The Islamists are coming, the Islamists are coming...
Did I frighten the reader with this cry? I don’t think so, but Western countries seem to be afraid of the rise of Islamists in any free elections in the Arab world, having seen the results in Tunisia, which they expect will be echoed in Egypt near the end of this month, and in any other Arab country whose revolution ends up with free parliamentary elections.
The phrase I began with was a “play” on an American phrase made famous during the Cold War. The phrase was “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming”, and it was meant to alert people to the imminent communist threat, which has now become the Islamist threat or tide looming over the West’s interests in our countries and Israel.
In reality, the Islamists had not started any of the revolutions in any of the Arab countries, from Tunisia and Egypt, to Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Nevertheless, they are a force to be reckoned with, for they are not very fond of America and they reject Israel, and there is no democratic way to sideline them.
The Maspero incidents had given the Israel lobby and the American Likudniks fodder to fuel their warnings against their impending threat, but this cannot be discussed at depth here so I content myself with one example: The news story entitled “Egypt's massacre of Christians”, along with testimonies and video footage showing that soldiers and armed protesters had deliberately killed Christians.
But Richard Dearlove was more reserved. Dearlove is a former chief of British intelligence, and interestingly, he is now the head of Pembroke College at Cambridge University, where my daughter had studied. He said that al-Qaeda has failed, and that what we see now is the emergence of a moderate version of Islam and moderate Islamist groups advocating democratic values and individual rights that al-Qaeda had long opposed. This is what Dearlove sees in Tunisia and Egypt, and the statements of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his actions. However, he also expressed concerns regarding the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and cited that Mustafa Abdul Jalil had announced that Sharia will be the basis of legislation in the new Libya, and that Yemen is a fertile ground for al-Qaeda.
By contrast, The Spectator wrote about “Egypt’s new theocracy”, and talked about a bloody corrective to the idea that the Arab Spring was a “wonderful uprising of the masses against dictators”. The Spectator said that peaceful demonstrators were deliberately gunned down by Egyptian soldiers and armored vehicles, and that the land of the Pharaohs has become a fundamentalist Islamic state, with the blessing of the military establishment.
Then the Likudnik newspaper The Washington Times ran an editorial entitled “From Arab Spring to Islamist Winter”, which dramatically urged the U.S. administration to stand up to the Islamists’ “threat” in every country. The same title was echoed in a story ran by the Associated Press, and then republished by several newspapers, entitled “Is the 'Arab Spring' Making way for an 'Islamic Winter'?” However, the editorial was more objective, and reflected the difference one can find between an international news agency and a Likudnik rag.
But I call for caution. The Arab Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are not lacking in neither experience nor acumen. They know that their enemies are scrutinizing them day and night, looking for any slipup that could be used against them. For this reason, I call for caution in Tahrir Square today, so that the slogans that will be raised do not end up being exploited against them.
This warning applies to all sides. When Mahmoud Attiya announced that he wanted to gather one million signatures to persuade Filed Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to nominate himself for the presidency, the slogan he chose was “Egypt above all”. However, this slogan is originally Nazi, and was “Germany above all”. It is better therefore to replace it with something less controversial. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood did when they chose the slogan “Islam is the solution”, after which they were accused by their opponents of seeking to establish an Islamic state, prompting them to change it to “Welfare for Egypt”.
I say to the Islamists in every Arab country: Congratulations for the confidence shown by the voters in you, but extreme caution is a must because enemies, both at home and beyond, are waiting for the opportune moment to attack you.
In conclusion, I return to the phrase “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming”. The phrase is attributed to United States Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. It was claimed by Drew Pearson, a journalist known for his sharp dislike for the Secretary, that Forrestal suffered from temporary insanity during a radio interview, and would awake from his sleep screaming “the Russians are coming”. However, researchers and historians are in agreement today that Pearson was lying, and that there is no proof whatsoever of his claims.
“The Islamists are coming, the Islamists are coming” is yet another false warning against a non-existing threat.
(The writer is a prominent columnist at Dar Al Hayat, where this article was first published on Nov. 18, 2011.)