December 21, 2004


Glimmers Of Hope in The Arab World (Fareed Zakaria, December 21, 2004, Washington Post)

Since Sept. 11, 2001, I've written a column once a year pointing out the good news, which is that Islamic extremism is losing. The movement, in all of its variations, has been unable to garner mass support in any Muslim country. While people in many countries still despise their governments -- and that of the United States -- this has not translated into support for Osama bin Laden's ideas. It doesn't mean the end of terrorism by a long shot. Small groups of people can do great harm in today's world. But it does mean that the political engine producing this religious radicalism is not gaining steam.

In those places in the Muslim world where political life is open, the evidence is overwhelming. In the elections in Malaysia and Indonesia this year, secular parties trounced Islamic ones. Malaysia's case is particularly instructive. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ran on a platform of reform and good government, reckoning that voters cared more about ending corruption than enacting Islamic law. The result was a devastating defeat for the Islamist party, its worst showing in 30 years.

In 2004, however, one can point to more than simply the absence of support for fundamentalism. There are glimmers of reform, even in the Arab world, the place that remains the locus of the problem. Governments are talking about changing their economic and even political systems. Some are doing more than talking. Jordan has begun serious economic reforms. Egypt, which remains the most tragic case of lost potential in the Arab world, could be rousing from its slumber. An energetic new prime minister has appointed a team with strong reformist credentials, including businessmen in the cabinet (a first in Egypt). The reforms they have proposed are bold and far-reaching. Markets are taking note: Egyptian stocks are up 100 percent this year.

Glimmers? Iraq and Palestine will begin 2005 with genuine elections. Mr. Zakaria would have laughed if you'd told him that on September 12th, 2001.

-Intifada Fatigue: As Palestinians prepare to elect a new president, they're facing the failure of the armed uprising and are hopeful that favorite Mahmoud Abbas can end their misery. (Dan Ephron, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)
-Last Days of the Taliban?: The one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar cruises the Afghan countryside on a motorbike trying to rally his troops. But his guerrillas may be tiring of the fight. (Sami Yousafzai And Ron Moreau, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)
Islam's Happy Faces: The year to come will witness changes both long-term and short, sharp and dramatic. Here are 10 leaders, scientists, executives and artists who will be at the forefront of it all. (Owen Matthews and Lorien Holland, 12/27/04, Newsweek International)

Call them the new faces of the Islamic world. Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, 65, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 50, are two Muslim leaders who have set out to prove that Islamic societies can be tolerant, democratic and prosperous—and that they can co-operate, instead of clash, with more developed Western countries. The nations they lead may be on different sides of the world, but the two prime ministers share similar challenges as they attempt to define what it means to be a modern Muslim nation. First, they are searching for ways to transcend fundamentalist doctrines—or what Abdullah calls "extremists on both sides [who] will drive our civilizations apart." But both men are also finding that the real key to creating a functional Muslim society lies not in theorizing, but in the nuts and bolts of good governance—promoting economic and judicial reform, stamping out corruption, opening their economies to competition and investment. Their shared goal is to ensure that while Islam is a part of their nation's identity, it does not set the entire agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 21, 2004 3:00 PM
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