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Regime Change in the Arab World

As Islamists have embraced democracy, the West has mistakenly rejected Islamic democracy. Only by enabling Islamist forces to participate openly in politics can the appeal of jihadism be reduced.

Four years into a disastrous military adventure in Iraq and with the global war on terror against ill-defined forces of darkness still inconclusive, the collapse of America’s grand strategy has exposed how ill-conceived was its simplistic recipe for democratic change in the Arab world.

The paradox is that America might be winning the war for Arab democracy, even if by default, but cannot reap the benefits, simply because the emerging pattern of Islamic pluralistic politics does not coincide with the West’s brand of secular liberal democracy. The shift of the Arab world’s mainstream fundamentalist movements to democratic politics is tantamount to a repudiation of the jihadist project and of al-Qaeda’s apocalyptic strategies. The failure of jihadism is paving the way for a potentially promising restructuring of Islamic politics, but the West either doesn’t recognize the changes or is hostile to them.

The rise of Islamists throughout the region as the sole power capable of exploiting the opportunities of free elections – Hamas’ victory in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood’s spectacular gains in the 2005 Egyptian elections are but the most noteworthy – the ascendancy to regional hegemony of Shiite Iran, and the sense among Arab rulers that the embattled Bush administration is running out of steam have all combined to stall the promising drive to political reform in the region.

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