It is becoming readily apparent that all the hopes that were kindled in the West after Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-emulation in Tunisia on December 2010 are failing. The Arab world that was moving toward democracy is slowing–perhaps even not so slowly—dissolving before our eyes. In fact the hope that there would be a birth of liberal, secular democracy in the Arab world is reverting to renewed authoritarian regimes, this time largely of a religious fundamentalist nature.
- Syria in fact has Islamic fundamentalists working on both sides of the civil war as Iran and Hezbollah are supporting the Assad regime with men and materiel; while at the same time the major rebel forces against the regime is a backed by Al Qaeda. There is little expressed hope for democracy at this time.
- Bahrain continues to be governed by Sunni royalty with the support of the neighboring Saudi regime and the other Gulf States, despite the fact that country is overwhelmingly Shiite.
The two major locations of mounting unrest in the Middle East, however, are Egypt and Turkey which rank 15th and 18th respectively in population among countries in the world; the first and the third in the region (Iran ranks 17th). It is both of these countries that the risk and confrontation is highest and growing more intense; where democracy was established and hopeful; and where Islamist are gaining rapidly.
- The Arab Spring which led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power did indeed result in free elections being held last June. Now, after democratically electing a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammad Morsi, the people are in the streets again demanding his ouster. Largely driven by continuing unsolved economic problems, the Morsi Government appears to be so vulnerable that reports suggest he may have left the Presidential palace for fear of his life. The Muslim Brotherhood—which soundly had defeated the secular forces in the election is now being challenged once again by the opposition in Tahrir Square. Lest this not be threatening enough for the country, now the military has given Morsi until Thursday to bring stability back to the country or it will take over. Such a result could create a bloodbath or—as was the case in 2011—a very peaceful, though non-democratic, coup.
- Turkey has internal problems as well as genuine external fears on its Syrian border. Since being elected Prime Minister in 2003, Tayyip Erdogan, has transformed Turkey into an economic and political power in the region. He apparently has finally begun to solidify his hold even over the military as well. The change in the dominance of Islamism in Turkey has moved the country into a leadership position which it has not seen since the days of the Ottomans. Turkey has achieved a growing importance not only among its own but also in the West. The growth of Islamic power reflects itself not only in the still not totally repaired relationship with Israel, but also with the political impact Islam is having throughout the society largely reversing the westernizing direction stemming from the days of Ataturk.
The problem with all the reaction to the Arab Spring is that underlining it all is the confrontation within Islam that none of these regimes are able to address effectively. The young people in the streets get it. They recognize that Islam must adapt to the secular world. They comprehend its incompatibility with democracy and democratic values. The internet and social media have totally exposed Islam on the one hand and excited them on the other; probably to the point of no-return. It will not be quick but it will be dangerous and bloody.