Islamists on defensive throughout Middle East

 

Political leaders in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan have sided with the Egyptian military and secularists who backed the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

On the streets of Cairo over the weekend, mobs and snipers attacked Morsi supporters, forcing security forces accused of slaughtering the Islamists to stand between them and the mob. The violence in Egypt echoes similar, though less deadly, backlashes against a recently installed Islamic ruling party in Tunisia, and one in power since 2002 in Turkey.

“The Egyptian uprising two years ago was against the Egyptian army,” says Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. But after one year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, “Suddenly (Egyptians) are coming out in the streets seeing the army as their savior.”

Egypt’s anti-Brotherhood uprising has caused at least 900 deaths in clashes so far, with the latest deaths being 25 policemen killed Monday by masked gunmen on the Sinai Peninsula, an area of frequent clashes between Islamist militants and security forces. It comes after the May-June Gezi Park protests in Turkey against what protesters there described as the creeping authoritarianism of that country’s Islamist ruling party and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the Islamist Ennhada party has been deadlocked with secularists demanding it step aside and allow a caretaker government to take charge. Secularists emboldened by Morsi’s ouster in Egypt took to the streets there three weeks ago after the assassination of a second secularist politician this year by Islamist gunmen.

“We’ve seen a backlash against the first wave of political actors of the immediate post-revolutionary moment,” says Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Whether secularists “are making a play everywhere” is unclear, Satloff says, and Gulf states are following their own national interests.

Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are supporting the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But they are also supporting the Brotherhood in other arenas, such as Syria, where Brotherhood and other Islamist fighters are trying to topple a Shiite- and Iranian-backed tyrant, Bashar Assad.

The Gulf states want stability and to counter Shiite expansion in Syria and Iraq, so they support Islamists when it fits their national interests, Satloff says.

“If you’re looking for consistency this is not the region to do it,” he notes.

Aaron Zelin, who runs the Jihadology blog, an archive of primary source jihadi documents, says the Arab uprising caused people across the region to speak and act when they feel wronged by their leaders, but it’s far too early to count the Islamists out.

The military crackdown in Egypt has brought together all the strands of Islamists, causing ultra-conservative Salafists to join with jihadists in backing the non-violent Brotherhood, Zelin said. All want an Islamist state, and they see the crackdown as an affront against them all.

“They’re taking a beating now, but they’ll be back,” Zelin says.

(Source / 19.08.2013)

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