By Daniel Greenfield
Many of us declared the Arab Spring dead and buried. But the Arab Spring really came in two phases.
The first phase was the political destabilization of formerly stable Arab countries by liberals and Islamists. The second phase was an armed conflict by Islamists to take over entire countries.
These phases overlapped in some cases and the second phase has been underway for a while already. In Libya and Syria the first phase of the Arab Spring became the second phase. When protests didn’t work, the Islamists turned to force. When elections didn’t work for them in Libya, they turned to force for a second time. The Benghazi attack was arguably a collateral effect of Islamist attempts to take over Libya after a poor election performance that same summer.
Advocates of the Arab Spring promised that political Islam would lead to an end to Islamic terrorism, but armed Jihad and political Jihad are two phases of the same Islamic struggle. Now the shift to the second phase is complete. The real beneficiaries of the Arab Spring were always going to be those who had the most guns and cared the least about dying in battle. And that was always going to be Al Qaeda.
Libya and Syria’s civil wars had a ripple effect as weapons were seized and recruits assembled. The lessons of the Afghan wars should have made it clear that the Jihadists involved in those conflicts would not simply go home and live normal lives once the fighting was concluded.
Instead they would find other wars to fight.
The War on Terror was fed by veterans of those wars. So were a dozen more minor Jihadist conflicts that don’t normally make the news. Those conflicts produced their own veterans and spread the war around.
The Arab Spring was supposed to use “moderate” political Islamists to thwart “extremist” terrorists, but that was never going to happen. There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist. There are only Islamic activists more focused on one phase of the conflict. Like the distinction between the political and armed branches of terrorist groups, these distinctions are tactical. They are not ideological.
While the Muslim Brotherhood was running for office in some countries, it was waging wars in others. While liberal foreign policy experts assumed that an Islamist group’s shift from violent to political tactics was a change in worldview, there was plenty of evidence that, like the Muslim Brotherhood, they were opportunistically working both phases of the conflict.
Even if the political Islamists had succeeded in taking over, their own internal conflicts would have boiled down to the same bloody civil wars.
Sunni and Shiite militias are fighting it out in Syria and Iraq. On one side are the Iranians and on the other are the Gulf Arabs. But even when both of the Islamists are Sunnis, violence eventually breaks out. The Islamists solidified their grip on power in Turkey and then began fighting among themselves.
The Nour Party stabbed the Muslim Brotherhood in the back making its overthrow possible. Various Islamist militias have been fighting among themselves in Syria. Al Qaeda turned on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and even the various Al Qaeda groups there have been shooting at each other.
It always comes down to a civil war.
In tribal societies, strength is the only virtue that matters. In Islam virtue comes from the willingness to kill over the pettiest things, beard length, pant length and whether a woman has to cover one eye. Those who are willing to kill and die for even the pettiest aspects of Islam show how strong they are. The details don’t matter. Like all of Islam, they are expressions of control.
Those who mandate the most control show the most strength.
That is why Maliki was never going to be able to really work with Sunnis or vice versa. Trust is based on kinship. Islam substitutes religious kinship for ethnic kinship, but the impulse is still tribal. And tribals can’t run a military. They can only raid in gangs. They can only make short term alliances that end in betrayal by both sides.
The Arab Spring was always going to break down into total war. Its second phase is an armed conflict for dominance between Islamists.
Egyptians understood what they were doing when they backed the military over the Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn’t just because of Morsi’s abuses or economic failures. They understood that keeping him in power meant a civil war, while forcing him out would avoid drowning Egypt in blood.
By backing the military, Egyptians may be able to avoid a conflict on the scale of Syria or Iraq. The fighting may be limited to the Sinai and the occasional bombing. Or Egypt may end in the throes of a bloody civil war anyway with armed gangs on pickup trucks raiding cities and towns.
Islam and Arab tribalism are inherently unstable. That instability is bottled up by authoritarian rulers.
In the first phase, the rulers were forced out. The second phase was pure instability. If Al Qaeda has its way the third phase will be a successful repetition of the original Islamic conquests that turned Islam into a worldwide religion by destroying all cultures and ideas in their path to create a blank slate.
The Middle East was shaped into artificial countries with historical names, but no historical authenticity. Every Arab ruler practices self-aggrandizement because his position has no real roots in the past. He has to assert his own total supremacy or be erased by another wave of instability. Like the Palestinians, he has to impose his own presence so forcefully that a mythical history comes to seem as if it were real.
The dream of the various Islamist groups, both Al Qaeda and not, is to remove the entire artificial set of national constructs and replace it with an Islamic system from the ground up. That is why they use the black flag of Jihad, rather than national flags. It is why ISIS made a show of demolishing border delineations between Iraq and Syria.
The first phase of the Arab Spring destabilized the national structures. The second phase is meant to eliminate them entirely. The core of the conflict is now Sunni vs. Shiite and Salafi vs. Salafi and even Al Qaeda vs. Al Qaeda.
It’s a war to decide the terms on which the Middle East will be further Islamized, Christians expelled, Israel destroyed and the West warred with.
This is what the Arab Spring was always bound to become. This is what its critics warned against. This is what Obama helped usher in by overthrowing Mubarak and Gaddafi.
This is not a war between tyranny and freedom or between moderates and extremists. It’s a war between Islamists to decide who will dominate the third phase of the Arab Spring.
The totalitarian genocide phase.