Friday, October 28, 2011

The Arab Spring Is Becoming an Islamist Takeover

Con Coughlin

The Tunisian elections may not bring peace.

Much as I sympathise with the desire of millions of young Arabs to free themselves from the tyranny of autocratic government, I'm afraid I'm finding it hard to draw any positive conclusions from the results of last weekend's elections in Tunisia, where the Islamist Ennahda party has emerged as the main winner. Ennahda was outlawed during the regime of President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali on the grounds that it was planning an Islamist takeover of the country and its leader, Rachid Gannouchi was – as is the custom – granted political asylum in Britain, where he lived for 22 years. Ennahda, for its part, claims it was simply the victim of Ben Ali's paranoia. But many people remain very wary of Mr Gannouchi since his triumphant return to Tunis last January, which explains why his opponents shouted "terrorist" when he went to vote.

I'm sure the Foreign Office will now claim it has played a blinder in having the foresight to provide sanctuaty to a man who will now be a key figure in redrawing Tunisia's constitution after decades of autocratic rule, and I sincerely hope they have backed the right horse. For the moment at least, Ennahda is making reassuring noises about backing the formation of a secular, Western-style government, but I'm afraid I have my doubts.

The same goes for neighbouring Libya, where Nato has just spent the past eight months helping the rebels to overthrow Col Gaddafi's regime. No doubt mssrs Cameron and Sarkozy were hoping to replace Gaddafi with a pro-Western regime with whom they could negotiate lots of lucrative oil contracts. Instead they find that, when the interim government formally proclaimed the country's liberation in Benghazi on Sunday night, the victors of Libya's nasty civil war are now planning to set up a new government based on the strict interpretation of Sharia law.

And for those who are not familiar with the dynamics of the Middle East, Sharia law is the complete antithesis of Western-style democracy, as we have seen in Iran these past 30-odd years.

So, who wants to support the Arab Spring now?

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