The Authoritarians have used nationalism, militarism, ba’athism, and monarchism to keep their power in the Middle East. The West has often sided with the Authoritarians because they were more concerned with the Islamists or the Communists during the cold war. They could do business with the Authoritarians. Principles like Liberty and Human rights are easily sacrificed on the altar of geopolitical and economic interest. The West ignored the abuse from the Authoritarians towards Liberals in order to keep the status quo secure.
The Authoritarians have often used Islamists and anti-western sentiment to their own advantage complicating their relationship with the West. The Authoritarians will play a double game of using liberal rhetoric to the West while crushing liberals in their country and even buying corrupt clerics to give them religious legitimacy. Assad is a case study in using liberal rhetoric and also using Islamist elements to his advantage. Assad wants to be the only viable option for the world and so played a double game with Daesh. Kill the liberals and bury the moderates. Leave the extremists standing last.
Islam itself is not the problem. Islam is a diverse religion with various people and interpretations of millions of people. Political Islam, Islamism as an ideology of power is what is problematic in trying to come to terms with the way States rule the people. There are people and interpretations within Islam that are compatible with the Enlightenment and a constitutional government. In fact Islam in a few hundred years may be the majority religion of the West. The question will be whether governments are run by a liberal constitution, a theocratic ideology, or by Authoritarian regimes.
In Egypt (2011) Islamists and Liberals came together to fight the Authoritarian elite. When the brotherhood won the election battle they were given little time to prove they were able to evolve with a constitutional government …the liberals sided back with the Authoritarian and military elite making Egypt a case study in this tense moving triangle of political posturing. The infighting between the brotherhood and the liberals played right into the hands of the Authoritarian elite.
Iran in the late 1970’s also saw the Liberals and Islamists come together in taking on the Authoritarian Shah of Iran. The Authoritarians never returned to power like in Egypt. That revolt led to the Shia Islamist take over of Iran, and the Liberals were tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage. In 2009 the Green Revolution made a heroic attempt but it was not enough to change the regime.
The Arab Spring was not the first time there were liberal movements in the Middle East. The Liberals have often stood against Authoritarians with Islamists and then with the Authoritarians against Theocracy. The Liberals have never been able to capture power themselves but they have been used by the other points of power in the triangle. The Liberal block is the weakest point of power in this triangle but this may not always be the case as younger people rise with new ideas and new means of communication. A point of caution is that the Arab Spring turned into the ISIS winter. Too many dreams have been deferred and the nightmares are the reality. The majority of citizens are caught in-between the iron fist of Authoritarian rule and the sword of Extremist wrath which is no choice at all.
This did not have to be but as the African American poet Langston Hughes wrote,
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?