Arab Spring Turns to Winter of Islamist States in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya

by Robert Maginnis
Human Events

Recent events demonstrate that the so-called Arab Spring uprisings have toppled three North African tyrants that may be replaced by Islamist regimes.  President Barack Obama deserves some credit if that happens, and the consequences could be devastating.
This spring, Obama said, “The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.”  At the time, Obama was reacting to criticism that his Arab Spring policy was incoherent and inconsistent.  He ignored the revolution that ousted Tunisia’s president, pushed for the removal of Egypt’s leader, and launched a war against Libya’s dictator.
Those dictators are now gone, and in their places are countries on the verge of becoming Islamist states, which bodes poorly for the region and America’s interests. 
Last week, a Tunisian Islamist party received a plurality (41%) of the votes for a national constitutional assembly, a one-year body charged with writing a constitution and appointing an interim president. 
Nahda (renaissance), the first Islamist party to achieve such a victory, is led by Sheik

Rached Ghannouchi, a man who just returned from a 22-year exile in the United Kingdom.  Ghannouchi claims his party is a “broad umbrella party” of Islamists and “an antidote to the Western notion of a clash of civilizations.” 
Tunisia’s election impressed Obama so much that last week he hosted that country’s acting prime minister at the White House.  Obama used the occasion to praise Tunisia’s election as an “inspiration” and state he was “deeply encouraged by the progress.”  But perhaps Obama wouldn’t be so sanguine if he knew Ghannouchi’s history. 
Martin Kramer, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote a paper about Ghannouchi, which documents the Tunisian’s Islamic extremism and his hatred for America. 
Ghannouchi threatened the U.S. in a speech given in Sudan in 1990.  “We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world,” Ghannouchi said to the Khartoum audience.
He visited the Islamic Republic in 1979, where he defended the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, claiming it was a “spy center.”  Subsequently he helped “thaw relations between Sunni Islamist movements and Iran.”  He reportedly received a delegation from Hezbollah—Iran’s terrorist proxy—while in Britain.
Ghannouchi’s radicalism was publicized as recently as 2001 on an al-Jazeera broadcast, when he extolled Palestinian suicide bombers and advocated anti-American violence.   Is there any doubt Ghannouchi will try to make Tunisia an Islamist state?
Egypt is trending toward an Islamist regime thanks in part to Obama.  In January, Obama pushed for the removal of

Hosni Mubarak, a staunch ally who kept peace with Israel for 30 years.  Then Obama applauded the revolution that ousted Mubarak as “a positive force for a democratic Egyptian future.”
But the post-Mubarak period hasn’t been “positive,” and time will tell whether it is “democratic.”  So far it is marked by Islamist violence and the rise of the

Muslim Brotherhood.  The Brotherhood’s political front, the Freedom and Justice Party, commands 34% of Egyptian votes, the largest of any party, according to polls.
The Brotherhood’s political platform calls for a state in which Sharia (Islamic law) rules.  It promises to create a Supreme Council of Clerics, like the one in Iran, to exercise veto power over all laws.  Other platform issues include forcing non-Muslims to comply with Islamic rules, making women second-class citizens, and a "revised" peace treaty with Israel.
Last year the Brotherhood’s leader, Muhammad Badie, said Muslim regimes must confront Islam’s enemies, Israel and the U.S., and that waging jihad against them is a commandment of Allah.  Further, he said the U.S. is immoral and “experiencing the beginning of its end.”
The rise of the Brotherhood has encouraged incendiary rhetoric and violence against non-Muslims and Israel.  On Sept. 20, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Abdu declared on Al Hekma television, “Tomorrow, we will destroy Israel and wipe it out of existence.”  Such declarations are reminiscent of Iran’s mullahs, and may explain the increase in anti-Israeli violence, such as six militant attacks on Egypt’s gas line to Israel and attacks on the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Non-Muslim Egyptians are singled out for abuse.  Last month Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Al-Azhar, a center for Islamic learning, called Christians “kuffar”—infidels—and alleged they are guilty of the greatest sin, claiming Jesus Christ is both man and God.  Weeks after Gomaa’s declaration, 26 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 500 hurt during peaceful protests in Cairo over the latest church burnings.  It is noteworthy that while Muslim mobs attacked the Christians, Egyptian security forces shot live ammunition at the demonstrators and then ran over many with armored personnel carriers.  
Libya may very well become an Islamist state.  It is telling and perhaps axiomatic that in August, Obama tried to encourage the Libyans by stating, “The Libya that you deserve is within your reach.”  Maybe the Libyans “deserve” an Islamist government, but few American’s will celebrate that outcome after spending $1 billion to free the country.
Last week the U.S.-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, marked the official victory with a “liberation” speech declaring, “We are an Islamic state,” and then outlined his vision for the post-Muammar Gaddafi future.  He said, “This revolution was looked after by god to achieve victory.  And we must go on the right path.”
The “right path,” he explained, is Sharia law, the “fundamental source” of legislation.  All laws that contradict Islam’s teachings will be annulled.  Only “Islamic banking” will be permitted (no interest charged), and polygamy will be reintroduced.  He didn’t address the dress code for women, use of alcohol, freedom of speech, amputations for stealing, stoning for adultery, and other Sharia codes.  Those will follow.
Consider the background of two of the most influential Libyans now helping form that government.  Ali Al-Sallabi, a cleric close to the Muslim Brotherhood, claims to be like Tunisia’s Rached Ghannouchi.  In September, Al-Sallabi criticized Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who called for Sharia law, an “extreme secularist.”  He has good relations with the Arab emirate Qatar, is an influential backer of the NTC, and has a wide network of contacts in global Islamist circles, according to Reuters.
The second influential figure is the current commander of the Tripoli Military Council, Abdelhakim Belhadj, a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as an international terrorist organization.  He fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where he met with Osama bin Laden.  He downplays accusations that he is an extremist, and told the British daily The Guardian that he warned the NTC against “attempts by some secular elements to isolate and exclude others [like Islamists].” 
Tunisia, Egypt and Libya may become Islamist states, which could destroy regional democracy, peace, and America’s interests.  An Islamist Egypt would likely quit being an American ally, and stabilizing the region and keeping peace with Israel.  It would likely back Hamas’ violence against Jerusalem, host Islamic extremist groups, and support others who do.
An Islamist Tunisia would help radicalize neighbor Algeria, which previously flirted with Islamic extremism.  Libya would be a wild card if it became an Islamist state.  It has a small population, lots of land, and at least $250 billion in oil reserves.  It sent many jihadists to fight America in Iraq, and could once again become a terrorist haven and seek weapons of mass destruction as did the dictator Gaddafi.   
Obama’s Arab Spring policies are partly responsible for removing three North African tyrants.  But, like the legendary Hydra, cutting off the head leaves us with something far more dangerous.

Arab Dictators: Journalists on Trial

by Khaled Abu Toameh
September 23, 2009

For decades, the profession of journalism has been one of the most dangerous in the Arab world.

The truth and facts are often sacrificed for the sake of “preserving the higher national interests of the people” and “to avoid playing into the hands of the enemies of the people.”

A journalist is taught that his main mission is to be loyal first and foremost to his president or monarch and then to his government and homeland.

In this world, Arab dictators are above any form of criticism.

When was the last time one read an article in a newspaper published in an Arab capital that criticized the leader of that country?

Not only are journalists and editors banned from criticizing their leaders, they are also prohibited from publishing any material that may, God forbid, be interpreted as “offensive” to His Excellency or His Majesty.

The official media in the Arab world is often under the control of the Ministry of Information, which appoints editors and journalists, and pays their salaries.

Under the Arab dictatorships, there has never been room for freedom of expression. These dictatorships have their own media, which actually serve as a mouthpiece for the ruler and his family and close friends.

In Morocco, for instance, five local journalists will go on trial later this month after they published articles about King Mohammed VI’s health.

The journalists work for Al-Jarida, Al-Ayam, Al-Oula and Al-Mishaal newspapers.

The case began last August, when the Royal Palace issued a statement revealing that the monarch had contracted a “viral, benign disease” and needed convalescing for five days.

The statement triggered a wave of rumors about the monarch’s health condition, with some journalists publishing news stories that questioned the credibility of the Royal Palace.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] said that some of the reporters had been interrogated for 40 hours over the sources of their information.

“This is over-the-top harassment-reporting on the health of the king is legitimate news and does not warrant such treatment," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on the Rabat Prosecution Office to immediately end this investigation."

The Moroccan journalists are likely to be sentenced to prison and high fines. Their case brings to mind that of Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the Cairo-based Al-Dustour daily.

Last year, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison for writing an article about the health of dictator Hosni Mubarak. The court found him guilty of “damaging national security by spreading rumors.”

Human rights activists say that Morocco, which is viewed by the West as one of the Arab world’s “moderate” and “liberal” countries, is notorious for its relentless crackdown on the media.

Also last year, Hassan Rachidi, bureau chief of Al-Jazeera in Morocco, was accused by authorities of “conspiring and spreading false information" about clashes between the police and unemployed demonstrators.

Tawfiq Boasharein, editor-in-chief of the Moroccan newspaper Al Massae, said Rachidi is not the only journalist dealing with the impact of a new wave of censorship laws sweeping the region.

Boasharein expressed fear that the case against Rachidi trial could set a precedent for Arab governments to crack down on freedom of speech and increase the intimidation of journalists working outside state-controlled media.

"In the past, the government used its executive power to repress journalists, but today, the government is using the judiciary system to suppress freedom. We are now dealing with a new set of oppressive laws. And my newspaper is suffering because of them,” he told Al-Jazeera.

Arab dictators often avoid unleashing a campaign of incitement against each other in their media outlets. They even appear to honor a “gentleman agreement” in this regard.

The Moroccan newspapers Al-Jarida, Al-Oula and two other dailies were recently ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 dirhams [about $13,000] and damages of 1 million dirhams [about $126,000] to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The newspapers were found guilty of publishing articles that had offended the Libyan dictator.

One article, headlined "We and the Arab Maghreb," criticized not only Qaddafi, but also his autocratic counterparts in Mauritania, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Another article dealt with the arrest of Qaddafi’s youngest son and daughter-in-law in Geneva for allegedly assaulting a Moroccan servant and Tunisian maid.

This crackdown on the media has prompted many Arab journalists to seek employment in Western newspapers and TV stations.

Independent journalists who dare to criticize their leaders and governments often find themselves forced to move to North America, London or Paris, where they are able to continue their work without fear.

The crackdown on Arab journalists is likely to continue for as long as the international community continues to turn a blind eye to their plight.


Military junta overthrows Mauritania's president

Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya seized power in a 1984 coup.

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 4, 2005

NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA – A military junta overthrew Mauritania's U.S.-allied president Wednesday, prompting celebrations in this oil-rich Islamic nation that has been looking to the West amid alleged threats from al-Qaida- linked militants.

The junta promised to yield to democratic rule within two years, but African leaders and the United States were quick to condemn the coup, saying that the days of authoritarianism and military rule must end across the continent.

President Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya, who himself seized power in a 1984 coup and dealt ruthlessly with his opponents, was out of the country when presidential guardsmen cut broadcasts from the national radio and television stations and seized a building housing the army chief of staff headquarters.

Later, the junta named the national police chief, Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, 55, as the country's new leader.

Its statement identified Vall as "president" of the military council that seized power.

Taya, who had allied his overwhelmingly Muslim nation with the United States in the war on terrorism, refused comment after arriving Wednesday in nearby Niger from Saudi Arabia, where he attended King Fahd's funeral.

The State Department joined the African Union in calling for the restoration of the government.

"We call for a peaceful return for order under the constitution and the established government of President Taya," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.

The junta said it would exercise power for up to two years to allow time to put in place "open and transparent" democratic institutions.

Oil recently was discovered in reserves offshore, and Mauritania is expected to begin pumping crude for the first time early next year.

Hundreds of people celebrated the coup in the city center, saluting soldiers guarding the presidential palace, clapping and singing anti-Taya slogans in Arabic.

"It's the end of a long period of oppression and injustice," civil servant Fidi Kane said. "We are very delighted with this change of regime."

State television and radio were back on air by afternoon, with journalists reading the junta's statement repeatedly, interspersed with Quranic readings - normal in the Islamic nation.

Taya had survived several coup attempts, including one in 2003 that led to days of fighting in the capital.

After that, he jailed scores of members of Muslim fundamentalist groups and the army accused of plotting to overthrow him. His government also has accused opponents of training with al-Qaida-linked insurgents in Algeria.

A June 4 border raid by al-Qaida-linked insurgents sparked a gunbattle that killed 15 Mauritanian troops and nine attackers.