FEATURE: Decade after 9/11, Arab Spring heralds new era for Islamists
By Ramadan Al-Fatash Aug 30, 2011, 0:18 GMT
Cairo - Popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa are ushering Islamists into a new era after having been the target of oppression from pro-US governments for the past ten years, say analysts.
The finding comes as the tenth annniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US approaches and analysts take a look back on the decade of wars, conflict and finally social revolution.
'The influence of Islamists in the Arab world preceded the September 11 attacks,' said Moustafa al-Sayyed, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
'In fact, Islamists' rise in the region started in the late 1960s in reaction to the adverse social, economic and political circumstances in their countries,' he told the German Press Agency dpa.
'These circumstances have not improved remarkably, but the success of recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia has given Islamists the chance to appear on the surface and operate freely,' al-Sayyed added.
On July 29, thousands of Egypt's Islamists, mainly ultra-conservative Muslims, flocked from across the country to Tahrir Square in central Cairo where they called for an Islamic state to be established in the Arab world's most populous country.
They angered liberals and secularists who accused them of flaunting their power and polarizing Egyptian society.
The mass show of strength was the Islamists' largest since former Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak was ousted in a popular revolt in February after 30 years in power.
'Islamists are more well-organized and influential among the ordinary people than liberals and leftists. They run a lot of charity schemes and assist the poor,' said al-Sayyed. 'It is natural for them to re-emerge to assert themselves now that their oppressors have been removed.'
Days after Mubarak was toppled, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest opposition group banned for more than five decades, was legalized.
The group has, moreover, established its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party whose leaders say will compete for up to 40 per cent of the seats in the country's new parliament in elections due later this year.
The Muslim Brotherhood emerged empty-handed from the parliamentary elections held in late 2010, which were widely believed to have been marred by massive fraud.
To Emad Gad, an Egyptian expert, Arab despotic governments took advantage of 'exaggerated' US fears about Muslim radicals in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to inflate foreign pressure to introduce reforms.
'It was a big fallacy. Mubarak manipulated Washington's exaggerated fears about the influence of Islamists to tighten his grip on power and continue to quell his opponents. Other Arab rulers did the same,' Gad told dpa.
In the years after the September 11 attacks, pro-US Arab governments systematically cracked down on Islamists and reportedly tortured many of them over suspected links with al-Qaeda.
Branding them as opportunists, Emad believes that Islamists hamper the Arab people's democratic transformation.
'At the beginning of the Arab revolutions against autocratic governments, Islamists claimed to be on the side of a civil state. Later, they unmasked their faces and called for the establishment of a religious state,' he said.
'Their ploys cause divisions among political powers and hike up the price the Arabs have to pay for gaining genuine democracy.'
Arabs' anti-government uprisings, generically referred to as the Arab Spring, started in Tunisia on December 18, 2010, when vendor Mohammed Bouazizi doused himself with petrol and set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid after being repeatedly harassed by authorities for selling vegetables on the street.
Since then the protests have spread to Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco, where people have become accustomed to taking to the streets to vent their wrath on their governments.
Islamists have kept a high profile in these uprisings.
Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi, has claimed that his family had forged an alliance with Islamist rebels against liberal opposition fighting for his father's ouster.
He told the New York Times recently that Islamists 'are the real force on the ground.'
'Islamists' chances may be big in countries like Libya, Jordan and Yemen,' said Gad, the analyst at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies. 'But they will not prevail in Egypt and Tunisia, which have vigorous civil society groups,' he added.
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