IS THE MILITARY BULWARK AGAINST ISLAMISM COLLAPSING?
THE MILITARY IN POLITICS
By Dr. David Bukay
Beginning in the 1960s, many academics analyzed how Asian and African states changed from traditional societies to modern, developed nation-states.  Other scholars focused on the nature of control and political survival in these new states.  In the Middle East, during this period, the military became the predominant power within emerging nation-states. First in Turkey, then in Iran and Egypt, and later in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, military leaders seized power and established or abolished monarchies. Military leaders also retained predominant power in Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. In Jordan and the Persian Gulf emirates, more traditional leaders survived only by forging close ties with the military and establishing vast security services.
In some countries, the military coexisted with traditional Islam and even Islamists. During the Cold War, in Saudi Arabia and Iran, Islam was seen as a force resistant to Communism. Indeed, while demands for U.S. apologies for the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq are now a staple of the Islamic Republic, the irony is that Iranian Islamists and the Central Intelligence Agency found themselves sharing opposition to the Populist Premier because of his closeness to the Iranian Communist Party. So long as extremists — the Muslim Brotherhood or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's followers, for example — were contained, Islam was a positive, non-threatening force. With time, however, Islam grew to threaten military stability and rule. The ramifications of this shift in power politics are great.
After World War I, Arab leaders created nation-states alongside British and French mandates. This process was gradual and came at the expense of the pan-Islamic alternative. Pan-Arabism grew to become the dominant ideology, even as Arab leaders divided Arab-speaking areas into separate countries. Almost a century later, pan-Arabism is on life-support, paid lip service to only at Arab League meetings and among some intellectuals and artists. A similar rise in Islamist sentiment has come at the expense of ethnic identity in Turkey, Pakistan, and Somalia. For the masses, Islamism is simply more attractive. In Algeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Islamist movements continue to threaten regime survival, as these states rely increasingly on the military or, in Somalia's case, militias, to prevent an Islamist takeover.
Patrimonialism makes authoritarian regimes resistant to democratic reform.  Many political leaders today thrive on personality cults. In most Arab countries, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, ordinary citizens feel compelled to display portraits of national leaders in schools, offices, and sometimes even private homes. In Turkey, the same phenomenon occurs with the Atatürk cult. As they developed, Arab states became marked by political corruption, a high level of army involvement in shaping and managing policy, weak political institutions, a lack of democratization, and an absence of formal decisionmaking institutions. Together, these led to arbitrary, centralized government leadership and a maximization of the role of the military in politics that placed them almost in hierarchical command. 
There may be constitutions, political parties and parliaments, but these are insignificant and often lack influence. In Tunisia, for example, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali defeated two opponents in October, 2004, elections with 94.5 percent of the votes cast. Likewise, in the September, 2005, Egyptian elections, Hosni Mubarak defeated his two main opponents, Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour and New Wafd Party leader Nu'man Guma'a, winning 88.6 percent of the vote.
In many countries, the military provides a bulwark against unconstrained Islamism. Indonesian President Muhammad Suharto used the military and an iron fist to constrain Islamist movements in the world's most populous Muslim country.  In Turkey, the military has long served as the guarantor of the constitutional separation of mosque and state, stepping in most recently in 1997, suspicious of the agenda of Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. In Syria, the military protects a relatively secular and minority 'Alawi regime against a majority Sunni population susceptible to Islamist populism. When the Muslim Brotherhood grew too vocal and active in Syria, President Hafiz al-Assad ordered his army to raze its stronghold in Hama, killing perhaps 20,000 civilians. After Islamists won the 1991 elections in Algeria and, as is often forgotten, promised to change the constitution to prevent future polls, the Algerian army intervened. H. Osman Bencherif, the Algerian Ambassador to the United States later explained, "It was the lesser of two evils: Democratic principles would be violated by cancelling the second round, just as they would be seriously threatened by a theocratic, authoritarian, Islamist takeover. The army took a difficult step, but one that saved Algeria from an even worse fate."  A new study by Steven Cook confirms the connection between the military establishment and the stability of the regime.  Conversely in Lebanon, where the military is weak, Hezbollah has constrained political development as it tries to impose Shi'i norms and a radical foreign policy onto Lebanese society.
Since the 1960s, the Pakistani military has allied itself with Islamists. Pakistan was founded nominally on the basis of religion, but the country's Founding Father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was more secular than religious in orientation. Pakistan is an ethnically diverse country, and first Pushtun nationalismn — manifested in the Pushtunistan struggle of the 1950s and 1960s — and then Bangladesh's secession in 1971 spurred the Pakistani leadership to promote Islam as an antidote to ethnic nationalism. Indeed, this was the major motivation behind Islamabad's support for the Taliban.  In recent years, the Pakistani government has struck deals with the Taliban in both North Waziristan and Swat. 
While the Syrian government defeated an Islamist insurgency in the 1980s, and the Egyptian and Algerian governments defeated Islamist insurgencies in the 1990s, the chance for a secular regime to emerge victorious today is not as certain.
Turkey provides a troubling example. The Turkish military long served as the defender both of Turkish secularism and democracy.  But, as part of the European Union accession process, Turkey's Grand National Assembly passed a reform package that loosened the power of the military in the domestic political sphere by, for example, placing the country's powerful National Security Council under civilian control.  With the military no longer in a position to protect secularism, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved to consolidate Islamist control, not only in political circles, but over ministry bureaucracies, the educational system, and the media.  Should the Turkish government decide to abandon the European Union accession process — and its commitment appears to be wavering — then it will already have succeeded in marginalizing the one force that would prevent it from casting aside Kemalism for an Islamist state.
The problem distills to conflicting concepts of legitimate, authoritative government. In the West, in the mid-Eighteenth Century, Jean Jacques Rousseau outlined the concept of a social contract between a people and its government. Islamists, however, reject the idea of a social contract in the Western sense. According to Arab culture and many Islamic tenets, legitimacy is granted exclusively to the leader.
While some majority Muslim states — Egypt and Iran, for example — have long and cohesive histories, many others, whether in Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere in Asia, have weak national identities easily rendered weaker by clerics appealing to ties with the Muslim umma (community) rather than national sentiment. 
Civil society cannot defend itself against Islamism enforced and protected by the military. Especially within the Arab Middle East, civil society is weak. The problem is not the absence of organizations, but, rather, their independent function. Even if there are political parties, professional and civic associations and opposition groups, they have little influence on governance and decisionmaking. Parties operate more on behalf of the regime as mass organizations for political mobilization, while opposition is mostly illegitimate and works underground. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report, for example, found deficits in freedom, knowledge, and opportunities for women.  In Arab states, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, there are few independent nongovernmental organizations. Most groups describing themselves as NGOs are, in reality, "GONGOs," government-operated nongovernmental organizations.  Nor are labor unions in the region independent of government control.  Social suspicion and political cynicism are dominant, and the cultural inclination is toward conformity of thinking and operational loyalties to the extended family and clan. When the chips are down, identifying oneself with kinship is much deeper and more significant than identification with any other group, including the state or its political institutions. 
With the exception of the West African nation of Mali, no majority Muslim state is considered "free" in Freedom House's Freedom in the World survey.  Constitutional democratic forces in Arab countries are either nonexistent or lack the power to be credible.  There are many values in Arab political culture that contradict constitutional democratic principles,  and the Middle East and North Africa have proven particularly resistant to transition from tribalism and authoritarianism to modern constitutional democracy.  What distinguishes the Middle East from other regions is not only the phenomenon of enduring authoritarianism, but also its density and the absence of successful democratization.  Much of this appears rooted in the cultural influence of Islam. 
Western political culture is participatory. It represents the norms, attitudes, and values of the individual and the group towards political institutions and the state. In Arab society, political culture is, in the best case, subjugated at the center and parochial at the periphery. Cultural values of honor and shame hamper Arab political culture. Traditional political culture and ethnic divisions pose a barrier to the development of effective parliamentary government and constitutional democracy.  Underneath the modern veneer, the older realities of ethnicity and desert values persist. 
The principles of Islam are in contradiction to the values of civilian society and constitutional democracy.  The source of authority and sovereignty is neither a social contract nor the will of the people; the source is God. There is no egalitarianism between leader and subject, between man and woman, Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim, or even between segments of society.  The concepts of democracy and constitutionalism are rejected ab initio.
The Western temptation to engage moderate Islamists is misguided. The absolutism of political Islam — and the extra-constitutional rejection of those who do not accept its precepts — raise the danger of one-man, one-vote, one-time scenarios. Many Islamist movements readily embrace the rhetoric of democracy, but fail to follow its principles when no longer convenient. This was the case with Algerian Islamists who, upon winning the first round of elections in December, 1991, spoke openly of changing the constitution and abandoning the democratic process. Erdogan, while mayor of Istanbul, summed up this problem when he quipped, "Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off." 
Engaging Islamists undercuts democracy in other ways. Egyptian-American sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim described the dichotomy that exists between autocrats and theocrats.
When Western officials embrace Islamists — even those they deem moderate — they contribute to oxygen starvation for constitutionalists and those truly committed to the democractic political process.
Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Tablighi Jamaat can be dangerous in other ways. Even when they say they eschew violence, they often serve as a "recruiting agency" for more radical groups or terrorist causes.  Tablighi alumni have gone on to join Al-Qa'ida affiliates, for example, and many of those who joined the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Kurdistan Islamic Union continued, after further indoctrination, to join more radical and violent movements such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan or Ansar al-Islam.
Washington bases its policy toward the Arab Middle East on the pillars of alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The population in each country, however, is fiercely anti-American.  While Turkey appears stable in the shortterm, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia face uncertain succession. Both have already weathered Islamist threats to their security with their government secured only through significant military and security investment. Al-Qa'ida continues to target both. Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri comes from the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Bin Laden has repeatedly denounced the Saudi government as illegitimate and called for its overthrow. On March 1, 2003, for example, he called for Muslims to revolt against Saudi Arabia and, the following year, complained:
The Islamic Republic of Iran, meanwhile, is overconfident. Iranian leaders already feel themselves the paramount power in Iraq and, perhaps, Lebanon. The Supreme Leader has referred to Iran as a "superpower."  Over the past year, Iranian officials have expanded their influence in Gaza and have questioned the sovereignty of Bahrain, a majority Shi'i sheikhdom ruled by a Sunni leader. Islamist terrorist groups are well-established in Somalia and increasingly active in Yemen, and together threaten the Gulf of Aden and, by extension, access to the Suez Canal.
Scholars and policy experts find attractive the notion that political Islam is a spent force.  Repeatedly, they have been proven wrong. Today, Islamism is rising not only in Egypt and Pakistan, but also in once-secular countries such as Turkey. In each of these cases and in states including Algeria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, only the military prevents further Islamist gains. But like the proverbial boy with his finger in the dike, armies dependent upon recruits for ever more conservative societies cannot forever hold off the flood. It is quite possible that the Middle East and South Asia might look quite different a decade from now. It would be wise for Western policymakers to consider the possibility, rather than continue to assume that the militaries that imposed security in the past will continue to repel Islamism in the future.
 See, for example, Rupert Emerson, From Empire to Nation: The Rise of Self-Assertion of Asian and African Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960); Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).
 Howard W. Wriggins, The Ruler's Imperative: Strategies for Survival in Asia and Africa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969).
 Michael Bratton and Nicholas van de Walle, Democratic Experiments in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 82-97; Houchang Chehabi and Juan J. Linz, "A Theory of Sultanism," in Chehabi and Linz, eds., Sultanistic Regimes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 3-48.
 Amos Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 104-5, 145-7; Michael Herb, All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 21-50.
 Al-Hayat al-Jadida (Ramallah), July 17, 2006.
 Zachary Abuza, "Jemaah Islamiyah Adopts the Hezbollah Model," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2009, pp. 15-26.
 H. Osman Bencherif, "Algeria Faces the Rough Beast," Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1995, pp. 31-8.
 Steven A. Cook, Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey (Baltimore: John's Hopkins University Press, 2007), pp. 13, 133-8.
 "Islamizing Egyptian Education," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 76-7.
 Ido Zelkowitz, "Fatah's Embrace of Islamism," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 19-26.
 Michael Rubin, "Who Is Responsible for the Taliban?" Middle East Review of International Affairs, Mar. 2002.
 Daily Times (Lahore), Mar. 2, 2007; Najmuddin A Shaikh, "Analysis: Implications of the Swat Deal," Daily Times, Feb. 22, 2009.
 David Caprezza, "Turkey's Military Is a Catalyst for Reform," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 13-23.
 Financial Times, July 31, 2003.
 Soner Cagaptay, "Turkey's Secret Power Brokers," Newsweek International, Mar. 30, 2009.
 Open Letter to President Obama, Mar. 10, 2009.
 Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 291-323.
 Arab Human Development Report 2002 (New York: U.N. Development Programme, 2002), pp. 2-5.
 Moisés Naím, "What Is a Gongo?" Foreign Policy, May/June 2007.
 Sharq (Tehran), Jan. 2, 2006; Halim Barakat, The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 273-5.
 Dankwart Rustow, "Transition to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model," Comparative Politics, Apr. 1970, pp. 350-1.
 "Map of Freedom in the World, Tables and Charts: Combined Average Ratings: Independent Countries, 2008," Freedom in the World, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2008), accessed Apr. 20, 2009.
 Mustapha K. al-Sayyid, "The Concept of Civil Society and the Arab World," in Rex Brynen, et. al., eds., Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1995), pp. 131-48; idem, "International Dimensions of Middle Eastern Authoritarianism," in Oliver Schlumberger, ed., Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 215-6.
 Elie Kedourie, Democracy and the Arab Political Culture (London: Frank Cass, 1994), pp. 103-5.
 Eva Bellin, "Coercive Institutions and Coercive Leaders," in Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Michele Penner Angrist, eds., Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005) pp. 21-41.
 Marsha Pripstein Posusney, "The Middle East Democracy Deficit in Comparative Perspective," in Posusney and Angrist, Authoritarianism in the Middle East, p. 2; Nicola Pratt, Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2007), pp. 189-204.
 Frederic L. Pryor, "Are Muslim Countries Less Democratic?" Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2007, pp. 53-8.
 Michael Herb, "Princes, Parliaments, and the Prospects for Democracy in the Gulf," in Posusney and Angrist, Authoritarianism in the Middle East, pp. 169-91.
 Fouad Ajami, The Dream Palace of the Arabs (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), p. 155; Philip Carl Salzman, "The Middle East's Tribal DNA," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2008, pp. 23-33.
 Daniel E. Price, Islamic Political Culture, Democracy, and Human Rights: A Comparative Study )Westport: Praeger, 1999), pp. 137-56, 177-86.
 Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 28-36, 54-61, 85-91; idem, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 1-6.
 The New York Times, May 11, 2003.
 Saad Eddin Ibrahim, "Dissent and Reform in the Arab World," conference transcript, The American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2006.
 Alex Alexiev, "Tablighi Jamaat: Jihad's Stealth Legions," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 3-11.
 "America's Image Slips," Pew Global Attitudes Project, Washington, D.C., June 13, 2006.
 International Islamic News Network, Dec. 16, 2004; Rediff India Abroad, Dec. 16, 2004.
 Abrar (Tehran), Nov. 27, 2008.
 See, for example, Ray Takeyh, "Islamism, R.I.P," National Interest, Spring 2001.
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
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American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
International Politics & World Disorder:
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Foreign Affairs & U.S. National Security
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
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Dr. David Bukay, a Ph.D. in Political Science, is Professor of Middle East Studies in the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel. Dr. Bukay's areas of teaching and research specialization include political Islam and international terrorism, al-Qa'ida and the global Islamic jihad, the Israeli-Arab conflict, inter-Arab relations and the Palestinian problem, and the culture approach to understanding Islam and the Middle East. The books he has authored include Islamic Fundamentalism and the Arab Political Culture (2009), From Muhammad to Bin Laden: Religious and Ideological Sources of the Suicide Bombers Phenomenon (2007), Yasser Arafat and the Politics of Paranoia: A Painful Legacy (2005), Arafat, the Palestinian National Movement, and Israel: The Politics of Masks and Paradox (2005), Muhammad's Monsters: A Comprehensive Guide to Radical Islam for Western Audiences (2004), Arab-Islamic Political Culture (2003), and Total Terrorism in the Name of Allah: The Emergence of the New Islamic Fundamentalists (2002).
The foregoing article by Dr Bukay was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2162/ military-bulwark-against-islamism-collapsing)
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