Islamic Victory in Algeria Is a Harbinger
Throughout the Muslim world, secular regimes tremble as many people seem poised to reject Western ways
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The victory of the Islamic Salvation Front will have serious ramifications for both the existing regimes and the secular opposition forces in the Arab world that aspire to a Western-style democracy.Skip to next paragraph
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First, it paralyzes the efforts of the secular democratic forces in the Arab world. The Islamic forces have never been tested in power. Unlike secular governments, they thus have no record of abuses, which leads even those who are not fundamentalists themselves to hope that a fundamentalist government might be an improvement. The secular democratic forces, on the other hand, are mistakenly associated with the corrupt secular government. After all, what was supposed to be secular democracy before quickly turned into secular tyranny.
Second, existing regimes may hesitate to hold free elections for fear that they will produce results similar to those of Algeria.
At the time when democratic forces lament their destiny, opposition forces in countries with a strong Islamic presence such as Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan are rejoicing. With the exception of Egypt and Morocco, these are the countries that opposed the war in the Gulf.
The jubilation of the Islamic groups represents a nightmare for the governments of some of these countries. They fear that the Islamic victory in Algeria will encourage the local fundamentalists to pressure for free elections and a larger share of power.
If the existing governments do not respond to these demands as the Algerian governments ultimately did, the fundamentalists may attempt an Iranian-style revolution. This is likely to be the case in Algeria's immediate region.
Tunisia has a very strong Islamic movement, Alnahda Al Islamia, led by Rachid Alghanouchi, whose followers were a source of great agitation against the current Tunisian government. The stand-off between the government and the Islamists in Tunisia might not be solved democratically. Tunisian Islamists appear to be ready for a showdown. The attack that they launched from inside Algeria against Tunisian troops last October makes it clear that these groups are well armed.
The king of Morocco has no choice but to appease the fundamentalists of his country. This is because the king derives his legitimacy from being a descendent from the prophet.
Therefore, all the Maghrab countries with the exception of Libya may soon be under Islamic influence. The danger will be realized if these movements connect with the larger and more mature Islamic movements in Egypt.
To prevent such a connection a buffer has to be created. The only candidate for this buffer is Libya. It would be ironic to see a US policy designed to prevent fundamentalism from reaching Egypt by using Col. Muammar Qaddafi in the same way it used Saddam Hussein to combat the spread of the Islamic revolution from Iran to the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. Although that might be a geopolitical imperative, it seems to be both impractical and too late. First, Qaddafi may refuse to play such a role, since his anti-Western stance is what has spared him a concerted threat from his own fundamentalists.
Furthermore, Egypt is already threatened by the Islamic state of Sudan, the new Islamic base in Africa. Maddani, the leader of the Algerian Islamic movement, Al-Ghanoushi, the leader of the Islamic Nahda in Tunisia, and Hassan Alturabi, the force behind Islamization in Sudan, are all part of this Sudan-based movement. This movement also includes both Shokri and Al Houdaibi, the leaders of the Islamic alliance of Egypt; Alahmar, the emerging Islamic leader in Yemen; and Jordan's Muslim Brothers.
Jordan is also another candidate for Islamic dominance. The Muslim Brothers already occupy 40 percent of the parliamentary seats. The Islamists in Jordan won these seats in spite of government interference.
Under these circumstances, the Arab world seems destined to endure a vicious cycle of violence - the governments will use yet more brutal methods to suppress the opposition and the Islamic forces are likely to respond in kind. Any help from Western powers to protect the existing authoritarian regimes from collapsing will bring about results similar to those in Algeria; it will fuel anti-Western feelings and increase popular support for the fundamentalists.