Fareed Zakaria: It’s Not the Islamists You Should Worry About

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In his column in the latest issue of TIME magazine, Fareed Zakaria points to the specter seemingly hanging over the Middle East — the rise of Islamist political parties in Arab Spring countries like Egypt — and dispels its menace. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood appear genuine in their commitments to democratic and constitutional processes, which is only a good development as the region fitfully tries to move beyond an era of oppressive governments and zero-sum struggles for power.

Zakaria writes:

In fact, the growth of democracy in the Middle East is under substantial threat, but not from Islamic democrats. The threat arises from the lingering authoritarian impulse of those in power–from ruling political parties and from the military. Obsessed with political Islam, we are ignoring the real danger on the ground.

What are those dangers? In part, the authoritarianism and military meddling that for decades defined the Middle East’s status quo, a status quo authored in part by administrations in Washington happy to prop up quasi-dictatorships like the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or the successive ranks of generals who once presided over a militantly secular Turkish state. Mubarak is now gone and the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party recently won a commanding number of seats in Egypt’s new parliament. In Turkey, a nominally Islamist party, led by the charismatic — some say demagogic — Recep Tayyip Erdogan, holds sway. In both instances, the Islamists are better custodians of the pluralistic democracy all want to see in the region than those that preceded (and, in many cases, sought to repress) them. But we must be vigilant that the legacy of authoritarian pasts doesn’t rear its head in a more hopeful present.


I have Muslim friends and some Muslims are just as kind and have similar values.  My concern is the seemingly total disregard for the political aspects of Islam and the direct involvement of Islam in the lives of others.  Muslim countries have no regard for other religious organizations and repress their own as part of their belief system.  The Muslim Brotherhood was oppressive of anyone who was not Muslim.  You can hardly consider that in any way a gain for freedom.  In the US, the rights of minorities are given emphasis and yet, in these Muslim led countries that is not the case.  In Egypt, the Muslim  Brotherhood was allowing the destruction of the Christian communities.  In Iran, Bibles are forbidden, Christians are put in prison for practicing their religion, Muslims converting to Christianity are killed and churches are forbidden or limited and many of the laws are only to support Muslims, women have limited freedom.  It may be a democracy, but it certainly isn't freedom as we know it.  Is this better than some of the dictators or not.  Islam is a problem, but Zakaria offers no solutions while ignoring the freedom aspect of the issue. Are people as a whole better off under a democracy or dictatorship?  As usual it depends on the amount of freedom and treatment of the people.  President Obama aided in creating turmoil in the Middle East with the Arab Spring, but without any plan for who or how the Middle East end up.  Now we stand by while the ISIS JV squads perform genocide and Obama says nothing so he doesn't offend Muslims.  Prominent Muslims virtually everywhere make it clear they support oppressive policies based on their Muslim beliefs and yet, they are called moderates.  Since Zakaria was raised in a Muslim family, I am not sure how his beliefs influence his positions.  My Muslims friends are friends and of no threat to my way of life.  However, I remain concerned with a Muslim democracy which supports suppression of religious freedom and women's rights.