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Fareed speaks with Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, and Emma Sky, former chief political adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, about recent advances by ISIS.
Shadi, I want to pick up on something that you point out in your book that explains, I think, why you have a situation where you have all these brutal dictators on the one hand, and you have groups like ISIS on the other. It’s that the dictators, the leaders of the Arab world, are actually much more threatened by moderate opposition groups than they are by extreme opposition groups. They kind of like the idea that the only alternative to them is al Qaeda, right?
Hamid: Yes. I mean groups like ISIS are perfect for dictators like Bashar al-Assad because he can point to them and say, well, this is what you get when you have an opening of political space. And I think one of the most dangerous developments of the past three years is that you did have mainstream Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, they're deeply illiberal. They're religiously conservative. We as Americans don't share their values. But they do believe in the democratic process. They're not using violence like groups like ISIS. They tried to work through the process in countries like Egypt and, of course, there was a military coup last year. There was a devastating crackdown.
So now, groups like ISIS are saying forget about the Muslim Brotherhood approach, they're gradualists, they're soft. They're saying we can give you the Islamic State not in 20 years or 50 years, we can give it to you right now, through brute force, through violence. And what I'm really worried about now is violence is working in today's Middle East. That is one of the legacies, ironically, of the Arab Spring.
Emma, what do you think about this issue, looking at it on the ground in Iraq? You saw these Sunni extremist groups. You saw Shia, you know, militias of various kinds. If we support some of these guys, will they turn out to stay moderate?
Sky: I think when you speak to ordinary people across the Middle East, what they want for their lives is similar to what people all over the world want – they want to live in safety, they want to send their kids to school, they will be able to earn a living. We can't say that the only choice for these people is either Iranian-backed sectarian authoritarian regime or al Qaeda-ISIS type. That can’t be the only choice given to them.
So I think there’s the potential to build a different type of government.