Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Wild Card in Arab "Democratic" Politics: Extra-Parliamentary Violence

By Barry Rubin

Consider just a small part of what's gone on in Tunisia, a relatively moderate country where the radical Islamists "only" got 40 percent of the vote and were forced to lead the country from within a coalition with moderate, secular parties.

Hundreds of Salafis rioted in several cities and set fire to police stations as well as the offices of non-Islamist parties and secular-led trade unions. A truck carrying alcoholic drinks was set ablaze, too, as were shops selling electronic goods, providing access to "immoral" entertainment.  Salafis using clubs and stones attacked police who fired in the air to escape. Shooting at the demonstrators would recall memories of the old regime and lead to even worse rioting. An art gallery whose exhibition was labelled immoral was hit with firebombs, almost killing staff members.  Eighty-six rioters were arrested; at least one man died.
But this is only the start.

Do not take this kind of thing in isolation, for it is the harbinger of a new era. In Egypt, Tunisia, and other places where the hand of dictatorship is weakened or removed, political violence--and its more self-interested sibling, crime--is going to flourish.

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On one hand, the Salafis, joined at times by Muslim Brothers, are going to burn and attack churches and strike at Christians; destroy old non-Muslim cemeteries; attack symbols of modern culture; close down aspects of secular education including university courses; harass and beat women wearing "non-Islamic" clothing; kill or injure secularists and stop them from meeting or speaking; go after Western tourists; and a whole long list of other such activities. One item on this list could well be attacks on American citizens or installations.

On the other hand, Muslim Brotherhood officials, the armed forces, and the police will only interfere if absolutely necessary to protect government property or to keep anarchy from going too far. In other words, they will not protect women seeking rights (as we saw when Salafists broke up a Cairo demonstration recently), Christians, and secularists. When Salafists strike out at Christians in Egypt, the authorities are more likely to arrest and punish the intended victims.
Why is this?...

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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