I’m still working to make up time and tasks after being gone for the (uplifting!) COE meetings last week, but this bit of news caught my eye. ForeignPolicy.com included in their daily Middle East briefing an excerpt from The Cairo Review of Global Affairs article “Salafism’s March through North Africa” including this excerpt from the excerpt:
“‘This is not the Tunisia we know,’ the head of a respected Tunisian think tank told me as thousands of Salafists marched through the heart of Tunis’s old Medina, steps from one of its most exclusive restaurants, one that serves premium French wine under the watchful eye of a stern sommelier.
“But the city was Tunis, and the protestors were Tunisians. One of the Arab world’s most progressive societies, with one of the most active civil society environments in the entire Arab world, and a notable history of gender equality and secularism, is clearly witnessing the rise of an assertive socio-political force that defines itself exclusively under a strict religious frame of reference. The scale of these marches -and various other forms of assertiveness-and the frequency with which they take place indicate that this trend is far from marginal or dismissible.
“In Egypt’s last parliamentary election, Salafist parties won about a quarter of the votes. Amid the polarization that the country is currently witnessing, several Salafist voices and parties are increasingly influential in the political sphere. And the rise of Salafism is also taking place in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and in other Arab countries.”
The reconfiguration of the Middle East continues. And for those who understand the difference between Salafism and Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam, Iran does not look in any way as if it will be the King of the South, regardless of what some self-appointed prophets have said. (For a quick wiki-primer, you can check out Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Shia-Sunni relations, and Salafi movement.) Admittedly, the understanding of prophecy drives the understanding of news, and not the other way around (something another self-appointed prophet has occasional trouble with), and it is always possible God could accomplish something different with the Sunni-Shiite divide, but ignoring it makes no sense at all.
I continue to think that the results of the so-called “Arab Spring” shouldn’t be taken for granted to go one way or the other. But the growing influence of Salafism in Tunisia is noteworthy. The article referenced above goes on to discuss the fact that more affluent Arabs and those of younger generations may pose a cultural hurdle to those who wish to spread more radical and strict religious worldviews, which makes sense. When the King of the South does come on the scene, his rise will likely (IMHO) involve a combination of taking advantage of the sentiment of the times and a certain savvy crafting of that sentiment, channeling–slightly or strongly, as needed–the forces at play in the Arab world such that even if they are not completely unified in direction, the resulting net direction is empowering.
Regardless, the report highlights the great volatility of Arab and Middle East culture these days, and in that volatility many will find opportunity.