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Should the Islamists be punished for being the most organised?

In 2006, the US, Israel, Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority (PA), dominated by the secular Fatah movement, decided to end the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. They planned to drag Hamas into the PA which is itself a creation of the notorious Oslo Accords.


The argument then was that Hamas would be a minority in the Palestinian parliament and in any vote to place Palestinian arms solely in the hands of the PA security agencies. At a stroke, the Hamas military wing would have been delegitimised and its arms would have been submitted to official PA control. That was the plan.

Fatah’s own polling predictions for the 2006 election, along with those supported by international governments and organisations, said that Hamas would not win more than 25 per cent of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Islamic Resistance Movement actually won 63 per cent of the seats and swept to power. This was a shock not only to the Western alliance against the Islamists but also to the Hamas leadership.

What was even more of a surprise for all those parties is that Hamas got more than 63 per cent in the 2006 parliamentary election; Fatah and the West decided not to cooperate with Hamas and Fatah decided not to take part in any government formed by the Islamists. Indeed, Fatah started to implement an American plan to destabilise the Palestinian territories after it already stopped all financial support to the Hamas-led PA in order to put the financial burden onto the Islamic group’s back. The then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called this “creative chaos”.

Despite this, Hamas survived and in the face of a US-Israel sponsored coup attempt by a faction within Fatah, led by Muhammad Dahlan, the Hamas government drove out the Fatah-controlled security forces from the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Senior Fatah officials fled to Egypt or through Israel to the occupied West Bank. With international support, PA President Mahmoud Abbas overruled the electoral will of the people and dismissed the Hamas government, creating an entity based in Ramallah which was recognised by Israel and the West as “the Palestinian Authority”; the legitimate, elected PA, meanwhile, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, struggled on in the face of a total boycott by the international community. Most of the Hamas parliamentarians living in the West Bank were detained by the Israeli occupation authorities backed by the Ramallah PA. Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its Islamist government has been in place since 2007, supported by Egypt and the West.

Although the Islamists did not ignite the sparks of the Arab Spring revolutions, they became the backbone of each one. They form the core of the popular movements in Jordan and Morocco as well as Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, in Morocco, once sanctions against Islamist parties were lifted by the king, the Islamists won the elections and formed the government.

In Libya, the Islamist opposition was the first group to be organised but they were isolated with few external supporters. The country was misled by secularists adopting a fig-leaf of Islamic credentials, aided by a news and media blackout.

In Egypt, the Islamist activists lived most of their lives either in jail or in exile. They faced the confiscation of their property and tough opposition in colleges and unions despite their transparency. Nevertheless, they overcame all of this, as well as a strong campaign of vilification in the local and international media to triumph in numerous consecutive elections and a national referendum.

Regional and international opposition to Islamist rule in Egypt was obvious. Ex-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to warn that the Copts would be wiped off the map of Egypt if Mohamed Morsi became president. Research has shown that a huge amount of money was spent on undermining Morsi’s government, using the media and opposition groups. Human rights groups and countries which claim to promote justice and democracy maintained an awkward silence in the face of such a vicious campaign against the democratic will of the Egyptian people, simply because they had voted for Islamists.

In Tunisia, most intellectuals believe that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were created by the US; they point to the fact that, until today, they have done nothing to benefit Islam and Muslims, whose interests around the world have been damaged by Al-Qaeda activities. Once again, therefore, it is suggested that “Al-Qaeda” in Tunisia is actually being promoted by hostile states in order to undermine the Islamist government led by Al-Nahda Party.

Extra-judicial killing is forbidden in Islam, so it is improbable that the assassinations of two Tunisian opposition leaders this year were carried out by Islamists. Moreover, it is quite possible that the killings were carried out in order to discredit the Islamist government and provide ammunition to support calls for the government to step down.

Why does the international community not defend the democratic choice of Muslim societies who vote for Islamist governments? Much blood is spilt in other places in defence of democracy but when Islamists are involved either nothing is done or the world makes a concerted effort to destroy democracy. What happened in Egypt was a classic example; how can a military coup – which the US still refuses to call a coup – be, in the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, “restoring democracy”? The fact that the coup government is working to strengthen the siege of Gaza, which benefits only the Israelis, speaks volumes.

Opponents of Islamists elected in democratic elections have the chance to defeat the government in future elections, so why do secularists and liberals across the region seek to destroy democratically-elected Islamist governments, ironically all in the name of “democracy”? What sort of democracy is that? In seeking to impose secular and liberal values on conservative Muslim countries, they are doing the exact thing that they accuse the Islamists of doing; the imposition of ideas and policies on society against the will of the people.

It is very clear from a close scrutiny of the opposition groups in Islamist-led countries that parties such as Al-Nahda and the Muslim Brotherhood are being punished for being too well organised and more than capable of winning elections. Nothing else explains the opposition to their governments which, it is also very clear, is anything but democratic or based on the best interests of the electorate.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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