Political Islam and the Middle East’s Missing Democracies

Responding to the recent failed coup in Turkey, and the successful one in Egypt in 2012, Yaroslav Trofimov reflects on the failure of democracy to take hold in the Muslim Middle East:

This cycle of conflict—between the entrenched “deep state,” dominated by a country’s military and security establishments, and Islamist parties eager to grab as much power as possible whenever elected due to their wholly legitimate fears that they won’t otherwise be allowed to govern—has been a major reason why democracy has failed to take root in the Middle East.

Tainted by their associations with the West or with autocratic regimes long in power, liberal and secular parties have struggled to emerge as a third option in much of the region. And democracy, after all, is a tough proposition when neither of the two major forces now shaping the Middle East’s politics—the old-guard autocrats and the Islamist movements—truly believes in it. . . .

This democracy problem is linked not so much with Islam, an ancient religion, as with political Islam—a modern ideology developed in 20th-century Egypt, in part, to redress the Middle East’s backwardness compared with the West. Its founding fathers in the Muslim Brotherhood met violent deaths . . . but their ideas took root throughout the Middle East after the repeated failures of autocratic regimes that preached the rival ideas of socialism and Arab nationalism. Offshoots of the Brotherhood now represent the dominant political movements from Morocco to Turkey to the Gaza Strip.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Egypt, Islam, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics & Current Affairs

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict