Friday, 26 August 2011

Freedom for extremists could make Sinai the new Somalia

YOU'D have to be a very grumpy bear indeed not to be thrilled at the fall of Arab dictators, especially unmitigated creeps like Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and the rise of a genuine democratic spirit across the Arab world.
But consider this. One immediate result of the Arab Spring is a brand new franchise operation for al-Q'aida.
In Egypt's Sinai desert, which borders Israel, a group has arrived announcing itself as al-Qa'ida in the Sinai Peninsula. Another group calls itself al-Shabab al-Islam (Youth of Islam).
The franchises are new and pretty undeveloped so far. As yet, al-Qa'ida central has not granted formal recognition to its aspiring Sinai franchise. But really, it's only a matter of time.
This week, an Israeli cabinet minister told me that looted Libyan weapons have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
In both Libya and Egypt, the prisons were emptied. Many innocent people were wrongly incarcerated in those prisons. But there were also many, many authentically extremist jihadists who have now gone back to the life of murder, suicide and caliphate building, which is their true love.
This could make the Sinai, in the words of the brilliant if perhaps over-stated American analyst Jeffrey Goldberg, the new Somalia.
Any end to a long-term dictatorship is messy and even a transition to a democracy will be full of trouble. History, however, offers a full range of alternative scenarios. Perhaps the best was the emergence of the Czech Republic after decades of communism. But against that cheerful experience, recall the fall of the Czar in Russia, the brief flower of Kerensky's democratic interlude and then the Bolshevik revolution and the torrents and torrents of blood that Soviet communism brought to the world. Or think of the French Revolution. Or even Iraq. Or Iran.
There is still much cause for hope in the Arab Spring, but we ought not to look away from the many unpleasant facts staring us in the face. Australia's best friend and closest ally in the Middle East is Israel. In many ways, Israel is the only expression in the Middle East, apart perhaps from some segments of Lebanon, of Western civilisation and values. In the long run, Israel would benefit immeasurably from more representative, democratic and successful Arab societies around it.
But as Keynes pointed out, in the long run we are all dead, and there's a lot to negotiate in the short run.
The Middle East commentator and author George Friedman has proposed in a recent essay a worrying but persuasive analytical grid for understanding the Arab Spring.Continued

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