islamic world. The US and its European allies support and endorse these countries, or at least turn a blind eye to their practices, in accordance with Western interests. When we say that Western states have committed a fundamental mistake, it is not because they have prevented Islamic movements from coming to power – in doing so they are simply acting in accordance with their interests and strategies. Islamic trends are viewed by the West as nothing more than an opposition which must be prevented from gaining control, at all costs. This may mean a total disregard for democratic outcomes, and the results of fair polls – as happened in the Algerian and Palestinian elections – regardless of the catastrophic consequences this may have for Arab or Islamic nations.
The fundamental mistake of the Western strategy is that it fails to put pressure on these countries to improve moral relations with their populace, by undertaking genuine economic, political and developmental reforms, fighting corruption, and loosening their iron fist. Failing to do so only generates a sense of injustice and oppression, which results in public uprisings and riots. Sometimes these have catastrophic consequences, as was evident in the Algerian case, which we fear may now be repeated in Tunisia.
The US and its European allies could have designed their strategies in a manner that prevented Islamic trends from reaching power, but via the consolidation of pubic liberties, fighting corruption and promoting development. A clean and a fair government with a strong economy, and a transparent supervisory and accountability system, even if it rejected the Islamic agenda completely, would be fully resistant to change, and the Malaysian experience is testament to this.
The historic, charismatic, political figure of [former Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir Mohamed is not the product of Islamic trends, although he shares some characteristics with them. Indeed he is in some sense an authoritarian, although he did not reach the level of dictator. He competed with the strong Malaysian Islamic movement, and took part in a fierce struggle with its one of its key figures, Anwar Ibrahim. In the end, Mathathir was successful in ousting Ibrahim from government, dismissing him in a somewhat ugly fashion.
Nevertheless, this confrontation did not disrupt Mahathir’s government, because the Malaysian nation appreciated his patriotism, and his contribution to the country's developmental plans, which would enable Malaysia to later become one of the Asian Tigers. The man was religious by nature, and had no quarrel with Islam in general. There is a clear difference between antagonizing the political Islamic movement, and antagonizing the religion of Islam. Therefore, the nation raised no objection, nor did they care much about the defeat of a key symbol of the Malaysian Islamic movement, whilst Mahathir strengthened his firm grip on power. Had Arab states – suffering from disorders and divisions between them and their people - been governed by the Mahathir model, we would not find problems as serious as those ongoing in Tunisia, even when faced with an Islamist opposition.