The PJ Tatler

The Middle East's uprisings spawn their own dirty word

The dirty word in question being: caliphate. Anyone using that word in the context of the Middle East’s uprisings and unrest has earned furrowed brows and even denunciations from the usual folks who see nothing but aspiring democrats wherever they look. But what if that nearly out-of-bounds word describes where things are actually headed? There hasn’t been a caliphate since Ataturk abolished the last one in 1924. Does that mean someone can’t figure out a way to establish a new one?

Just in the past couple of days, we’ve had the New York Times admit what Tatler readers already knew, which is that the Muslim Brotherhood has been a strong force behind the scenes in Egypt’s revolution, and that they may have already made a deal with the military to keep the (relative, and perhaps temporary) peace. They’re anticipating the fall elections, and are now expected to do well in them.

In Libya, al Qaeda is being pretty open about the fact that they’re supporting the rebels (putting us on the same side as al Qaeda, by the way). Al Qaeda is, ideologically, a child of the Muslim Brotherhood. AQ second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri cut his terrorist teeth in the Brotherhood itself, as did Osama bin Laden. Some like to play up the disagreements between al Qaeda and the Brotherhood, but those disagreements shouldn’t be exaggerated: The Brotherhood in Egypt is on the record supporting al Qaeda.

And in the case of Syria, Roger linked to a Debka report that the Brotherhood is working behind the scenes to stir up the unrest there.

Given their first chance at self-rule, the Palestinians elected Hamas, which like al Qaeda, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

So let’s game this out a bit.

Suppose the Brotherhood ends up sharing power or taking over in Egypt’s upcoming elections, and suppose they succeed in helping Libya’s rebels drive out Gaddafi (with our help), and suppose that they do the same to Assad (which is a much taller order for a few reasons, not least of which is that Iran is reportedly helping Syria violently put down the protests). Is it reasonable to suspect that the Brotherhood is also fomenting or at least assisting the unrest in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia? Al Qaeda operates in all three, and hates all three regimes. That’s a lot of supposing, but what’s the region’s trajectory right now? Which horse or horses would you place your bet on?

One of the major objections to throwing around the caliphate word in regard to the Middle East uprisings has been that Muslims are too divided, they’ll never be able to agree on who should be the caliph, and so forth. But would that be true if the same group or its ideological children ended up in power in several Middle Eastern states after the revolutions are done?