I imagine that the arrival of the Islamists to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, while acknowledging the differences between the three cases, will contribute towards deepening the divide between the Muslim Brotherhood and those influenced by its ideology – i.e. the vast majority of Islamist trends – on the one hand, and al-Qaeda and those influenced by its ideology and jihadist vision on the other. As I said in my previous article, we will witness the situation transform from intellectual debates and verbal altercations into a military showdown, and this is what is happening these days in the three aforementioned countries. We have heard and will continue to hear from radical Jihadists that the Islamists who took power have not implied Sharia law and that there is no difference between them and the regimes that have fallen. Some radicals might even claim that the Islamists in power are even more dangerous [than the former regimes], for they are curbing religion in the name of religion and devaluing the Sunnah in the name of the Sunnah, and that they are even more dangerous to the public than the secularists, who openly voice their opposition to Islamist ideology and reject the application of the Sharia.
This scenario brings to mind how the Kharijites used to justify their heinous acts, as the first generation of extremists emerged in the early periods of Islamic history. At that time, matters escalated to the extent that some Muslims would pretend to be the other “People of the Book” [followers of Christianity and Judaism] whenever they were in the presence of the Kharijites in order to avoid being killed, because the “People of the Book” were to be protected, whilst others [non-Kharijite Muslims] were deemed to be apostates worthy of being killed.
It is not in the interests of the war on terror, or in the interests of resisting the extremist ideology that has emerged in the Arab Spring era and has begun to find a foothold in the post-revolution phase, to put all the Islamists: moderates and extremists, peaceful and violent, in the same box. Furthermore, claiming that extremist trends are now obsolete and a thing of the past only serves to strengthen the side of the terrorists and weaken the side of the Islamists, who have begun to open an actual combat front against extremism.
Before the Islamists took power in the Arab Spring states, we used to cram all of them into the box of extremism, accusing them of being just another face of terrorism, and that any differences between them were nothing more than superficial. Some liberals actively pursued this hostile rhetoric towards their Islamist opponents, in order to increase the pitfalls and obstacles preventing them from coming to power. Yet after the Islamists came to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and when they actually began to apply the slogans that the liberals used to doubt; slogans that had also drawn the wrath of the jihadist trend, it became illogical to repeat the same rhetoric in light of the severe variables of change.
The liberal trend must change its hostile tactics in accordance with these variables. The liberals themselves must focus on the challenging issues that they always doubted the Islamists would sincerely address if they came to power, such as public freedoms, the transfer of power, development, poverty and unemployment. Some liberals have insisted on accusing all Islamists of terrorism, or have claimed that they all have the desire to reduce the state to a Jamahiriya. Yet nowadays these accusations are only met with ridicule, just as people now make fun of the al-Assad regime using the same extremist scarecrow as Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali, in order to gain sympathy from the West.