There is a war, or rather wars, taking place in the Middle East between political Islam and ruling regimes, and most observers note that on one side of these wars stands a group of states and governments while the other includes religious, extremist, and militant groups and organisations. The current scene may bring to mind the era of the sixties in Latin America and perhaps even East Asia, when a number of states and governments loyal to the United States in Latin and South America entered into various wars against leftist groups and organisations at the time.
We can note that the guerrilla warfare used by Islamist groups now is similar to the style employed by radical leftist groups in the sixties from a military tactics perspective, with some fundamental differences resulting from distinct intellectual references. We can say that superficial analysts and observers alone would have thought that the wars of the sixties revolved around groups and states on the one hand and armed gangs on the other. But anyone who looked deeper into the situation was able to see that one of the most important reasons behind these wars was the muffled conflict between the Soviet Union and the US, or what was known at the time as the Cold War.
Local and regional conflicts broke out against the backdrop of contradictions and local or regional causes in a number of countries and regions, but we can say that one reason these conflicts broke out was a result of a polarising desire in the world at that time: avoiding conflict between the Soviet Union and the US, with some even ignoring the local and regional conflicts that broke out and focusing only on the international aspect.
It was understood that these conflicts were “proxy wars” that took place during a moment where a clash could take place between the two poles of the world at that time, the Americans and the Soviets. This could have lead to the destruction of humanity in light of both nations owning weapons of mass destruction capable of destroying the earth more than once. In order to affirm the validity of this analysis, experts point out, for example, that armed leftist groups in Latin America received support from Cuba under Castro’s rule, and Cuba, in turn, used to receive support from the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, the US supported the ruling regimes that fought these groups. Does this mean that these wars were created and driven by Soviet and American pressure only? In other words, did these wars not take place for local or regional reasons? Were there not specific social and political forces that favoured one party over another? The answer is a resounding no.
In all of the countries where civil or regional wars took place during that, there were social and political contradictions which transformed into sharp polarisation between two parties which quickly formed civil and regional wars. However, we can say that this polarisation could have either precipitated wars or failed to do so due to a lack of capabilities on part of one side or another. But when those capabilities and Soviet or US support were available, the sharp political conflict would transform into an armed conflict more easily. We can also say that the continuation of armed conflict for long periods as a result of an inability on part of either party to win the conflict was a logical consequence of feeding or supporting parties from two different poles. Therefore, when the Cold War, came to an end with the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin wall, a new era of strategic thinking was ushered in by the US in a new world order which did not have a place for local or regional wars.
We will not go into the extent to which this prophecy or wish was fulfilled, as the collapse of the bipolar global system was supposed to lead to peace and stability either in a multipolar or unipolar world. We will simply conclude from the above that the wars of the ‘60s had the potential to continue for many years in a game of cat and mouse, whether in Latin America or East Asia, and without Soviet support. We will also simply conclude that the regimes of these countries could have persisted without American support. We must therefore ask how the forces of armed political Islam are a party to the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, in addition to their presence as terrorist forces capable of directing painful blows toward Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria.
Lastly, how can the forces of armed political Islam form a security threat to the countries of the Gulf and North Africa, but even further extend their ability to threaten the security of Arab and Islamic countries to Europe? In other words, who is supporting armed Islamist groups? Are there nations and governments supporting these groups, and who are they? Only yesterday, it was apparent that the parties supporting this party or that were not doing this secretly, and openly supported whatever group they thought was deserving. It is now clear that supporters of extremist armed groups do so in secret and do not reveal their identities.
We may also ask: Have governments in the Middle East been, and will continue to be, against armed Islamist groups? This question leads us directly to another that may be more important: Are the major powers – meaning specifically the US and its allies – against armed Islamist groups, or has there been a split among the major powers on this matter? Is this division, if there is one, split horizontally so that some Western countries are with Islamism and others are not, or is it vertical, dividing some major political movements within Western countries against Islamism with others for it? If a division does exist within the major powers, regardless of whether it is vertical or horizontal, wouldn’t it be logical for there to be a similar split in the Middle East?
To answer these questions, we must know the strategic nature of terrorist forces, and in the beginning we must note that there is more than one strategy in dealing with terrorism and extremists. These different strategies are not local ones related only to political forces or the region. Instead, they are international strategies that contributed to the first climax of diverse local, regional, and international forces during and after World War II, but these strategies only crystallised and became clear and distinctive with the passage of time, especially during the Cold War and beyond.
Thus we can say that the appearance of the forces of political Islam on this stage imposed on all local and international forces a need to classify them and establish appropriate strategies for dealing with the groups. However, these forces would not have crystallised if society was not ripe for the emergence of these forces for a diverse range of economic, social, political, and cultural reasons. If the emergence was nothing more than an emergence, it would have objective, logical causes that may not expand in this regard. It also relates to the strategies of these forces for dealing with political Islam. Perhaps shedding light on these strategies and studying their influence on the ongoing wars will be the subject of our next conversation, God-willing.
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party