Tunisia: The 'Moderate' Islamists Make a Radical Revolution

After the torch-light red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

The shouting and the crying

Prison and place and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

He who was living is now dead

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience

 --T. S. Eliot, "The Wasteland"

Let’s be 100 percent clear here: In theory there might be such a thing as a moderate who wants more Islamic influence in political life—I can think of some very tiny groups that might be able to claim that distinction—but the party that won the Tunisian election is definitely not in that category and the same applies to the significant Islamist forces in Libya and Egypt, too.

Indeed, the winning party in Tunisia is the Muslim Brotherhood. For years, those of us who have been studying this country and movement have known this to be true. The statements by the Tunisian branch of the Brotherhood, except when they were made for Western ears explicitly, have been very hardline indeed.

Here's the great Martin Kramer recalling why the United States refused to give Rachid Ghannouchi,  the new "moderate Islamist" leader of Tunisia, a visa in 1994. Even in the 1980s, some were calling him a "moderate" even as he supported the most extremist ideas and actions. For example, "We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world." And here is Ghannouchi in 2001 extolling suicide bombers and advocating anti-American violence.  No one seems to believe it necessary to offer any actual evidence that he's changed his views. He hasn't.

Anyone claiming that this is a moderate group is either lying or has been deceived.

But why, then, are other parties in Tunisia so willing to work with them in a unity government? Simple.

First, many of these groups agree with a lot of their ideas.

Second, they live in the country and have to try to do anything possible to moderate those whom they cannot defeat.

Third, they opportunistically hope to get a share of power and that, of course, means patronage and money.

Fourth, remember that this elected assembly is drawing up the new constitution and there will be more elections in a year or so. If I were a Tunisian moderate, I’d sure try to get some concessions on what the constitution will contain rather than let the Brotherhood do whatever it wanted. I’d hope then—if you live there you have no choice—to beat the Brotherhood in the next election and save Tunisia from a radical Islamist regime.

Remember, the whole point of the new Turkish Islamist model is to advance down the road to Islamist dictatorship only as fast as is possible. So by forcing them to share power, you can hope to slow down that process.

These considerations don’t apply, however, to those of us who aren’t Tunisians and should make clear what’s going on and how disastrous it is for regional peace, hope for real democracy (including human rights), and Western interests.

I try to be cautious in my analysis. So I predicted that the Ennahda party would get at least 20 percent of the vote and come in first against a divided opposition. Apparently, they got 40 percent. So remember my prediction is that the Brotherhood will get 30 to 40 percent of the seats in Egypt should now be raised to a near or actual majority in the parliament there after the November 28 elections.

Incidentally, I must quote from the New York Timescoverage to show how off-base Western (mis) comprehension of these events is.

“In the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza.”

Actually, what happened was a Hamas-Fatah agreement to form a coalition government, followed by a bloody Hamas coup (including throwing Fatah people off buildings and machine-gunning the wounded in hospitals), and only then came a conflict with the West.

Remember this because when Islamists kill, imprison, and repress their rivals in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, we will be hearing the same stuff about their winning the election and then some problems developing that we’ll be told weren’t their fault.

But at least it is permissible even for the New York Times to say what I’ve been writing since January: the Arab Spring is merely an Islamist takeover:

“Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big victories in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition.”

Then there’s this fascinating sentence that leads to no analysis whatsoever. Among real moderates:

“In Tunisia and elsewhere some are wary of the Islamists’ surge, arguing that party leaders sound moderate now but harbor a conservative religious agenda.”