The election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in Egypt has once again made people in the West apprehensive of this democratic change.
The rise of Islamism in countries like Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring has sent the message that these countries revolted against the secular regimes of their dictators and now desire a theocratic regime. Islamists have won big in countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Now, they’re leading the revolt in Syria and seem to reflect people's preferences in that country as well.
In a recent post I wrote about Islamic fundamentalists in Tunisia, an anonymous reader, Alberto, insinuated that I have no chance if I stay in Tunisia and fight for secularism and democracy. He suggested that I move to Paris or London.
Let’s have a look at some reasons for the Islamist insurgence in these countries:
Media outlets often try to reduce the scope of their stories when reporting from the Middle East without paying too much attention to other details or the how's and why's.
People in the MENA are still pretty attached to Islam, but Islamists have other charming traits that make them appealing to larger audiences in the MENA.
Few have reported about Islamists' electoral campaigns in countries like Tunisia and Egypt.
Islamists promised big and have a lot of money. Most Islamists in the MENA have strong relations with Pan-Islamists in the Gulf.
Take the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example. They started as a social organization before even thinking of entering the political arena. They provided food, education, health, and shelter for millions of people across the MENA where the secular states had forgotten about them.
In Tunisia, the Ennahda Islamist party, former branch of MB, campaigned in places I didn't even know existed. They even paid for people's transportation on election day. People voted for the people who gave them money and promised jobs and better economic lives.
Besides, the participation rate in these elections was particularly high since the elections were out of the ordinary. The number will drop and Islamists will, gradually, have fewer supporters. And, because parties like Ennahda and Muslim Brotherhood were only legalized after the regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, they represent change. People in Egypt voted for the change they had died for.
Westerners are also often misled when it comes to ultra-conservative countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia, where the leaders basically abhor individual liberties and minority groups in the name of Islam.
It’s stupid, but most of the people buy into their government'sstatements because of the wrong image they give themselves. Muslims find it hard to believe that pious followers of Islam can do wrong. Muslims in MENA are just unfamiliar with politics.
In a recent article on New York Times, journalist Nicholas D. Kristof speaks of his trip in Iran saying, “One of the most pernicious misunderstandings in the West about Iranians is that they are dour religious fanatics.” They drink alcohol – which is legally but still sold in the black market – enjoy rock’n roll and want sex like every other ordinary people in this world. They are young and have a solid education and they don’t want Islam more than universal human rights and democracy."
“I was struck on my 1,700-mile road trip across Iran by how many of them share American values, seeking fun rather than fanaticism. They seem less interested in the mosques than in amusement parks (which are ubiquitous in Iran),” Kristof reports.
Another example that I can recall is the example of Abu Dhabi women in the movie Sex and the City 2. They are perfectly ordinary Middle Eastern women with their niqab, yet read the same book – too girly to remember – as the New York ladies and wear the same fashion designs as their female fellows in cities like London and Paris.
The problem in the MENA is that the moderate majority is often silent – maybe because it was often highly pressured by old regimes or because it’s too comfortable to speak out in public – whereas maniac extremists are loud and appeal to the media market.
Nevertheless, youth and adults alike long fought for democracy for their communities and equal rights. Democracy will come hell or high water.