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Middle East domino effect -Interview with Research Fellow

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Laaska News      Feberuary         16,2011

Interview with Research Fellow from the German Institute of Global and Areal Studies Stephan Rosiny.

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Referring to the latest developments in the Middle East, most researchers mention the domino effect. Do you think this is the correct description of what is going on?

I think it has a certain kind of correct interpretation to talk about the domino effect but on the other hand, there are also some points which do not fit to this picture. The revolt and revolution in Tunisia and now the situation in Egypt – all this will have a big impact on the whole region because it showed the people that it is possible to topple even an authoritarian regime. Also, the conflicts of most of the countries in the Middle East are very similar in their structure. In this sense, you can talk about the domino effect. But on the other hand, the countries have very specific factors and you cannot compare them to Egypt or Tunisia. Tunisia and Egypt are relatively homogeneous societies, so in both countries, the big majority of people sought to cooperate against the authoritarian regime. In other countries, like Yemen, Jordan or Syria, the authoritarian regimes seek to divide the opposition, to make its members fight against each other or at least have fear of each other.


Now we see that the reaction comes even from Palestine. There are different kinds of reaction but the most surprising one comes from Iran that supported the Egyptian revolution. How would you explain that?


Egyptian President Mubarak was one of the big leaders of the ideological quarrel taking place in the area. Mubarak portrayed Iran as an imperialist Shia country which will once conquer the Middle East to make it Shia as well. That was one of the frightening pictures which Mubarak wanted to present in order to oppose Islamic movements that are critical of the authoritarian regime. Mubarak himself had big problems in his country with the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement. And he portrayed them, even though they are Sunni, as the clone of Iran. The situation is similar with the Palestine with its HAMAS movement which also came from the Muslim Brotherhood. They are now in a political alliance with Iran and are depicted by the opposition – the Fatah movement – as Shia. During the election campaign in 2006, Fatah was instigating HAMAS to be a Shia party.


There are all kinds of opinions voiced that the present situation could benefit the region’s Islamic organizations like HAMAS, which, as we all know, has already won general election, like Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood that are also popular. Ho do you see that?


The Islamic movements have always been criticizing authoritarian regimes, like in Tunisia and Egypt. They’ve always called them corrupt, undemocratic and suppressing the freedom. So, with this victory of the revolution and freedom that will hopefully come, toppling these authoritarian leaders in a way proves that the Islamic movements were right in their critique. One of their strongest arguments against Mubarak was a very close alliance with the US, as well as the Peace Treaty with Israel.


Does that mean that we are going to witness a revision of this treaty?

I don’t think so. The pace process will certainly get a new dynamics and I would even say that it could have a small positive effect. Israel has lost backing from Egypt. So, they are more under pressure now to make a step toward the Palestinians. They can no longer hide behind the threat of Islamic movements and hope to get support from authoritarian regimes like those of Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia –Israel’s three closest allies in the region.

Did I get you right that we also need to differentiate between Islamic movements and Islamist movements?

No, I mean we have to differentiate between the Islamic movements, which are active in the home countries, want to change the system of their home countries and improve societies of their home countries, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, HAMAS in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the one hand and the transnational terrorist Islamic movements, the Jihadi movements, which are not just fighting in one country in order to change the regime or politics, but are working for the global plan of Jihad to topple the whole world order. That is the difference.

Will the present situation, which the Islamic movements are going to benefit from, be the same beneficial for Jihadi movements?

Jihadi movements profited from the authoritarian regimes because they could always say that it is impossible to fight against them. You must remember that al-Qaeda is also a product of the political situation in Egypt because both the ideology and some of the organization’s leaders came from Egypt bringing with them the experience that it is impossible to chance these authoritarian regimes either with elections, popular protests or even terror campaigns. If those Islamic movements now show that it is possible to change the regimes, Jihad will lose a lot of its momentum and their critique will fail.


So, the Islamic movements can also become the region’s stabilizing force, right?

It may sound a little bit provocative but this is what I exactly think and hope for. I had an interview with a HAMAS leader in Damascus a month ago and he told me that the West should understand one thing: if they succeed in fighting the moderate Islamic movements, like HAMAS and Hezbollah, the consequence will be al-Qaeda, not democracy. If Islamic movements win, as it happened in 2006 with HAMAS or in 1992 in Algeria, the West will no longer keep with their democratic promises.

Do you see any forces that will influence interested in destabilizing the situation in the region?

Well, of course, there are a lot of powers which benefited from the situation how it was. These powers do not have an interest in improving and changing the societies and probably getting more popular and more populist governments, which will certainly be more critical towards Israel than the former authoritarian regimes. It will be more difficult for the West to deal with democratic and pluralist societies than just one dictator whom they can pay and whom they can easily integrate in their political concept.


It produces a picture different from what Western observers have been accustomed to. How is the situation going to develop? Do you think that the region will be destabilized or perhaps things are not that simple?


The situation was unstable before as well. It was a kind of “graveyard stability”. But it was clear to many analysts that the social and economic crisis in the societies of the Middle East was very dangerous: there was a lot of tension – and there is still, of course, – accompanied by the demographic development and the frustration of the young generation. It is a structural problem that has to be dealt with. So, it was not surprising that this exploded. We can hope that the developments in Tunisia and Algeria will create a positive dynamic to work on these problems. There is a big question whether Tunisia and Egypt will succeed in developing democracy after all. If they will, it will create a positive image for the whole region and give people more hope that their society can also be changed.


Feb 15, 2011 18:50 Moscow Time

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