There has been a growing controversy over the past two years regarding the creation of an alliance between political Islam and the American project in the region, especially after the increased polarisation surrounding the Syrian Revolution, on one hand, and the course of democratic transformation in the Arab Spring countries on the other.
The dramatic transformation of the relations between the left-wing and nationalist trends, on one hand, and the Islamic political trend on the other began with the launch of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. Most Islamic parties sided with the Syrian popular revolution while most left-wing and nationalist parties sided with the Syrian regime to face an international “conspiracy” against Syria.
This transformation led to a state of political repulsion that went back five decades, when the conflict between the nationalist and left-wing parties and the Islamic forces, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, was at its peak; this was after the battle between Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Brotherhood in Egypt. The positive relations and political alliances between the Islamists, Arab nationalists and left-wing parties pitted them against the tyrannical regimes which rarely distinguished between one trend and another in any case, but they were brought to an end.
In addition to the polarisation over Syria, there have been disputes over the path of the democratic transformation in the Arab Spring countries, in Egypt and Tunisia in particular. Have they fuelled conflict and political polarisation between Islamic forces and nationalist and left-wing trends following the removal of the previous dictators? They have always stood together to reject and resist the policies of the ousted regimes regarding dependency upon and identification with the American project in the region.
Such polarisation after Islamist election victories has seen the newly-empowered Islamic movements accusing their opponents of challenging the “Islamic identity” of the nation. The nationalists and secularists have, in turn, accused the new governments of allying themselves with the Americans and “betraying” the revolution in the process. Close examination fails to justify either approach.
Most of the political evidence presented for the claim that political Islam has allied itself with the US is based on the positions taken with regards to the Syrian conflict. Nationalist and left-wing trends believe that the Islamists’ support for the Syrian revolution is actually part of the plot against the Syrian regime as a member of the so-called “Axis of Resistance”. It is claimed that they are throwing themselves into the lap of the American project through its mediators in the region: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
It must be kept in mind that there is actually a plot against Syria, but it is not against the regime, whose legitimacy fell along with tens of thousands of Syrian citizens at the hands of its army and gangs. The plot, in reality, is against the Syrian state as it represents one of the pillars of the Arab region that could pose a threat to Israel.
It is interesting that the supporters of the Syrian regime do not acknowledge that the regime itself is responsible for opening the conspiracy door; it did not listen to the advice of its friends who have now been accused of scheming against it, including Turkey, Qatar and Hamas. All took a very moderate position at the beginning of the revolution and urged the Syrian president to carry out reforms to avoid the destruction of the country. If Al-Assad had listened to them when the popular demands of the Syrian people were limited, Syria would not have become the “playground” for regional and international intelligence agencies that it is today.
As far as Hamas is concerned, the Islamic Resistance Movement stayed more or less neutral for a long time; for so long, in fact, that this was at no risk to its own credibility. The movement only moved towards a stronger position when the regime’s crimes became intolerable even when weighed up against political considerations. Furthermore, when accusations of being allied with the US were being made Hamas fought-off a bloody Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. Although committed to a truce, the resistance continues to develop its military capacity to defend its people from Israeli aggression. This is about as far away from support for an American agenda as one can get.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, despite its support for the Syrian revolution, has only expelled the Syrian ambassador from Cairo. President Morsi rejected the idea of foreign interference and favoured an Arab resolution to the crisis, even in his most spirited speeches made before he was overthrown by the coup. How can this position be described as consistent with the US agenda when he was committed to reject foreign interference in Syria?
Morsi’s position on the Israeli attack on Gaza is an example of how political Islam deals with the issues of the region while in government. He supported the Palestinians and presented their point of view in the negotiations with the Israelis in stark contrast to his predecessor Hosni Mubarak who had been the godfather of the Israeli position and put pressure on the Palestinians in times of conflict.
It is true that Morsi should have done more than this, but the military coup proved that he was constrained during his year in office by elements of the Mubarak regime, the so-called “deep state”, including the army leadership. His hands were tied.
Those who accuse Turkey of linking itself too closely with America should look at how Prime Minister Erdogan has adopted very progressive positions regarding regional issues, even though there are still economic ties with Israel.
Similarities in state-held positions are no proof of alliances. If they were, it could be said that Iran and America are allies because they both wanted to see Saddam Hussain overthrown; or because they both work against the Taliban in Afghanistan. It could also be said that Egyptian nationalist and secularist trends are tied to the US because they all support the coup against democracy along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Is there an ideological basis to an “alliance” between Islamists and America? Opponents argue that this is clear because the Islamists do not prioritise the struggle against America and Zionism. Instead, their priority is the establishment of the state.
The history of Islamic political movements shows that their emergence had two goals: resistance against colonialism and the application of Islamic law. Rivalry and hostility between the West and Islamic movements arose because of their position on the Palestinian cause, independence from colonialism and the “westernisation” of their cultures and politics.
History, of course, is open to different interpretations, but those following developments in the region have noted that the idea of an “Islamic state” has often morphed into a “national state”, especially as far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned. This has seen the movement face a lot of criticism from other Islamists who have gone as far as accusing the Brotherhood of adopting a secular approach.
The political manifestos of Al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, for example, are full of principles that enshrine the idea of national independence and Arab integration. They want their countries to be equal players on the world stage. It is evident that they are as keen as any nationalist or secular group to resist colonialism in the region.
Statements by US Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, both Republicans, that what happened in Egypt was indeed a coup do not signal support for or from the Muslim Brotherhood. They must also be considered along with Washington’s official view to the contrary. Continued US aid for the Egyptian military is another indicator that no alliance between Islamists in Egypt and the US exists.
In this context it must be borne in mind that Western politicians have had to appear not to support a military takeover while also supporting the resultant army-backed regime. They have had to compromise in order to maintain the facade of their democratic credentials.
Taking statements out of context to show that the American right-wing supports the Islamists is nothing but playing with words. The Islamists can come up with dozens of statements made by the US, the West and Israel which support the coup and thus “prove” that the left-wing and nationalist trend has an alliance with the Americans.
Such accusations from both sides have been made in the heat of political and ideological conflict and should not be taken too seriously. All groups should set aside the polarisation and try to be objective in order to be fair. That, after all, is what democracy is supposed to be about.
Translated from the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera Net on 27 August, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.