A successful upheaval of a tyrannical government usually connotes nationalism, positivity and enthusiasm. Following the recent wave of uprisings in the Middle East — referred to as the Arab Spring — many nations are on the path toward democratization. But others have been swept up in the excitement of revolutionary spirit, allowing radical factions to gain national control. This, in turn, may lead to increased tensions between the West — specifically the United States — and the Middle East. In fact, signs of divergence have already begun to emerge.
In response to economic downturn and decades of administrative corruption and suppression of free speech, a surge of violent public resistance exploded in the Middle East — ranging from contained unrest to full blown revolutions. These rebellions have plagued the Arab world and dominated international media coverage for the past two years.
The overthrown governments in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and similar countries were indeed oppressive. At first, their removal from authority sparked optimism. Perhaps these nations were finally on their way to becoming a society that afforded their citizens the liberties they deserved.
The Western world undoubtedly hoped these changes would ease tensions, and that with this new leadership would come improved relations between the United States and many Muslims living in the affected nations. It seems, however, that the spirit of liberation that ignited these monumental changes has been mutated, lost in the noise, chaos and formalities that come with reinstating a governmental system.
The recent calamity caused by the American-made anti-Islamic film has raised questions regarding whether Egypt has made significant progress in terms of allying with the United States. After the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood party, waited to issue a statement in response to the violence until after he received an apprehensive phone call from President Barack Obama.
The Muslim Brotherhood also plays a significant role in the Syrian conflict. The Syrian National Council, an assembly of opposition groups including Muslim Brotherhood members, was the only coalition recognized by the United Kingdom at the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia last February.
While it is not an extremist group, involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamic opposition organization — warrants trouble for the fledgling administrations. Newly independent nations have made the mistake of focusing intently on religion rather than establishing democracy. A prime example is Iran. After the Shah was effectively overthrown in 1979, the religious zeal of the opposition quickly turned into a repression that justified by faith.
Libya, in contrast, has established an array of non-religious parties, and after the country successfully held its first free elections, it seemed stable. This made it all the more unexpected when a U.S. ambassador was killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Eastern Libya. According to the House Intelligence Committee, the attack seems to have been planned by religious opposition factions. Since then, American and European journalists, ambassadors and diplomats have fled the nation.
In the fervor of a revolution, average citizens are vulnerable and impressionable. It’s the transition period — just after the violence has died down and fundamental questions arise — that is the most critical and the least recognized. The cameras leave, reporters clear out and the nation is left to its own devices.
Although it is still relatively early in the rebuilding process, the coming months are crucial. First and foremost, focus must be placed on practical matters — not on religion or ideology. Both pragmatism and efficiency are key to assuring that easily swayed crowds do not lose sight of their original goal.
Nina Golshan is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected]