By Arab News
After an eventful week that climaxed with the sobering end of Muammar Qaddafi, there’s something to cheer about. By the time you read this, the Tunisians would have cast their vote in a historic election. As the people who heralded the Arab Spring throwing out Ben Ali and triggering a tsunami of change across the region, the Tunisians are understandably euphoric over the infinite possibilities of change. Whether those great expectations will engender equally great results remains to be seen. Next it’s the turn of Egypt, the most populous nation of the Arab world and second country in the region to rise up in protest and demand change. The elections in Tunisia and Egypt are being watched with great interest in the Middle East and around the world as they offer pointers to the shape of things to come. The Egypt vote is particularly important because of the country’s influence and historical leadership role in the Arab world.
Predictably, these elections, being held for the first time without the big brother breathing down your neck or casting the vote for you, have been hailed across the globe. The euphoria has been, however, tempered with Western pundits raising the specter of Islamic extremism. The media act as the chorus spawning grave and gloomy scenarios in the event of the Islamists coming to power.
The West views the emergence of the Islamists as the unintended, unpleasant consequence of the Arab Spring. If the Muslim Brotherhood, the popular opposition party in Egypt banned and persecuted under successive regimes, is seen as the direct beneficiary of democracy and a free and fair poll, Al-Nahda is tipped to win big in Tunisia.
As has been the case in Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere, a vicious campaign has been launched against the Islamists. A victory for Al-Nahda, it’s suggested, will mean an end of freedom and civil liberties and drive away international investors and tourists. Similar tactics are being used in Egypt to isolate the Freedom and Justice Party, promising a catastrophe if the Islamists are handed power.
But we have been here before. For decades, tyrants have used the bogey of Islam to rule at gunpoint with the blessings of world powers. And for all its love of democracy, the West looked the other way while polls were stolen as in Egypt and ignored as in Algeria, fueling extremism across the region. This cannot go on in the post-Arab Spring world though. The people who threw out their tormentors recently are unlikely to tolerate the same, old cynical game all over again. It’s important therefore for all concerned to ensure that people’s verdict in these polls is respected no matter who is chosen. Whoever gets people’s mandate, they deserve a fair chance to prove themselves. For their part, the Islamists must do more to win the confidence of the people and the world community. A more broad-based agenda and inclusive approach is the way forward. In this respect, Recep Erdogan’s Turkey has to offer some invaluable lessons. A worldview inspired by Islam and based on justice, reason and sense of accountability has turned around Turkey. Here’s a historic opportunity for change.