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With Egypt, Time to Connect Dots in Middle East

Jan 31, 2011

By: Alan Levine

With political unrest spreading across the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, pundits and talking heads are trying to make sense of the chaos. The opposition groups in many of these countries have all been extremely diverse - democrats, Marxists, Islamists, and others are joining to demand reform and regime change. However the most important question in every revolutionary movement is: who will take power if the revolution succeeds?

With this growing instability, foreign governments have been attempting to shape their own answers to that question. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for instance, said the U.S. would like to see a “transition to democracy.” Iran’s state run Fars News Agency on Friday ran a front page story with the headline: “Uprisings in Arab States Promising Birth of Islamic Middle-East.”

Although the Iranian regime is not exactly a credible source, in this case, it might be right. This is not because the Iranians hold a crystal ball, but because as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, they will likely take action to see their prediction come true.

They, along with other Islamist movements, are going to fund and support likeminded factions within each of the revolutionary movements around the Middle East.

Thus the battle in Egypt—and that in Yemen, Tunisia, and elsewhere—must be seen as a regional struggle. Cairo is not an isolated case, and the 22 Arab states are not 22 isolated societies. There is a war of ideas going on throughout the Islamic world, and the West must help those who want freedom and democracy. Western support of Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed el-Baradei or any other rising leader will be meaningless if we fail to see the larger picture.

While many are calling for strong and open Western support of democracy in Egypt, skeptics will point out that this has already been tried and failed. They will point to Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon as examples. But part of the reason for that is that the West has forgotten the other side of the equation: while supporting democratic movements, we must also fight radical Islam. As long as Islamism continues to thrive, it will continue to have a chance in winning over the hearts and minds of the masses.

Dictators, including Mubarak, have survived by telling their people that the problems of the Arab world are all external. In order to avoid being held accountable, Arab regimes have blamed colonialism, the West, the United States, and of course Israel, for all of their problems.

Well, these dictators have created a monster they cannot control because the masses now want a force that has actually defied the West and will bring the Arab world back to glory. It is called Islamism.

The one and only Islamic republic in the Middle East (Iran) has become a regional power in only 30 years of existence. It is now the closest to acquiring nuclear weapons. It backed Hezbollah which in 1983 drove the U.S. Marines’ peace keepers out of Lebanon and went toe for toe with Israel in 2006. The Sunni but Iranian backed Hamas claims to be the only Arab force to take over Israeli land in the Gaza Strip.

That is a difficult resume to match. But Iran has more than a resume; it has guns too.

As Herb Keinon points out in the Jerusalem Post, radicals eventually take over most revolutions. Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini took over the Iranian revolution, Robespierre took over the French one and the Bolsheviks took over the Russian one. All three revolutions, however, had moderate, democratic movements within them, but the radicals eventually took control. It is the radicals, after all, who are more willing to turn guns on their former comrades.

This is no new concept in the Middle East., Islamist movements—especially those backed by Iran—have often been the most successful at exploiting political uncertainty. Hezbollah was born during the Lebanese civil war and took power after Israel left a security vacuum in Southern Lebanon.  Hamas staged a coup after Israel left a vacuum in the Gaza Strip.

They have done so in both cases by using foreign(Iranian)  funding to deliver social services to the people and using foreign weapons to fight off the supposed authorities.

And if the world does not stop Iran, there is a danger it can bring Egypt into its orbit. Though the two countries are historically rivals, Iran will cozy up to the Muslim Brotherhood as it did to its fellow Sunni offspring Hamas. It will then turn them into an army as it did to Hezbollah. And suddenly Egypt looks a lot like Lebanon did 30 years ago. Except Egyptian Islamists will not have to deal with an Israeli military presence and millions of Christians.  And this time, the Islamists will have the asset of an Iranian ally closing in on a nuclear weapon.

The world should begin to identify trends in the Middle East if it ever wishes to successfully help the people of the region achieve freedom. The best way to help is to remove the obstacles.


Interested in more information about the history of Iran and the threats of its current nuclear development? On February 8, see the new documentary Iranium. Reviewing the growth of the Iranian nuclear threat, the film features rarely before seen footage of Iranian leaders and interviews with leading politicians, Iranian dissidents and experts on Middle East policy, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Visit for more information on the film and read more about the controversy it has already stirred with the Iranian government!



Additional Reading:

Comment: Recent unrest in Arab world is not about us, Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post

Egyptian Army says it will not fire on protestors, Anthony Shadid, David D. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim, New York Times

What Would a Post-Mubarak Egypt Look Like?, Jonathan Schanzer, Politico

Cancer, Carter, and Obama, Michael Ladeen, Pajamas Media

The two likeliest political outcomes for Mubarak, Stephen J. Hadley, Wall Street Journal

If Brotherhood takes over, IDF will face formidable enemy, Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post

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