By Lawrence J. Haas
January 8, 2012
At its best, U.S. policy toward the Middle East consists of a deft combination of short-term pragmatism and long-term idealism.
In the short term, Washington works to protect Israel and other U.S. allies, combat terrorism, rebuff Iran's hegemonic ambitions, and support regional stability, all of which ensures the continued flow of oil to power Western economies.
In the long run, Washington promotes the advance of freedom and democracy in the region and elsewhere to expand the circle of nations that share our values, reduce threats to U.S. national security, expand opportunity for hundreds of millions of people and create new markets for U.S. investment.
Unfortunately, the rise of Islamic movements in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere threatens both our short- and long-run goals.
These groups, which include the Muslim Brotherhood and Nour Party in Egypt and al-Qaida- inspired jihadists in Yemen and Libya, are anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-women, anti-Western and, indeed, anti-modern. At their most extreme, they seek to restore the region and convert the world to 7th- century life during the time of the Prophet Mohammad.
Consider recent Muslim Brotherhood- sponsored rallies in Egypt that featured calls to "one day kill all Jews," a wave of church bombings in nearby Nigeria by the group Boko Haram, whose motto is: "Western civilization is forbidden," and generalized violence against Christians across the region.
The ascendance of Islamic forces raises serious questions about whether they would scrap such key building blocks of regional stability as the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and create more safe havens for anti-Western terrorists.
At the ballot box, in particular, experts fear that such groups will employ a "one man, one vote, one time" electoral strategy — secure political power legitimately and, with that power, impose strict, un-democratic shariah law on their societies.
The early returns are not encouraging.
In Egypt — historically the leading Arab state and the one from which others often take their signals — the Muslim Brotherhood won nearly 40 percent of the popular vote in recent parliamentary elections while the Nour Party that's affiliated with the more fundamentalist Salafis won almost 25 percent.
The Muslim Brotherhood wants to establish an Islamic state based on shariah and recognizes no right for Israel to exist or for Jews to live. The Nour Party would go further, creating a society akin to what the Taliban had established in Afghanistan — with all forms of modernity rejected and women reduced to slave-like status.
On the battlefield, al-Qaida-inspired militants in Yemen are capitalizing on the demise of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to expand their presence. Likewise in Libya, al-Qaida has deployed jihadists to create another safe haven for its operations.
Some U.S. foreign policy experts pine for the regional stability of pre-Arab Spring days. For Washington, however, the necessary path forward is to double-down on democracy and freedom — that is, to better assist the truly democratic forces that launched the Arab Spring and that seek a freer Middle East over the long term.