This is a guest post by Nightwatchman
The Middle East’s recent uprisings are mostly seen as a disaster for the region’s ageing authoritarians and their legions of grasping relatives and hangers-on.
However, these events are also developing into a rout of the UK’s network of pro-Islamist lobbyists.
Previously these individuals had argued that western policy-makers ultimately faced a stark choice in the Middle East between al-Qaeda on one hand and more ‘mainstream’ Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.
Recent events have turned this worldview upside. Egypt, Tunisia and a growing list of other Middle Eastern countries have shown that the desire for liberal, democratic governance is alive and well across the Arab world.
Islamists parties, while by no means finished, are dead in the water, their vacuous ‘Islam is the solution’ slogans rejected by protesters who want actual policies and real change instead of empty rhetoric.
The result is that the Middle East’s political scene is increasingly shaping up as a contest not between different brands of Islamism but between aging, out-of-touch Islamists and youthful, outward-looking secular and democratic liberals.
Thus while the pro-Islamist brigade could once argue that the ‘moderate’ Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood were merely the best of a bad bunch, these same Islamists are today increasingly looking like reactionary has-beens, dreaming of hoary Islamist dictatorships while the youth of the Arab world leapfrog over them to embrace modernity and global citizenship.
Already there are signs that many of the most prominent campaigners for Islamism may be starting to jump ship.
Seamus Milne’s most recent piece on Egypt, despite being laden down with false assumptions and lazy anti-Americanisms, made no mention of Islamists and instead saluted trade unions and workers as being the driving force being the revolution.
Jamie Bartlett of Demos has issued a timely retraction of his former beliefs, backing David Cameron’s recent speech, calling for Islamists in the UK to be shut off from government funding and pledging himself to universal values of ‘democracy, liberty, freedom, justice, tolerance.’
‘Forward Thinking’ and ‘Conflicts Forum’ meanwhile – both long-term advocates of the ‘inevitability’ theory of an Islamist triumph across the Middle East, have meanwhile said absolutely nothing about events in Egypt – probably wisely.
Others, however, may have more difficulty extricating themselves from their pro-Islamist leanings and may not even have the option of remaining tactfully silent.
Andy Hull, of IPPR, is for instance enmeshed in a lengthy and ongoing partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood front-group the Cordoba Foundation to conduct a study of madrassas in Britain.
Robert Lambert and Jonathan Githens-Mazer, having deftly destroyed their reputations with their most recent piece of research probably do not even have the space to backtrack or to remain silent – not least because the sole current funder of their centre at Exeter University is pro-Islamist al-Jazeera network. (Indeed, it has been suggested to me that Lambert and Githens-Mazer were forced to rush out their disastrous recent report under intense pressure from their funders.)
Those who do not jump off the pro-Islamism bandwagon soon will find the promotion of Islamism becoming immeasurably harder over the coming months.
For the first time, as politics in the Middle East becomes more open, free and transparent, they will be overtly arguing in favour of a totalitarian lunatic fringe against liberals and democrats; defending advocates of religious apartheid against those who believe in equality, defending anti-Semites against citizens of the world; defending those who wish to destroy democratic values against those who wish to uphold them.
This is not a fight that they can win.