WASHINGTON: Other Western nations must come to grips with a new democratic Middle East, dominated by Islamic movements, even if the United States under President George W. Bush rejects the results of its promotion of democracy in the region, a prominent Egyptian democracy activist said Wednesday.
Writing in The Washington Post, Saad Eddin Ibrahim said groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are not inimical to democracy. All three recorded major successes in recent elections, only to be shunned as terrorists by the Bush administration.
Such Islamic groups have accepted electoral systems and practiced electoral politics, probably too well for Washington s taste, Ibrahaim said. Whether we like or not, these are the facts.
Ibrahim, a secular sociology professor at the American University of Cairo who also carries a U.S. passport, was arrested by the government of President Hosni Mubarak in 2000, bringing criticism from the United States.
In a series of retrials, he was sentenced to seven years in prison but then was acquitted in 2003 and freed after a year in detention. He has been writing his prison memoirs at a Washington policy research group.
In the Post article, Ibrahim backed up his assertions by citing preliminary results of an opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldoun Center, which Ibrahim founded, to rank regional public figures ranked by perceived importance.
Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, the face of the Lebanese Shiite militia during the recent war with Israel, appeared on 82 percent of responses. Next was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 73 percent; Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, 60 percent; Al-Qaeda s Osama bin Laden, 52 percent; and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt s Muslim Brotherhood, 45 percent.
Egypt s population is overwhelmingly dominated by Islam s Sunni sect, as are Al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet the Shiite Arab Nasrallah and Persian Ahmadinejad ranked far ahead of the others.
The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic, Ibrahim wrote. And among the few secular public figures that made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti, 31 percent, and Egypt s Ayman Nour, 29 percent, both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively.
None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures.
While subject to future fluctuations, Ibrahim said, these findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept.
He said the Arab people are, at best, ambivalent about leaders they consider fanatical Islamists, such as bin Laden.
More mainstream Islamists, with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide, are the most likely actors in developing the new Middle East, Ibrahim said.