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.
Islamist politics in the Middle East cracked wide open with the Arab awakening: Islamists have emerged on top in Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, and Egypt. Western publics, lulled by the sight of iPhones and other social media at work, assumed that the demonstrations, rebellions, and regime changes were all driven by Muslim wannabe Westerners and that Islamist politics were relics of the past.
But when dictators started to fall, it shouldn’t have been any surprise that Islamists quickly came out on top. This wasn’t a conspiracy. Islamists have paid their dues many times over for decades as the only group with a clear regional identity, a vision, a courage, and a willingness to suffer the harsh responses of dictators.
They spoke out, went to prison, and sometimes died. Brave doesn’t always mean correct, but it means they garnered the respect of the public. Western-style liberals couldn’t really fill up the main square on a good day, although the participation of a new generation of youth with idealism and drive is evidence of an exciting new generation of activists.
Islamists make Westerners nervous, sometimes with good reason. We have seen what the most fanatic and worst of them can do – 9/11, primitive Taliban forces, and backwards views toward women. But Islamists have also been driven by a Muslim nationalist zeal, fueled by hostility to past Western political domination and wars brought to their own lands.
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