February 19, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5194

MEMRI President Yigal Carmon In Interview: The Arab Spring 'Is An Honorable Journey For Which I Have The Utmost Respect'

February 19, 2013
Egypt, North Africa, Tunisia | Special Dispatch No. 5194

In an interview published February 13, 2013 by The Times of Israel, MEMRI founder and president Yigal Carmon said that he believes that the rise of Islamism following the Arab Spring is just the beginning of the process of change, pointing out that "Europe took hundreds of years" to reach progressive values. Regarding the Islamists' hijacking of the Egyptian revolution from its rightful liberal owners, he said that it is "morally shameful and politically unwarranted for America to support elements that take humanity backwards."

The following are excerpts from the interview:

"It Is Indeed An Arab Spring"; "They Have Begun Their Long Quest To Join Humanity... An Honorable Journey For Which I Have The Utmost Respect"

In the interview, Mr. Carmon states: "People were warning us about the rise of Islamism, but from day one my attitude was exactly the opposite... It is indeed an Arab Spring, where people are fighting for freedom, putting their lives on the line every day against dictatorship. There can be no other name for it."

Emphasizing that it should not be concluded that the revolutions have failed because Islamic regimes are winning elections across the region, he pointed out that prior to the Arab Spring, the Middle East was "a frozen swamp of repression, on every level." That freeze, he said, has been irretrievably cracked by the groundswell of uprisings against those regimes, meaning that the Arabs and Muslims are no longer "outside the world in its progress."

"They have begun their long quest to join humanity. This is an honorable journey for which I have the utmost respect," he said.

"There Are No Shortcuts In History; Europe Took Hundreds Of Years" To Attain Progressive Values; In The Arab World Too, The Struggle Among Elements Of Societies Will Take Centuries

Of his critics who believe that the Arab Spring has taken a turn for the worse, as Islamic regimes win election after election across the region, he said that if these people had been around during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, they would have been against the revolution – even though without this the world would never have progressed to what it is today.

Progress takes time, he noted. While parties taking power in the Middle East today think they can impose their views on their opponents because they were elected democratically, within a few centuries – centuries, he stressed – they will learn that their survival depends on freedom for all. "There are no shortcuts in history. Europe took hundreds of years to agree on a progressive set of values."

Dismissing the idea that Islamists being voted into power throughout the region means that Islamism is taking root, Mr. Carmon discussed Tunisia and Egypt as cases in point. In Tunisia, he said, Islamists won only because they were united within the Ennahda party, and because their numerically superior rivals were dispersed among dozens of small parties. In Egypt, Islamist candidate Muhammad Mursi and secular candidate Ahmad Shafiq were nearly tied in the presidential election – and this was only because many non-Islamists could not bring themselves to vote for Shafiq because he symbolized the ousted Mubarak regime. But today, he added, they are coming out against Mursi's regime.

Demonstration in protest of the murder of Tunisian opposition leader Shukri Belaid

Also, he pointed out, even in Gaza, where it is generally thought that Hamas has universal support, on January 1, 2013, the anniversary of Fatah's founding, hundreds of thousands of Fatah supporters took to the streets. "Hamas did not take Gaza, and it cannot take it," he said.

January 1, 2013 Fatah celebration in Gaza

The overall trend in the region, he explained, is one of states' complete disintegration into regions, ethnicities, religions, and even tribes – not one of unification into an "Islamic bloc." The struggles among these elements of society will continue for centuries, he said, but this time "they will be authentic struggles" which will end in reciprocal accommodation, just as happened in Europe after countless wars.

"It Is Both Morally Shameful And Politically Unwarranted For America To Support Elements That Take [Egypt] Backwards"; Apparently When It Backed The Muslim Brotherhood, The U.S. Did Not Realize The True Strength Of The MB's Opponents

Mr. Carmon is critical of the U.S.'s stance on Egypt, saying that it "should have stood with the progressive forces, not [with] the Islamists... In Egypt, it clings to the [Muslim] Brotherhood. This is really tragic. It is both morally shameful and politically unwarranted for America to support elements that take humanity backwards."

Apparently, he said, when it backed the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. did not realize the true strength of the MB's opponents in the country. "I suppose they thought that the Islamists are the power to reckon with, and they [the Americans] just need to deal with it," he said. But now, he added, "they continue to stick to that policy, even when realizing that political Islam does not have a majority in Egypt."

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