The Western media presented last week’s assassination of Chokri Belaid, Tunisia’s most prominent critic of radical Islam, as a pivotal moment in the Arab Spring.
That Mr Belaid’s murder was reported as atypical, or a kind of wake-up call, reveals only how Middle East correspondents continue to misrepresent the grim reality of these uprisings — unable as they are to admit that, from the outset, they got it all so wrong. For while Mr Belaid’s cold-blooded killing was dramatic and tragic, it was, sadly, just one more example of how Islamofascism is spreading like wildfire throughout the Arab world.
Most egregiously, Islamists groups that gained power through the ballot box are still being portrayed as distinct from violent Salafist organisations, when they are of course joined at the hip.
In their combination of highly disciplined party structure and fake denial of responsibility for random violence, the “moderates” resemble Europe’s far-right political parties who, too, have embraced the democratic process. The latter also rely on a grassroots network of thugs whose brutal beatings of Jews and immigrants in the streets they officially distance themselves from. Acutely aware of how this is playing out on the Arab street are Tunisia’s Sufi and Jewish communities. More than 40 Sufi shrines, long venerated as places to worship local saints and seek blessings, have so far been desecrated. The same relentless trend is found in Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Meanwhile, some 68 gravestones were this month destroyed, and their graves looted, at a Jewish cemetery in the Tunisian coastal town of Sousse; and in Kef, western Tunisia, 10 Jewish graves were smashed to pieces, with skeletons left scattered around the cemetery.
In Egypt — ruled by a president who believes Jews are descended from “apes and pigs” — there was more than a little irony in the announcement that, following Mr Belaid’s assassination, security would be beefed up around opposition leaders. As in Tunisia, the “moderate” Islamists have distanced themselves from their fellow radicals. But radical Islamist clerics this week started issuing fatwas, calling for the killing of liberal Egyptian opposition figures like there was no tomorrow — and only one was called in for questioning.
In fact, since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was elected six months ago, a striking pattern has emerged during the vicious attacks on opposition activists by riot police and Islamist militias made up of rank-and-file Brotherhood members. Several individuals associated with anti-Muslim Brotherhood pages on Facebook have, it is alleged, themselves been singled out for assassination amid the mayhem. These included a 16-year-old boy who founded a Facebook page called “Together Against the Muslim Brotherhood”, who was shot dead at close range.
Egyptian women are suffering unprecedented sexual and verbal harassment; official Brotherhood spokesmen are demonising opposition figures as foreign agents and decadents; Coptic Christians are fleeing the country as never before. And, remarkably, Mohammed al-Zawahri — brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri — is warning that he and his fellow Egyptian jihadis are presently “practising extreme self-restraint”.
His statement points to only two possible outcomes as Egypt and Tunisia prepare for forthcoming parliamentary elections. If, as is expected, the Islamists win, they will — with some justification — be able to round up their opponents on the grounds that they are undermining the state now ruled by freely and fairly elected representatives of the people.
In the unlikely event that the liberals, who have been trounced in every election held so far, manage to unseat the Islamists, that “extreme self-restraint” al-Zawahri was menacingly touting will become a thing of the past. For in a last, desperate bid to establish Islamist theocracies, the Islamists will — in a replay of the 1979 Iranian revolution — openly massacre their rivals.
Both Tunisia and Egypt are hurtling inexorably towards civil war.