Has the Arab Spring been hijacked by radical Islamists?

Has the Arab Spring been hijacked by radical Islamists?

No one knows what might have happened if Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi had not asked his people not to take to the streets after the Friday prayers and to treat Westerners in the country as guests, “like every good Muslim.” Possibly people all around the world would have read worse stories from Egypt and possibly from other Arab countries where the Muslim Brotherhood is well organized.

The Brotherhood, or “Ihvan” in Arabic, was known as a radical group until the Arab Spring began. Now it represents the center of Islamist politics, and is a symbol for moderation. Is that really so, or has the center of gravity of Islamist politics further shifted because the definition of radicalism in the Islamic world has changed? Possibly the second, thanks to the growing presence of the Jihadi/Salafi groups armed to the teeth and ready to kill themselves and other people for their cause. Perhaps we should say thanks to the U.S.-led Western policies that supported them covertly for decades against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is gone, and this is what the world has had on its hands since the beginning of the global guerilla war with the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks.

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia, partly triggered by U.S. official documents leaked in the Wikileaks flood concerning its President Zein al Abidin al Ali. He fled to Saudi Arabia, and a new government led by the once-radical, now moderate Al Nahda movement (working in parallel with Ihvan) came to power with the help of the U.S.-led Western coalition. On Friday protesters in Tunisia raided the U.S. Embassy there in protest of a film ridiculing Islam and its prophet Muhammad.

Libya was the second stop. Its dictator Moammar Gadhafi was brutally lynched, and a government supported by the U.S.-led coalition was formed. On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the headquarters of the revolution, was raided and U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, together with three other officers, were killed by jihadists. In Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and even in Israel, protestors are taking to the streets, in some cases using violence against U.S. and other Western targets.

Many leaders in the region, like Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, and the world are condemning the provocative film together with the killings and attacks, and are also calling on good Muslims to calm down, concerned that more violent incidents may have the potential to threaten the existing regimes of the countries in the “greater Middle East.”

To ask whether the Arab Spring, which aimed to bring democracy and welfare to the Arab world, has been hijacked by radical Islamists who use strong rhetoric and guns, too, is to pose a legitimate question. It doesn’t have a clear answer yet. But if the answer is “yes,” then the problems the world is facing now may soon look like child’s play.