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Global Viewpoint

Arab Spring: now begins the education of Islamist politicians

In Tunisia and Egypt, Islamists are being elected into office to take on the daunting policy problems of their neglected societies. But Islamists, too, will be chucked out of office if they can’t deliver the goods. And they know it.

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Islamists, united by shared years in the dungeons, now differ with each other in the atmosphere of greater political freedom. They are not rejecting, but playing in, the political game. If a pious, well-meaning but isolated bearded sheikh can’t play in the political arena and manage the country, Islamists don’t want to go down with the ideological ship.

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In Turkey 10 years ago, a secularized public voted for a party with Islamist roots, the ruling Justice and Development Party, not because it was pious but because it proved it could run municipalities, and it went on to major successes at the national level. It wasn’t about Islam, it was about the economy, services, smart politics. And it has prospered now for over a decade to become a model of what an Islamist party can become.

There are smart and stupid Islamists, competent and incompetent, popular and unpopular. Some will come to office and quickly flail and fail; others will demonstrate vision and management skills. Public demand and expectations will soon sort them out.

Above all, the West must allow these processes to unfold unhindered inside each country. Past Western support to Middle East dictators to “keep the lid on” have cost the West dearly, stirred up deep hostility against it, and have severely retarded the political learning curve of Middle East societies. Will some of them prove failures? For sure.

As the spectrum of Islamist politics widens, there will be periods of chaos, learning, and uncertainty. Look at the excesses of numerous Western countries during the 20th century – Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Russia, Greece, or Japan – and the massive institutional corruption that characterizes so much of Western politics today.

Muslim political behavior in the end is just like that of other groups of people: similar hopes and aspirations, similar angers against oppression, similar hatred of invaders, similar resistance to hegemonic powers. There are no mysteries here. The daily tumultuous unfolding of events shows that Muslim politics are slowly crawling back on the road from the frozen tundra of the autocrats.

Graham E. Fuller is the former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA; his most recent book is “A World Without Islam.”

© 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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