Argument

The Islamist Bloc?

Just because you think you know one of the Arab World's new Islamists doesn't mean you know them all.

With uprisings stalled, for now, in Bahrain and Syria, it appears that North Africa's revolutionaries -- first in Tunisia, and then in Egypt and Libya -- have been the most successful of the Arab Spring. At the same time, despite early rumblings, revolution remains highly unlikely in Algeria and Morocco.

What these three more successful revolutions have in common besides geographic proximity is the presence of popular Islamist movements that now enjoy a once-in-an-epoch chance to govern. But "the Islamists," though largely perceived as monolithic in the West, are in fact quite different from one another. Whereas the leadership of Tunisia's Ennahda -- which took nearly 42 percent of the vote in Tunisia's first post-revolutionary elections last month -- has managed to incorporate both a French-style gender equality code and a liberal interpretation of sharia law into its platform, some Islamist hardliners within Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) appear keen to establish polygamy as a means of social control. And while both these movements are committed to obliterating the remnants of the old regime, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly allied with a reconstituted military dictatorship.

Though close in terms of geography, the upheavals in these countries stem from disparate conditions and promise varying outcomes. Indeed, these states are dissimilar enough that a significant threat to their future is that the West may apply a cookie-cutter approach to all three. Four years ago, Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke observed in an article in Foreign Affairs, "U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington's tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood -- and the Islamist movement as a whole -- as a monolith." There is little to indicate that the present administration has manifested a new outlook. To the contrary, statements from influential policy circles have done little to challenge the notion that the Brotherhood, for example, is one movement with a unified transnational agenda.

To the contrary, in recent congressional testimony on the Brotherhood from Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, there is a not-so-subtle statement about a coherent international agenda: "The Brotherhood is a profoundly political organization that seeks to reorder Egyptian (and broader Muslim) society in an Islamist fashion."

While this statement may be true in that it highlights a general ambition of Brotherhood franchises in all Arab countries, it is the distinctions, not the similarities, that stand to help the United States pinpoint the opportunities for engagement -- and the think tank does not appear to have devoted sufficient resources to identifying them.

In Libya, where the armed insurgency, now poised to gain political power, the new leadership contains veterans of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which, though now disbanded, was an ally of al Qaeda. Though the group's primary target in the nineties was the Qaddafi regime itself, statements by its former leaders, including Libyan rebel commander Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, indicate that the movement considers itself to be part of a broader international "jihad." He adopted the language of al Qaeda in referring to the United States as "crusaders." After the 1998 American missile strikes in retallion for the al Qaeda East African embassy bombings, the LIFG released a statement decrying the attacks and essentially calling for vengeance.

Meanwhile, the society around this emerging jihadi elite lacks experienced political activists who might provide a more constructive vision. The absence of organized, civic institutions in Libya is no guarantee that such groups won't eventually take shape -- but it is a clear opportunity for militants to dominate the marketplace of ideas for some time.

In Tunisia, October's election gave Ennahda a controlling plurality in the new parliament. Ennahda was a target of the ancien régime that nonetheless managed to survive and thrive in exile. Rachid el-Ghannouchi, the movement's leader, enjoyed freedom of movement and the opportunity to maintain and grow his political base from his adopted home in London. Meanwhile, Tunisian liberals who remained behind did not do enough to distance themselves from the regime, and have now paid the price at the polls. Ennahda is the best structured and most popular political institution in the country today.

Following its electoral victory, Ennahda will have an opportunity to use its new authority to influence the fabric of Tunisian Islamic culture. But unlike in Libya, the party will have to negotiate its cultural agenda with the entrenched legacy of secularism imposed by founding president Habib Bourguiba and his successor Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Consider the example of Turkey, where the ruling Islamist party is widely believed to have been tempered by the secularism of its antecedents. Tunisia under Bourguiba and Ben Ali came the closest in the Arab world to an Ataturk-style experiment of secular governance. Even the venerable al-Zaitounah Islamic seminary in Tunisia was instrumentalized by the regime and became, effectively, a university of comparative religion. The legacy of the regime's progressive cultural agenda will not vanish because its proponents are out of power.

In Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood movement evolved not in exile but in situ, the "mainstream" Islamists face challenges not only from secular parties but from the more extreme Salafists, whose regressive views would in all likelihood destroy the Egyptian economy. Whereas the Brotherhood for the past 25 years has been seriously engaged in reconciling Islamic legal tradition with the principles of modernity and consensual politics, Salafists have rejected notions of democracy and modernity as anti-Islamic "innovations." There are Salafists across North Africa and the Middle East, to be sure, including those in Tunisia, who, like in Egypt, have recently perpetrated acts of violence. But it is in Egypt that they have established enclaves in populous urban slums and appear to be most capable of mounting a sustained political campaign.

The Brotherhood has not lost its contempt for the Egyptian military elite, but it also understands that too hasty a move toward civilian rule is dangerous in a state whose civil society was gutted systematically under Hosni Mubarak. The movement is poised to finesse its ideological differences with the United States over Israel -- despite public pressure -- in order to maintain the flow of foreign aid, military aid, and tourism. Over the past 10 years, Brotherhood affiliates in Egypt and other countries, including Palestine itself, have raised the concept of a hudna, a temporary and renewable truce, as a means of provisional accommodation with the Jewish state.

Abd al-Mun'im Abu 'l-Futtuh, a senior Egyptian Brotherhood official who is running independently for the presidency of Egypt, has told al-Arabiya columnist Abdel Rahman Al-Rashed that he would not necessarily pursue the annulment of the Camp David Accords. In other contexts, he has indicated that the Saudi-backed "Arab Peace Initiative," could be a basis for the Brotherhood to enter talks with Israel.

As for Algeria, where a civil war claimed as many as 150,000 lives in the 1990s, the streets for now are silent. But there is little evidence to suggest that the immense popularity enjoyed by the radical Front for Islamic Salvation in the 1990s has waned since then. Nor has an exiled Islamist leadership emerged with a moderate outlook akin to Ghannouchi's Ennahda. Meanwhile, there is no serious liberal opposition to military rule inside the country -- while the jihadist Armed Islamic Group continues to strike violently, even in Algiers.

Morocco's Islamists are unique as well. A meaningful multi-party system has been in place in the country for a generation, and diverse political movements -- ranging in orientation from Islamism to socialism -- have achieved a measure of credibility. The democratic space has been gradually expanded since Mohammed VI's accession to the throne, a trend further advanced this summer by a new constitution. That document, though yet to be implemented, commits meaningful domestic authorities to an elected prime minister, including control over the ministries and the power to appoint regional governors. There is a relatively level playing field among parties in the political arena, and Islamists are necessarily disposed to look for liberals to help them find a place in any government. (The moderate Islamist Party for Justice and Development, PJD, is currently the third-largest parliamentary bloc, with 47 seats in a 325-member house. Europe's Thomas More Institute estimates that the PJD is unlikely to achieve more than a 10 percent bloc after the new elections.) Radical Islamists exist, but their chances of obtaining real power are negligible. Morocco's carefully fostered political diversity, together with the steady growth of civil society institutions, tempers and moderates the Islamist stream. The king, for his part, will maintain his role as the senior religious authority in the country under the new constitution.

In short, the West should avoid the mistake of approaching each country's Islamist phenomenon with one policy. There are powerful Islamists in Libya with whom direct political engagement may be futile. By contrast, there is an Islamist movement in Tunisia that could potentially serve as a bridge between the West and more extreme Islamist groups in other countries -- beginning with its Libyan neighbors. The Algerian regime, though a sworn enemy of Islamist groups, is not a friend to the region's freedom agenda, while the Egyptian Brotherhood, though ideologically anti-Western, may not be an enemy to America's security paradigm. Morocco, meanwhile, has demonstrated that an autocracy can strengthen civil society as well as moderate Islamists through a political process -- an example that could be applied to Egypt's military rulers and other regimes that will also need to adjust to shifting realities in the months and years ahead.

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

20 Things the G-20 Could Have Done -- But Didn't

As the Cannes caucus begins, here's what would have saved the world economy -- and Barack Obama's job.

Americans are under the quaint, even vaguely poignant illusion that they will actually elect a president next year. But, of course, the voting that will determine who leads the United States from 2013 onward will take place not in the United States but in Europe, in China, and in a handful of other distant locations. As a consequence, this week's G-20 meeting in Cannes, France, should be viewed as an even earlier and more influential caucus than the ones taking place in Iowa. And upcoming meetings among eurozone finance ministers, the U.S.-EU summit in late November, the EU summit on Dec. 9, and the just-announced Greek referendum -- which will likely come in January -- should all be seen as key primaries.

These summits and votes will offer all the circus-sideshow color that U.S. voters have come to expect from their own primaries. (Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will someday have tragicomic operas produced about him -- that is certain.) That Republican front-runner Herman Cain may not know where they are taking place or why does not diminish their importance or the attention Americans should be paying to what is going on. Because should Europe's top officials -- one really can't call them leaders, given their resolute resistance to doing anything like leading -- fail to stop an economic meltdown on that continent, the consequences, from global banking crisis to worldwide economic slowdown, will be so severe that they would virtually ensure Barack Obama's loss in next year's elections.

There is no current risk to the well-being of the United States so great as a disorderly, protracted financial crisis continuing throughout the year ahead. It would crush recovery, push unemployment back up, reintroduce the risk of recession, and, worst of all, likely produce a series of bank failures that would crush markets and retirement accounts and force the U.S. government to choose between a new series of bailouts and sitting on the sidelines watching the country sink into what could be a decade-long slump.

For this reason -- and because the political consequences of such a slump are so grim for their president -- Americans have no priority greater than working with the Europeans to find a plan that will result not just in defusing the Greek debt time bomb but will also head off even graver crises in Italy, Spain, France, and the European banking system. As Helene Cooper notes in her story "A Silver Lining to America's Waning Influence" in today's New York Times, helping to engineer such an outcome won't be easy for the president, given the real and perceived limits on U.S. influence these days. But Obama and his team, led by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, have been working this issue intensely. The president himself has participated in a variety of sometimes fractious exchanges with European leaders via telephone and video conference. Geithner has forcefully allied himself with new IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in seeking to goad the Europeans into action. And the Europeans have made some, albeit fitful, progress, each step forward sadly being undone by a large lurch backward, as was the case during the past week when Greek bailout euphoria was quickly squashed by the Greek prime minister's sudden, badly orchestrated decision to put the deal to a popular vote in his country.

But the new reality for the United States is it can't bully anyone into action or make problems go away with a sweep of its check-writing pen. Nor, for that matter, can the Chinese, despite the size of their reserves. The Europeans will have to play a central role, and the rest of the world's leading countries will have to collaborate. Indeed, a central irony to this entire crisis is that though it looks like a debate about how tightly linked European countries wish to be, it is actually a demonstration that virtually all the world's countries are already linked far more tightly than any electorate would willingly approve in a national referendum. The markets have engineered the integration without benefit of public consultation, and it is now up to people everywhere to pay into this system of someone else's devising -- one which serves the interests of global bankers rather better than it seems to those of average citizens, lofty rhetoric about rising tides aside. (While rising tides may lift all boats, those without boats are left to sink or swim.)

Given this new collective reality, all eyes naturally turn to the G-20. The question is, can they do anything other than large photo-ops, vigorous but superficial discussions, and crafting more or less meaningless communiqués? To help them in a more productive direction, here's a list of 20 things the G-20 could have done or should do to help get us out of this mess:

1. They could have met earlier and more often. For long stretches, this year the rest of the world seemed to be buying the Euros' assertions that they had everything under control.

2. They could have been more skeptical of the Euros' assertions that they had everything under control, especially given all the clues the markets were giving that everything was spinning wildly out of control.

3. They could have stopped being the G-20. As World Bank chief Robert Zoellick has long pointed out, G-14 is more like it. A senior diplomat from an emerging power was the latest to make this point to me. With 20 countries in the room plus a bunch of IFI hangers on, the G-20 is turning into the college seminar you only took because you knew the professor would never get around to learning your name.

4. They could have helped contain the Greek crisis earlier by standing up months ago for the principle that banks that make risky loans need to take haircuts when their efforts to profit from those loans blow up in their face.

5. They can help avoid such crises in the future by enshrining that principle as policy. The private sector wants to get paid for risk without actually taking the risk. Nonsense. Who should pay for overborrowing: banks that enable it or citizens, by forking over their pensions after the bad deals blow up? Tighter money means more responsible government fiscal policies. (It would be useful if, future career plans and political patrons aside, those attending the G-20 meeting remembered they represent the people in this crisis, not the financial community.)

6. They could promote the idea of Greece's departure from the eurozone as in everyone's interest. This is the world economy that's at risk here. The European Union would be better off without Greece. The European Union would be better off with a system for the orderly dispatch of countries that are fiscally reckless. The Greeks would be better off being back with the drachma for at least the short term (it's not going to be an easy next few years in either case). It's time to lop off a toe or two to save the patient.

7. They could have arrived at a single international scheme for paying into this program (via the IMF) rather than having it evolve in that direction haphazard as it has.

8. They could have actually made real strides toward genuine bank reform and meaningful stress tests after the last crisis -- including calling the Euros out on their sham tests and lax practices.

9. While they were at it, they could have made far more serious progress toward promoting more transparent, closely monitored, more tightly regulated global derivatives markets. Because when the banks start teetering, everyone will be worried about these issues again in a flash.

10. They could have set up parallel processes to deal with all the multiple issues that are currently in play rather than buying into the notion that somehow the Greek crisis was what this was all about and if we could just get that under control (easier said than done) everything else would fall in place. That would mean:

11. Pressure on the Euros to resolve the fundamental structural problems of the eurozone if they want to have access to international funds for the bailout and safety net funds they will need. This means coming to grips with the fallacy that you can have a monetary union without a fiscal union. But it also means demanding that the eurozone enforce its own fiscal responsibility standards which, since introduced, have been honored more often in the breach.

12. It would also mean listening to Lagarde's admonitions that too much focus on austerity in places like Italy or Spain (or Greece) will kill growth and make the prospect of getting the debt-to-GDP ratios back in shape (not to mention generating the revenue to pay the debt) increasingly slim.

13. It would mean recognizing that Italy and Spain have problems all their own that will not be solved by dealing with Greece. Pressure on those governments could involve an agreement by G-20 countries to resist supporting them with bond purchases, for example, if they did not take their problems more seriously. Italy is far more precarious than many people realize, and were it to tumble, this Greece dust-up will look like a happy memory.

14. It would mean recognizing that the deepest problem lies in the area of banking contagion and that national plans for addressing a daisy chain of failures need to be in place now.

15. It would mean recognizing that the IMF needs more money and beginning a campaign to send a clear message to key national governments -- beginning with the one here in Washington -- that this is essential if stability and/or recovery are goals they share.

16. The G-20 would also listen carefully to initial murmurs of discomfort from borrowers in the emerging world that they are at least starting to worry that credit will tighten more -- perhaps significantly. There is only one train in the station right now that people are counting on to help pull the world out of recession -- and that is emerging world (and particularly Chinese and Asian) growth. In an interconnected world, we need to see that as an essential part of the solution to Europe's problems. Imagine where Europe's engine, Germany, would be if Chinese growth were to slow appreciably.

17. In the same vein, the G-20 needs to continue with some of the long-term reforms it has discussed but paid only lip service to. These include -- in addition to those mentioned earlier -- reform of the international monetary system, seeking to reduce commodity market volatility.

18. They ought to have a serious debate about big ideas. We need the equivalent of a global central bank (or better functioning, more tightly coordinated system of central banks) and global market regulatory mechanisms. We may resist them, but that is the clear implication of this crisis. How do we get there from here?

19. Part of that debate ought to include the discussion of Tobin taxes and other revenue-generating mechanisms that might also have a salutary effect on certain market activities.

20. G-20 members need to acknowledge that with the United States facing an election, China facing a leadership change, and France, Germany, Italy, and other European countries facing political challenges, that the group has to be an antidote to the weakening of resolve and timidity such circumstances bring. It would be helped if some of the problem children, like Mr. Berlusconi, were sent a clear message that it was time to go. Overreaching? In an interconnected world, summits like this one are not just politically significant for U.S. presidents.

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images