x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Islamists have seized power

History shows that Islamists are willing to overthrow democratic institutions when it suits them, an Arabic-language columnist writes. Other topics: Iran vs the US and Assad vs the Arab League.

Historical record says Islamists show little respect for democracy or pluralist government

As the Arab Spring began to give way to free elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt - in the process bringing Islamists to power in the first two and probably in Egypt - many Arab and western analysts started vouching for political-Islam movements as "democratic", columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"The recurrent argument is that Islamist groups have been denied the chance to do politics and that the Arab Spring is an opportunity to test their popularity and commitment to democratic process."

But the claim that Islamists are "democrats" is off the mark, the writer added.

In 1986, Sudan's Islamic Front party came in third in parliamentary elections, with 51 seats. And although the elections were transparent and results were not contested, "the Islamic Front conspired in a coup two years later," the writer said, "and seized power with the help of Brig Gen Omar Bashir, who still governs the country after he destroyed its capabilities and let it be ravaged by wars".

Algeria had a different experience, the writer went on. The now-outlawed Islamic Salvation Front party pressured the Algerian generals - "who rule from behind the curtain" - to hold elections in 1991, after seven years of turmoil.

The army ended up aborting the elections when it became clear that the Islamists would win by a large margin, there were also prior divisions within the Islamist group.

"The moderate leadership of the Islamic Salvation Front, embodied by Abbas Madani, was undermined by younger, extremist leaders like Ali Belhadj … who denounced democracy in public when he famously said: 'No democracy and no constitution, only Allah said this and the Prophet said that.'"

Radical members of the party went on to attack movie theatres and souqs, giving the army a reason to declare martial law.

There was the Hamas experience as well. The Palestinian Authority allowed Hamas to take part in the 2006 elections, provided that the Islamist movement commit to democracy and agreements with Israel. Hamas won 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats contested, allowing it to form a government - then took control of all state apparatus in Gaza and violently kicked out Palestinian Authority personnel, the writer noted.

"I'm not against the inclusion of Islamist parties in politics so long as they show respect for democratic process - but that has never happened before, as I attempted to demonstrate above.

"We must understand that … it is in the nature of Islamist groups and parties to consider the other parties irrelevant, even if they talk a lot about tolerance."


US provocation of Iran could spark a new war

The US is cranking up the heat on the Iranian front, a heat that has been increasingly felt at the Iranian leadership level, suggested Monday's editorial in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, responding to Tehran's claim on Sunday that a US stealth drone has penetrated its airspace and been shot down.

It is an escalation that coincides with a continuing debate in Israel about the idea of military strikes on Iranian nuclear reactors, and the expected Iranian retaliation.

"Negotiations to find non-military solutions to the Iranian nuclear ambitions are practically non-existent; they ceased more than 18 months ago … US and Israeli officials are saying that all possibilities are on the table, including the military option."

Naturally, the US and Israel are not about to divulge their schemes to hit Iran. But the present financially-strained US administration, withdrawing in defeat from Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, cannot afford to start any new war projects. Still, it would not hesitate to venture to war to support Israel, with the full support of Congress.

"The US drone incident is a serious provocation that could spark a war," concluded the editorial. "The region is on the verge of an unpredictable volcano."

What is predictable is that Hizbollah missiles would rain down on Israel in case of an assault on Hizbollah's primary sponsor.

Assad has no more room for manoeuvre

Amid reports about the Syrian regime's agreement to sign the Arab League's proposed protocol on sending observers, the government of Bashar Al Assad seems to be attempting to seize this last chance before a likely internationalisation of its crisis, wrote Nayla Tueini, deputy general manager of the Lebanese daily Annahar.

"Internationalisation would be unpredictable," the writer said. "Its repercussions on the Syrian people would be daunting."

Meanwhile, Syria still uses Lebanon as a shield and in Lebanon, supporters of the regime continue supporting President Al Assad's evasive manoeuvres, unaware that the times have changed.

It is unclear what Damascus is waiting for before accepting the Arab initiative. The Syrian people have had enough oppression through 40 years of Al Assad rule, and a civil or sectarian war wouldn't change the course of the events; it would only extend the suffering of the innocent.

"What is Mr Assad waiting for?" she asked. "Is he fantasising that the Arabs would once again support him after he has humiliated them … Does he dream that the economic sanctions will be revoked and everything can return to normal?"

Mr Assad's tactics are useless at this point; they lack any leverage.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk