Moncef Marzouki, the president of Tunisia, writes: The violent demonstrations that have spread across the Muslim world in recent weeks have convinced many in the United States and Europe that the Arab revolutions that began in late 2010 are now over and that the democratic project has failed. Bitterness and a sense of impending catastrophe are replacing the enthusiasm that followed the toppling of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt last year.
Now there is ominous talk of an “Islamist Fall” and “Salafi Winter” after a supposedly failed Arab Spring. To these skeptics, religion is the driving force in Arab politics, and hateful anti-Western slogans and the killing of America’s ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, are evidence of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.
While these fears are understandable, such alarmism is misplaced. The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West. They remain fundamentally about social justice and democracy — not about religion or establishing Shariah law.
The democratization of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries has allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system. But it has also definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Islamists are political actors like any others: they are no more pure, more united or more immune from criticism than anyone else.
Islamist parties are now free to take part in political debates and to win seats in legislatures and governments. However, these political changes have also rendered the divisions among Islamists more apparent than ever before. [Continue reading…]