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Friday, December 29, 2006




The Darwinian Evolution in the Middle East

As the forces loyal to the provisional government supported by Ethiopia are approaching Mogadishu the ICU defenses appear to have collapsed without giving one serious fight since their hapless attempt to take Baidoa a few days ago. It is reported from Mogadishu that the Islamists have melted away leaving the city to looters. The old style clan militias are already taking control and erecting checkpoints across Mogadishu.

Many analysts say that the blitz krieg inflicted by the Ethiopians on the ICU will be a short lived success and are predicting a prolonged guerrilla war. Regardless if this prediction is correct it is clear that Greater Somalia will have to wait for a while until the Islamists figure out how to fight back the regional superpower whose army in two days broke the back of the ICU militias. With hundreds of ICU fighters wiped out from the air by Ethiopian gunships, the teenage warriors who do most of the fighting for the Courts apparently lost their morale and quit the battlefield.

The meteoric rise of the ICU to power was often compared to the Talibans' takeover of Afganistan. Their downfall is also strikingly similar to the collapse of the Caliphate of Afganistan. The pattern is basically the same. After senselessly provoking a confrontation with a superpower, the Islamists then faced coalitions of their local opponents supported by the superior fire power of gunships and F-16's. And after losing their first battle the Islamists' defenses crumbled everywhere with cities abandoned without a fight and the Islamists disappearing back into where they originally have come from, means nowhere. With the Islaimst forces now heading for Kismayo apparently to take their last stand there after abandoning the capital, they are just replaying in Somalia the story of Kandahar where the Taliban fought their last battle after fleeing Kabul.

If there are any lessons to be learned here, then, i think, the first one should be that the future of the region does not belong to these hard line Taliban style militias lead by reclusive clerics bent on immediate and strict application of the Sharia law. The Al Kaida inspired groups like the Iraqi Sunni insurgents just cannot avoid alienating the very people, they believe they are fighting for, by their bloody throat slitting and beheading rituals and by their uncompromising interpretation and applications of the Sharia law. Chopping people's heads in front of cameras or hacking their limbs in courts is not fitting for the modern age. Those faithful who don't recognize this will have to give their place to something more flexible and reasonable. The Taliban and ICU failed to maintain their hold on such backward nations as Afganistan and Somalia, while the Sunni Salafists failed to win the civil war in the much more developed Algeria and are losing in the great battle of ethnic cleansings raging now in Iraq. The unmoderated Islamism is proving too hard to swallow even for the ordinary Muslims themselves and as the law of the Darwinian natural selection postulates - the unfit won't survive. There is little place here for movements like the Taliban and ICU.

But this does not mean that the future belongs to the so called secular liberals who are weak, uninspiring and lacking any charisma in the eyes of the Arab street. It should be admitted that for the Arab street normal political parties have a limited appeal. The Arab masses are looking for one who can be their father and their mother, as the Shia in Lebanon call Hezbollah. It is those, who can play this role by creating an extended and efficient networks of public services often presented as an alternative to the corrupt and mismanaged social infrastructures of the modern Arab state, who will win the hearts and minds of the Arab street. And certainly this is not going to be a story of the secular liberals.

The future of the region belongs to movements like Hezbollah, who see Islamic state based on Sharia not as a method and a goal in itself but rather as a long term objective or even as a semi utopian ideal similar to the arrival of messiah in the Jewish orthodox tradition. Hezbollah may never break free from the cage imposed on it by the Lebanese sectarian system, but in the Sunni world large chunks of the Muslim Brothers movement are already mutating into something that can be recognized as an Islamic movement of the future.

Since years ago many on the radical left have been trying to present moderate Islamists as part of the global anti US/anti capitalism/anti globalization movement. In fact at the conceptual level Muslim radicalism itself has become heavily penetrated by the Western radical left thinking. When it comes to anti imperialism and anti globalization, the left and many Islamists speak already the same language and can understand each other at the basic level. Adopting parts of the ideological baggage of the Western radical left is a must for the new Islamists in order to make themselves acceptable not only at home but also in many quarters in the West.

Preference for technocratism instead of theocracy, combined with an ample supply of highly motivated and committed activists will enhance their reputation as able and corruption free administrators. Putting Sharia on hold or implementing a very mild downsized version of it, while adopting revolutionary and nationalist rethorics should win them sympathies of the urban middle class and leftist intellectuals and expand their support base enough to make them the most likely candidates to overthrow the regional dictators like Mubarak. By redirecting their religious jealousy away from their co-patriots into the archetypal battle against foreign powers, represented by the West/Israel and their proxies, these people will create and command an unending respect and enthusiasm of the Arab street.

It will happen sooner or it will happen later, but watching Hamas activists decorating Christmas trees in Beit Lehem, it is hard not to see that it's indeed happening.

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