Paul Lachine

The Arab Wars of Religion

The Arab revolts have vindicated the assumption that, in most Arab societies, toppling secular autocracies inevitably means opening the door to Islamic democracies. In this context, one hopes that Egypt’s defeated Islamists will move from the politics of vengeance to a recognition that democracy is not a zero-sum game.

MADRID – Throughout the Arab world, a struggle between two major historical forces, religion and secularism, is now unfolding. It is the type of battle between Caesar and God that took Europe centuries to resolve. The future of the Arab Middle East will be decided in the fight between Syria’s Sunni insurgents, supported throughout the region by the Saudi Wahhabis – the patrons of religious fundamentalism – and its secular Baath regime; between the fundamentalist Hamas and the secular PLO in Palestine; and between Egypt’s young secular opposition, forged in the protests of Tahrir Square, and the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafists.

So far, the Arab revolts have vindicated the assumption that, given the structure of most Arab societies, toppling secular autocracies inevitably means opening the door to Islamic democracies. We saw that dynamic play out in Algeria in the early 1990’s, with the Islamic Salvation Front’s first-round victory in a parliamentary election (which prompted the cancellation of the second round); with Hamas’s electoral victory in Palestine in 2006; and, most recently, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic rise to power in Egypt.

In both Algeria and Egypt, secular forces were incapable of stemming political Islam’s rise, which could be cut short only by a military takeover. The Algerian military coup eventually ushered in a bloody civil war that is estimated to have taken more than 200,000 lives.

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