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Throughout New Middle East, Islamists Have Upper Hand

From Algeria to Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood is well-positioned.

by
Joseph Puder

Bio

February 28, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Jordan’s Palestinian majority has little access to power, and the people in the Palestinian refugee camps suffer from neglect and unemployment. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, who flooded into Jordan in recent years, have increased the economic and social burdens on the Jordanian government. The Muslim Brotherhood is by far the most popular movement in the kingdom, particularly among the Palestinians. King Abdullah II is aware of their dire situation, and understanding that he had to act immediately and decisively, dissolved his government two weeks ago and is seeking to improve basic services.

In the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad, a member of the Malawian minority, the economic strife is even greater than in Jordan. In addition to the chronic unemployment and an influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the country has suffered from a severe drought in the past few years, forcing nearly a million farmers to abandon their lands and move into urban areas where they have joined the army of the unemployed. Like Jordan, the Sunni-Muslim majority is also allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. And the repressive Baathist dictatorship killed over 20,000 of its people (mostly Sunni-Muslim Brotherhood members) in the city of Hama in 1982. The Syrian-Kurds, disenfranchised and persecuted by the Assad regime, are in double jeopardy, having to endure economic and political repression. Syria is a time-bomb waiting to be ignited. In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood represents the most serious opposition to the regime.

The largely tribal Arab state of Yemen faces several fundamental problems like the corruption of President Abdullah Saleh, who was appointed by members of his tribe to run most of the state’s apparatus. The southern tribes, who were independent until 1990, are seeking to separate from the north and create their own state. In northern Yemen, Shiite tribesmen are in an open violent rebellion against the Sanaa government, funded, trained, and supplied by Iran. President Saleh may be the next dictator to topple under pressure.

Lebanon is about to come under the full control of Hezbollah, and by extension become part of the Iranian sphere of influence. And in Iraq, a widespread protest movement is emerging against government corruption. Despite the heavy investment of the U.S. in both billions of U.S. dollars and the loss of thousands of American lives, it appears that Iran will add Iraq to its gains, as the U.S. and its allies withdraw their troops.

Even in the seemingly stable kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pockets of instability threaten this Wahhabi-ruled state. In the eastern and Shiite province of Hasa, Iran has incited the populace, and in the southern province of Najran, whose Yemeni population feels discriminated against by the Saudi regime, trouble may be brewing. And, should a leader emerge who unites the exploited and enslaved foreign workers in the kingdom, public order will undergo a major tremor.

Years of oppression and corruption along with the lack of democracy, civil and human rights, and religious freedom have awakened the sleeping giant that is the Arab street. The pent-up anger and frustration is as dangerous as lava from a volcano. Undoubtedly most of the dictatorships in the Middle East will be affected by this sweeping rage. But, without a democratic tradition and lacking a modern economic infrastructure, the new Middle East might be different but not better, and it might very well be replacing its secular oppressors with Islamist oppressors.

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Joseph Puder, a freelance journalist, is the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI).
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