Sunday, 23 January 2011

Maghreb yearns for dignity, not jihad

Following the success of reformers in Tunisia, the protesters are out in Algeria. Egypt has seen its first self-immolation, as security guards at the entrances to government offices have swapped their AK47s for fire extinguishers, so sensitive are governments to this extreme form of protest. Soon the ripples will reach Morocco, and even Libya, host to the region's migrant workers, will not be immune. The Maghreb and Egypt, Europe's closest second-world neighbours, are starting to undergo a period of profound change, but one based not on Islamic militancy and Jihad against the West, but on a hunger for equity and dignity and an end to political corruption. And even Saudi, the heart of terrorism and extreme Islamism in the region, but with a migrant slave population that dwarfs the wealthy native arabs, must be fearful for the future. 

There are several layers of force at work; there is an aspirational middle class, with access to the internet, satellite TV and higher education, hungry for reward and recognition. There is a large squeezed bottom end, intensely vulnerable to economic shocks. There is a secularism that admits both of women's roles, and in many cases of alcohol. There are those of the privileged international Caliph class, ready to recruit popular discontent and harness it to their own power plays. There is also an Islamism closer to Turkey's secular regime than to Saudi Wahhabism. And of course there are China and India, also with an educated nascent middle class and cheap factory labour, that have been more attractive in securing the car plants and plastic components factories that could have been the Maghreb's economic future. 

Although both France and Turkey have opportunities here to play key roles, the US and Israel have nothing to look forward to; a free and democratic Maghreb will be hostile to both. As for the UK, we're best staying completely neutral on this, but with a couple of warships on standby in Gibraltar Bay. We might even learn something. 


Anonymous said...

I suspect, Radders, that you and I are going to need to disagree over the likelihood of forthcoming events in this region. However much I strongly agree with you that the inhabitants of Tunisia probably yearn for dignity not jihad. Most Muslims do, but they are trapped. Our difference will be in what happens next.

In the Russian revolutions, it was the popular mood that dislodged the Tsar. It was the second revolution that installed the Communists. In Iran, it was the popular mood that dislodged the Shah, the second push installed the Ayatollahs.

A senior Islamic has announced that he will now return to Tunisia. That action is clearly intended to cement an Islamic Theocracy in place. If the Tunisians have sufficient will and stamina to resist that second push, they will be stuck with drawn out strife for a generation or two. My personal thought is that we will end up with Iran-on-the-Med. A smashing contender for entry into the Euro-Med alliance that the EU is pushing quietly for. It is a core belief amongst Islamic theologian-politicians that once a land has been part of Dar Al-Islam, it must always be so. That is what all the scrapping is about in Somalia. And that fight will shortly be joined by another in Southern Sudan for the same reason. How dare they break away from Dar Al-Islam?

I think that your trust in a secular Turkey is also very misplaced. Slowly it is shedding the mantle of secularism, and reverting to militant Islam. That is largely driven by relative birth rates. The secular city dwellers are content to limit their family size, just as we have done in the West. The country folk, who are much more schooled in militant Islam, know no such inhibitions. They will have outbred the secular folk in this generation.

In Tunisia, we have only heard one shot of the "double tap". Let's wait until the other has been fired before we start planning strategy.

Anonymous said...

And I will be watching very closely as my second home is on the Med in Morocco. By a large majority, Moroccans are pleased with the attitude and sweeping changes instigated by the King, as new roads, new communications, new resorts and a new attitudes are brought in under "Plan Azure".

Coney Island

Don Cox said...

I agree with yokel.

The outcome of a revolution is not decided by the majority but by the most determined and ruthless.

English Pensioner said...

There was a lot of celebration when the Shah of Persia was ousted and we got modern day Iran. But surely what succeeded was even worst.
Beware of celebrating too soon. Those who commit suicide for a cause are invariably Islamists who are complaining as much about the non-Islamic state of their country as the government. Certainly this is the case in Egypt where until recently many of the Muslims have been quite happy with a "live and let live" attitude. But this isn't good enough for the extremists.