The Bush administration proclaimed in 2004 that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East would be a major foreign policy theme in its second term. It has been widely perceived, not least in Washington, that this policy has failed. Yet in many ways US foreign policy has succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against the corrupt monarchies and decaying nationalist parties who have ruled the region for 50 years. The irony is that rather than turning to liberal secular parties, as the neocons assumed, Muslims have lined up behind parties most clearly seen to stand up against aggressive US intervention.
Religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely unconnected to religion. As clear and unambiguous opponents of US policy in the Middle East – in a way that, say, Musharraf, Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas are not – religious parties have benefited from legitimate Muslim anger: anger at the thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq; at the blind eye the US turns to Israel’s nuclear arsenal and colonisation of the West Bank; at the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the incarceration of thousands of Muslims without trial in the licensed network of torture centres that the US operates across the globe; and at the Islamophobic rhetoric that still flows from Bush and his circle in Washington.
Moreover, the religious parties tend to be seen by the poor, rightly or wrongly, as representing justice, integrity and equitable distribution of resources. Hence the strong showing, for example, of Hamas against the blatantly corrupt Fatah in the 2006 elections in Palestine. Equally, the dramatic rise of Hizbullah in Lebanon has not been because of a sudden fondness for sharia law, but because of the status of Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s leader, as the man who gave the Israelis a bloody nose, and who provides medical and social services for the people of South Lebanon, just as Hamas does in Gaza. [complete article]