Monday, March 07, 2011

The impact of Arab awakening on political Islam, oil and Palestine

Palm Beach Gardens: As Arab revolt spreads across borders, observers ponder consequences.

In a rapidly changing Mideast, the West is closely watching how the role of political Islam evolves, how upheaval impacts oil production and how power shift might affect the fate of Israel’s treaty with Egypt.

Regarding political Islam, skeptics expect to see fanatics in Egypt and Tunisia dominate the new politics. Post- revolution worst scenarios need not materialize. It is very possible that reformed regimes will move - not without reversals - toward democracy, by integrating religious movements as elements in a wider spectrum of political parties.

It is difficult to predict how religion will mix with politics in future- oriented Arab societies. It helps to note that extreme Muslim groups tend to thrive in freedom-starved societies. Police states allow fanatic groups to exist and organize, in return for being silent and passive. But when reform takes place, fanatic religious parties are likely to lose the self- serving protection of the state.

In Egypt, a pacified Islamic movement, the Muslim Brothers, has focused on a narrow agenda of social issues and failed to contribute significantly to state building. The Muslim Brothers have built a strong following by providing social services, promoting religious symbols, popularizing veils for women and “defending” Palestine rhetorically.

In the long run, the Muslim Brothers should have a tough time competing with progressive parties. That said, moderate elements of the Muslim Brothers could participate in building democracy. If Arab women could play an active role in state building, it will be a strong indication that the uprising has become a true revolution.

Muslim parties could participate in building a renewed society which is also faithful to Islamic tradition. A key factor in progress is separating the powers of the state by restricting the mosque and the church from dictating regressive legislation.

If Egypt and Tunisia continue to move in the direction of democracy, other liberated regimes will easily follow a sound trend in building democracy.

Like religion, oil is an important resource, which could be a blessing or a limitation. Unlike the consequences of change in Egypt and Tunisia, liberal reform of oil states directly affects the strategic interests of Western governments, in particular the US. America imports much of the Arab oil, exports a wide range of products and services worth hundreds of billions of dollars to conspicuously consuming, unpopular emirates and Kingdoms. Moreover, Washington has maintained an extensive military presence in the region and provides the lion’s share of national security to oil producing states.

Unlike recovery in Egypt and Tunisia, the road of oil-producing countries to political liberalization is treacherous. Libya’s current developments reveal how complicated political reform could be for countries which are steep in corruption and dependent on the outside world for national security.

The primary worry of the West should not be about the future of political Islam, but rather the peaceful transformation of oil producing countries. Avoiding regional chaos is the challenge of the next round of revolts which would significantly threaten long established international relations.

The West has to acknowledge that the political status quo of the oil- producing Arab states is unsustainable. More importantly, the West has to admit that it is a central stakeholder in a region which could explode as it “reforms”. The unraveling in Bahrain and Libya are just the start of far reaching upheaval.

It is not correct to assume that the US is neutral to what is happening in Libya and in Bahrain. A UN resolution could authorize the US to help Egypt and Tunisia in supporting the Libyan people to oust a teetering and dangerous regime.

Applying strong - not cosmetic- US pressure on all Arab oil-producing regimes to reform would avert potential revolutions. If the West truly embraces genuine reform in the Arab Gulf, it will contribute to a global effort of empowering all states which lack basic freedoms and solid industrial infrastructure. It is not by selling arms and extending foreign military presence that the West can provide security to rulers who are in desperate search of legitimacy.

The fate of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt is the third area of concern to the West. While integrating political Islam is in the hands of Arab societies, and while reforming oil countries is a joint responsibility between Arabs and Americans, safeguarding Israel’s treaty with Egypt is directly connected with the outcome of the peace process.

Israel is justifiably worried about future relations with Egypt. To reinforce its agreement with Egyptians, Israelis must stop settlement building, in order to induce the Palestinians to return to the peace talks. By continuing illegal construction in the West bank and East Jerusalem, Israel might eventually force Egyptians to re-examine the rationale of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement. It was the late President Sadat’s intention to start the peace process in Egypt and to continue in implementing it with Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Sadat was assassinated by those who believed that Israel was not willing to respond to the aspirations of Palestinians.

Egyptians are divided on whether to trust Israel’s readiness to make peace with the rest of the Arab world. By achieving peace with Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, Israel will strengthen its peace with Egypt and come much closer to normalizing its relations with all Arab states.

This new Arab era is about freedom; it should be embraced regardless of its immediate impact on religion, oil or international relations. Eventually freedom leads to the common good.


Post a Comment

<< Home