Last week, Time Magazine named ‘The Protestor’ as its Person of the Year.
Myself, I’d be tempted to bestow the honorific upon ‘The Islamist’. For, in the spirit of the Time award, it is the Islamists, rather than the revolutionaries, who are now in the
ascendancy in the Middle East. Governments in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all now partly ruled by democratically-elected, if relatively moderate, Islamists.
Next year will be about how they manage their newfound power. It will be not about ‘political Islam’, but ‘governmental Islam’. Many wonder if there is such a thing as
moderate Islam, and whether all Islamist governments tend towards theocratic rule. Now we are in a position where time will tell.
Having spent much of 2011 in the Middle East, I share the concerns that many have about the Islamists. After all, Egyptian Salafists have a troglodytic worldview. But I also believe that there’s
reason to be hopeful. In the border region between Morocco and Algeria where I’m spending New Year people are happy with the newly-elected Islamic government and, when asked, expect it to refrain
from imposing any kind of Koranic social order.
Besides, as I’ve blogged before, there is much empirical data to suggest that Islamic parties lose popularity when tasked with government. I don’t see why, facing socio-economic problems, it would
be different in, say, Egypt — unless the West gives the Islamist an excuse.
So what should the West’s role be? Whatever it is, expect it to be limited. The West did not inspire or, with the exception of Libya, help the upheavals in the Middle East. And now our aid to these
countries is so limited that making it conditional upon certain positive changes will have no effect. But the West must, for what it’s worth, insist that Islamic governments uphold the laws and
treaties Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have signed up to. And it must, as Fraser has said,
do what it can to protect those minorities — such as Christians — who are at risk of persecution.
That these challenges and questions lie ahead is testament to just how much the Islamists have achieved in 2011. And that, CoffeeHousers, is why they would be my alternative Person of the Year.