October 31st, 2011
01:40 PM ET

Success of Arab Spring depends on Islamists' commitment to democracy

Editor's NoteDaoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He is also the founder of AmmanNet, the Arab world's first internet radio station.

By Daoud Kuttab - Special to CNN

Whatever is going to emerge of the new Arab leadership, in the form of ideology, there is little doubt that Islamists will have a prominent role in Arab politics. As it stands now, this new Islamic power will be moderate and accommodating of other opinions. Whether this tolerance of other points of view will last is too early to tell.

Islamists of some form have emerged as front-runners in the first Tunisian elections; they are a major power in the Libyan revolution; they are expected to do well in the upcoming Egyptian elections; an they are among the leading force in the Syrian revolt.

In all these cases, Islamists have shown an unusually high level of willingness to make alliances and work with secular leftists. Many are using the Turkish model as an example of a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist party working fairly within a democratic system without trying to hijack and monopolize power.

International reaction to the current crop of Islamists has been positive. It is not clear why the Western world, which rejected Islamic rule in Algeria (France) and rejected it in Palestine (U.S.) has changed its reaction with the emergence of the present generation of Islamists.

Did the West realise that it needs to deal with Islamists, otherwise it will find itself totally outside the Arab Spring? Or does it see in the current Islamists a moderate force that it can live with?

Secular forces in the Arab world are emerging as the second largest group in many Arab countries that are witnessing the Arab Spring. It is not clear whether these new leftist secular powers are the same that have been around in the Arab world or if they are a reincarnation of liberal forces wishing to separate religion from politics.

For decades, the Arab world was ruled by non-ideological Arab secularists who co-opted various political forces to support their long years in office by presenting themselves as the wall holding off radical Islamists from power. Western countries, with encouragement from Israel, bought this myth. Ironically, the September 11 events brought an end to these very secular dictators as their worn-out goods were exposed for what they were.

The election of an American president whose rhetoric was encouraging, coupled with the Internet Technology revolution and the growing unemployment rates among a young Arab population brought an end to these dictators.

Unlike leftists and nationalists (Baathists and others) who were co-opted and supported or ran regimes, Islamists of different colors were always targeted as the enemies of the powers to be and thus had to develop resistance and survival skills. Leading among these skills were organisation and discipline.

So with the relatively short period between the fall of dictators and elections in many Arab countries, it is not surprising that these Islamists (whether moderate or not) are bound to do well in early elections. Organization and discipline, therefore, will play into Islamists’ hands in early elections.

However, if they do not perform well or cannot turn around the economy and jobs (an almost impossible mission) others who will have had time and experience will challenge them the next round of elections. As long as there is another round of elections.

This could be one reason that many people are optimistic.

Now that the Arabs have discovered and tasted freedom and the mechanism of power sharing through elections, no one, including Islamists will be able to take it away from them. And if they try, people power will gang up on them. The Arab Spring will produce a mix of individuals subscribing to old and new ideologies. But as long as they are committed to power sharing and the voluntary nonviolent transfer of power, the revolution and the sacrifices would have been worth it.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Daoud Kuttab.

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Topics: Islam • Middle East

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    Islame and democracy?!!!! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!! That's too funny!!!!!!!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    It depends on what one might consider "success" of the so-called "Arab Spring". To the right-wing thugs in Washington and Barack Obama in particular, this "success" will be measured by the decline of Islam in that part of the world and the willingness of the Muslims to submit to NATO domination. Meanwhile, both Libya and Iraq now have become pseudo-democracies!

    October 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  3. Thinker23

    Success of democracy means just that... Democratically elected and periodically replaced government, equal right to all regardless of race, religion, gender and political orientation, freedom of speech and movement, etc.

    October 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    "Now that the Arabs have discovered and tasted freedom and the mechanism of power sharing through elections",
    The Islamists in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have to re-invent themselves after having toppled their old regimes. The post revolutionary period poses a new challange for them as well.

    October 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  5. Mycology

    this Fakestinian "palestinian" couldn't help but blame Israel.

    October 31, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Reply
    • derek

      palestine is fake?
      here is an idea:
      why dont we gather all the jews from around, put them in a country, a few years later invade that country and call it isreal. whoever is defending that country we will call them terrorists. oh wait, we already did that with fakeistan!
      damn it, these terrorist are fighting for a fake country.
      YOU ARE FUNNY my friend.

      November 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Reply
      • Punkass

        Are you actually claiming that 6 million jews dont have the right to live in a land they have lived in for thousands of years? All this while they are surrounded by hundreds of millions of muslims who control the rest of the region activitely pursue they're destruction? Seriously? You might be insane.

        November 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • chad cox

      all he said was that Israel wanted some of these long ruling dictators to stay... case and point, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt... who kept their order secure, but opressed his people and stole the countries money. Israel and the US turned a blind eye to all that. these are undisputed facts. So don't get your jewish panties in a bunch.

      November 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
      • chad cox


        November 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  6. shimon

    and the world buys into the crap that palestinians are a poor little people oppressed by the mighty israel which according to arab sources just decided one day to invade and conquer the "existing" state of palestine. nothing about the wars they made to destroy israel,totally unprovoked.nothing about how we took the west bank from JORDAN in a DEFENSIVE war

    November 1, 2011 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • derek

      mighty israel lollllllllllllllllll
      good one!

      November 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  7. To_the_Champions_of_Democracy

    The question that really begs to be asked is not if Islam can embrace democracy rather, if democracy can embrace Islam. We saw one example of Championship of democracy just yesterday when US cut funding for UNESCO when majority chose to vote in opposite way. I think people in those Arab lands and most other regions will do just fine if policemen of the world could stay out mind their own business......but wait a minute. When the biggest money making industry for you is selling weapons, a peaceful world with not so many conflicts really does not serve your best economic interests, so policemen of the world can't help staying away. After all we are champions of democracy. Take it and chew it now.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • John

      Good posting above. Thank you.

      November 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  8. Tom

    Democracy is not nearly as important as a Bill of Rights that gives freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to speak your mind, and so many more freedoms. The problem is that many of these Islamists champion Sharia law, which has been proved to be anti-democratic by EU courts. Sharia law has punishment for apostasy and eliminates many rights for non-Muslims in Islamic courts among other things. If the Islamists can control themselves and give freedoms to ALL people in their countries including NON-MUSLIMS then the Arab Spring will truly be a good thing. In the end, it is not up to the West to decide for the people of the Middle East. The West should mind its own business and save its own money and blood and get out of the Middle East after the West becomes energy independent.

    November 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  9. jesse

    Diper-heads have not a clue about democracy or democratic values.
    All 3 religions of Abraham suck!
    Islam really sucks! It sucks the most.
    & I'm an Iranian Moslem, born & raised, & i really hate this religion.
    Then I hate Judisim the most, Judisim really sucks too.
    Christianity sucks a little less, it sucks never the less.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  10. jesse

    Both Jews & Muslims are filled with hatred of each other & everybody else, that why I hate them both.
    I don't hate Christians, except those very religious ones like the Evangelists.
    I hate religious people if I know about your love of your religion.
    If you keep it to yourself, then I respect you & love you.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  11. Capricorn

    CNN keeps re-inventing Islam just to try and sell it as a peaceful religion to Americans

    November 2, 2011 at 6:33 am | Reply

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