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Terrorist and Extremist Movements in the Middle East

Anthony H. Cordesman

Terrorism and asymmetric warfare are scarcely new features of the Middle Eastern military balance, and Islamic
extremism is scarcely the only source of extremist violence. There are many serious ethnic and sectarian differences
in the Middle East, and these have long led to sporadic violence within given states, and sometimes to major civil
conflicts. The civil wars in Yemen and the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman are examples, as are the long history of civil
war in Lebanon and Syria’s violent suppression of Islamic political groups that opposed the regime of Hafez al-
Asad. The rising power of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led to a civil war in Jordan in September
1970. The Iranian revolution in 1979 was followed by serious political fighting, and an effort to export a theocratic
revolution that helped trigger the Iran-Iraq War. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have both had civil clashes between their
Sunni ruling elites and hostile Shi’ites and these clashes led to significant violence in the case of Saudi Arabia.
There also, however, has been a long history of violent Islamic extremism in the region, sometimes encouraged by
regimes that later became the target of the very Islamists they initially supported. Sadat attempted to use Islamic
movements as a counter to his secular opposition in Egypt only to be assassinated by one such movement after his
peace agreement with Israel. Israel thought it safe to sponsor Islamic movements after 1967 as a counter to the
PLO, only to see the rapid emergence of violently anti-Israeli groups. North and South Yemen were the scene of
coups and civil wars since the early 1960s, and it was a civil war in South Yemen that ultimately led to the collapse
of its regime and its merger with North Yemen in 1990.
The fall of the shah led to an Islamist takeover in Iran, and resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan triggered
an Islamist reaction that still influences the Middle East and the entire Islamic world. Saudi Arabia had to deal with
an uprising at the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. The religious character of this uprising shared many elements
of the movements that arose after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Gulf War in 1991.
Algerian efforts to suppress the victory of Islamic political parties in a democratic election in 1992 were followed by
a civil war that has lasted ever since. Egypt fought a long and largely successful battle with its own Islamic
extremists in the 1990s, but Egypt has only managed to have suppressed such movements rather than eradicated
them. In the rest of the Arab World, the civil wars in Kosovo and Bosnia helped create new Islamic extremist cadres.
Saudi Arabia suffered from two major terrorist attacks before 2001. These attacks struck at a National Guard
Training center and USAF barracks at Al Khobar, and at least one seems to have been the result of Islamic
extremists. Marrocos, Libya, Tunísia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Yemen have all seen hard-line Islamist
movements become a serious national threat.
While not directly part of the region, the Sudan has fought a 15-year long civil war that has probably cost over two
million lives, and this war had been supported by hard-line Islamist elements in the Arab north. Somalia has also
been the scene of a civil war since 1991 that has allowed Islamist cells to operate in that country.a

Terrorism and asymmetric warfare are scarcely new features of the Middle Eastern military balance, and Islamicextremism is scarcely the only source of extremist violence. There are many serious ethnic and sectarian differencesin the Middle East, and these have long led to sporadic violence within given states, and sometimes to major civilconflicts. The civil wars in Yemen and the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman are examples, as are the long history of civilwar in Lebanon and Syria’s violent suppression of Islamic political groups that opposed the regime of Hafez al-Asad. The rising power of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led to a civil war in Jordan in September1970. The Iranian revolution in 1979 was followed by serious political fighting, and an effort to export a theocraticrevolution that helped trigger the Iran-Iraq War. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have both had civil clashes between theirSunni ruling elites and hostile Shi’ites and these clashes led to significant violence in the case of Saudi Arabia.There also, however, has been a long history of violent Islamic extremism in the region, sometimes encouraged byregimes that later became the target of the very Islamists they initially supported. Sadat attempted to use Islamicmovements as a counter to his secular opposition in Egypt only to be assassinated by one such movement after hispeace agreement with Israel. Israel thought it safe to sponsor Islamic movements after 1967 as a counter to thePLO, only to see the rapid emergence of violently anti-Israeli groups. North and South Yemen were the scene ofcoups and civil wars since the early 1960s, and it was a civil war in South Yemen that ultimately led to the collapseof its regime and its merger with North Yemen in 1990.The fall of the shah led to an Islamist takeover in Iran, and resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan triggeredan Islamist reaction that still influences the Middle East and the entire Islamic world. Saudi Arabia had to deal withan uprising at the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. The religious character of this uprising shared many elementsof the movements that arose after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Gulf War in 1991.Algerian efforts to suppress the victory of Islamic political parties in a democratic election in 1992 were followed bya civil war that has lasted ever since. Egypt fought a long and largely successful battle with its own Islamicextremists in the 1990s, but Egypt has only managed to have suppressed such movements rather than eradicatedthem. In the rest of the Arab World, the civil wars in Kosovo and Bosnia helped create new Islamic extremist cadres.Saudi Arabia suffered from two major terrorist attacks before 2001. These attacks struck at a National GuardTraining center and USAF barracks at Al Khobar, and at least one seems to have been the result of Islamicextremists. Marrocos, Libya, Tunísia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Yemen have all seen hard-line Islamistmovements become a serious national threat.While not directly part of the region, the Sudan has fought a 15-year long civil war that has probably cost over twomillion lives, and this war had been supported by hard-line Islamist elements in the Arab north. Somalia has alsobeen the scene of a civil war since 1991 that has allowed Islamist cells to operate in that country.

The Death of Political Islam

Jon B. Alterman

The obituaries for political Islam have begun to be written. After years of seemingly unstoppablegrowth, Islamic parties have begun to stumble. In Morocco, the Justice and DevelopmentParty (or PJD) did far worse than expected in last September’s elections, and Jordan’sIslamic Action Front lost more than half its seats in last month’s polling. The eagerly awaitedmanifesto of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a draft of which appeared last September,showed neither strength nor boldness. Instead, it suggested the group was beset by intellectualcontradictions and consumed by infighting.It is too early to declare the death of political Islam, as it was premature to proclaim therebirth of liberalism in the Arab world in 2003-04, but its prospects seem notably dimmerthan they did even a year ago.To some, the fall from grace was inevitable; political Islam has collapsed under its owncontradictions, they say. They argue that, in objective terms, political Islam was never morethan smoke and mirrors. Religion is about faith and truth, and politics are about compromiseand accommodation. Seen this way, political Islam was never a holy enterprise, butmerely an effort to boost the political prospects of one side in a political debate. Backed byreligious authority and legitimacy, opposition to Islamists’ will ceased to be merely political—it became heresy—and the Islamists benefited.These skeptics see political Islam as having been a useful way to protect political movements,cow political foes, and rally support. As a governing strategy, however, they arguethat political Islam has not produced any successes. In two areas where it recently rose topower, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq, governance has been anemic. In Iran, where themullahs have been in power for almost three decades, clerics struggle for respect and thecountry hemorrhages money to Dubai and other overseas markets with more predictablerules and more positive returns. The most avowedly religious state in the Middle East, SaudiArabia, has notably less intellectual freedom than many of its neighbors, and the guardiansof orthodoxy there carefully circumscribe religious thought. As the French scholar of Islam,Olivier Roy, memorably observed more than a decade ago, the melding of religion and politics did not sanctify politics, it politicizedreligion.But while Islam has not provided a coherent theory of governance, let alone a universally accepted approach to the problems ofhumanity, the salience of religion continues to grow among many Muslims.That salience goes far beyond issues of dress, which have become more conservative for both women and men in recent years, andbeyond language, which invokes God’s name far more than was the case a decade ago. It also goes beyond the daily practice ofIslam—from prayer to charity to fasting—all of which are on the upswing.What has changed is something even more fundamental than physical appearance or ritual practice, and that is this: A growingnumber of Muslims start from the proposition that Islam is relevant to all aspects of their daily lives, and not merely the province oftheology or personal belief.Some see this as a return to traditionalism in the Middle East, when varying measures of superstition and spirituality governed dailylife. More accurately, though, what we are seeing is the rise of “neo-traditionalism,” in which symbols and slogans of the past areenlisted in the pursuit of hastening entry into the future. Islamic finance—which is to say, finance that relies on shares and returnsrather than interest—is booming, and sleek bank branches contain separate entrances for men and women. Slick young televangelistsrely on the tropes of sanctifying the everyday and seeking forgiveness, drawing tens of thousands to their meetings and televisionaudiences in the millions. Music videos—viewable on YouTube—implore young viewers to embrace faith and turn away froma meaningless secular life.Many in the West see secularism and relativism as concrete signs of modernity. In the Middle East, many see them as symbols ofa bankrupt secular nationalist past that failed to deliver justice or development, freedom or progress. The suffering of secularism ismeaningless, but the discipline of Islam is filled with signficance.It is for this reason that it is premature to declare the death of political Islam. Islam, increasingly, cannot be contained. It is spreadingto all aspects of life, and it is robust among some of the most dynamic forces in the Middle East. It enjoys state subsidies to be sure,but states have little to do with the creativity occurring in the religious field.The danger is that this Islamization of public life will cast aside what little tolerance is left in the Middle East, after centuries asa—fundamentally Islamic—multicultural entrepôt. It is hard to imagine how Islamizing societies can flourish if they do not embraceinnovation and creativity, diversity and difference. “Islamic” is not a self-evident concept, as my friend Mustapha Kamal Pasha onceobserved, but it cannot be a source of strength in modern societies if it is tied to ossified and parochial notions of its nature.Dealing with difference is fundamentally a political task, and it is here that political Islam will face its true test. The formal structuresof government in the Middle East have proven durable, and they are unlikely to crumble under a wave of Islamic activism. For politicalIslam to succeed, it needs to find a way to unite diverse coalitions of varying faiths and degrees of faith, not merely speak to itsbase. It has not yet found a way to do so, but that is not to say that it cannot.

The Internet and Islamist Politics in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt.

The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first saw a
dissemination of the Internet as a center of communication, information, entertainment and
commerce. The spread of the Internet reached all four corners of the globe, connecting the
researcher in Antarctica with the farmer in Guatemala and the newscaster in Moscow to the
Bedouin in Egypt. Through the Internet, the flow of information and real-time news reaches
across continents, and the voices of subalternity have the potential to project their previously
silenced voices through blogs, websites and social networking sites. Political organizations
across the left-right continuum have targeted the Internet as the political mobilizer of the future,
and governments now provide access to historical documents, party platforms, and
administrative papers through their sites. Similarly, religious groups display their beliefs online
through official sites, and forums allow members from across the globe to debate issues of
eschatology, orthopraxy and any number of nuanced theological issues. Fusing the two, Islamist
political organizations have made their presence known through sophisticated websites detailing
their political platforms, relevant news stories, and religiously oriented material discussing their
theological views. This paper will specifically examine this nexus – the use of the Internet by
Islamist political organizations in the Middle East in the countries of Jordan, Morocco and
Egito.
Although a wide range of Islamist political organizations utilize the Internet as a forum to
publicize their views and create a national or international reputation, the methods and intentions
of these groups vary greatly and depend on the nature of the organization. This paper will
examine the use of the Internet by three ‘moderate’ Islamist parties: the Islamic Action Front in
2
Jordan, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
As these three parties have increased their political sophistication and reputation, both at home
and abroad, they have increasingly utilized the Internet for a variety of purposes. First, Islamist
organizations have used the Internet as a contemporary extension of the public sphere, a sphere
through which parties frame, communicate and institutionalize ideas to a broader public.
Secondly, the Internet provides Islamist organizations an unfiltered forum through which
officials may promote and advertise their positions and views, as well as circumvent local media
restrictions imposed by the state. Finally, the Internet allows Islamist organizations to present a
counterhegemonic discourse in opposition to the ruling regime or monarchy or on display to an
international audience. This third motivation applies most specifically to the Muslim
Fraternidade, which presents a sophisticated English language website designed in a Western
style and tailored to reach a selective audience of scholars, politicians and journalists. The MB
has excelled in this so-called “bridgeblogging” 1 and has set the standard for Islamist parties
attempting to influence international perceptions of their positions and work. The content varies
between the Arabic and English versions of the site, and will be examined further in the section
on the Muslim Brotherhood. These three goals overlap significantly in both their intentions and
desired outcomes; however, each goal targets a different actor: the public, the media, and the
regime. Following an analysis of these three areas, this paper will proceed into a case study
analysis of the websites of the IAF, the PJD and the Muslim Brotherhood.
1

Andrew Helms

Ikhwanweb

The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first saw a dissemination of the Internet as a center of communication, information, entertainment and commerce.

The spread of the Internet reached all four corners of the globe, connecting the researcher in Antarctica with the farmer in Guatemala and the newscaster in Moscow to the Bedouin in Egypt.

Through the Internet, the flow of information and real-time news reaches across continents, and the voices of subalternity have the potential to project their previously silenced voices through blogs, websites and social networking sites.

Political organizations across the left-right continuum have targeted the Internet as the political mobilizer of the future, and governments now provide access to historical documents, party platforms, and administrative papers through their sites. Similarly, religious groups display their beliefs online through official sites, and forums allow members from across the globe to debate issues of eschatology, orthopraxy and any number of nuanced theological issues.

Fusing the two, Islamist political organizations have made their presence known through sophisticated websites detailing their political platforms, relevant news stories, and religiously oriented material discussing their theological views. This paper will specifically examine this nexus – the use of the Internet by Islamist political organizations in the Middle East in the countries of Jordan, Morocco and Egypt.

Although a wide range of Islamist political organizations utilize the Internet as a forum to publicize their views and create a national or international reputation, the methods and intentions of these groups vary greatly and depend on the nature of the organization.

This paper will examine the use of the Internet by three ‘moderate’ Islamist parties: the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As these three parties have increased their political sophistication and reputation, both at home and abroad, they have increasingly utilized the Internet for a variety of purposes.

First, Islamist organizations have used the Internet as a contemporary extension of the public sphere, a sphere through which parties frame, communicate and institutionalize ideas to a broader public.

Secondly, the Internet provides Islamist organizations an unfiltered forum through which officials may promote and advertise their positions and views, as well as circumvent local media restrictions imposed by the state.

Finally, the Internet allows Islamist organizations to present a counterhegemonic discourse in opposition to the ruling regime or monarchy or on display to an international audience. This third motivation applies most specifically to the Muslim Brotherhood, which presents a sophisticated English language website designed in a Western style and tailored to reach a selective audience of scholars, politicians and journalists.

The MB has excelled in this so-called “bridgeblogging” 1 and has set the standard for Islamist parties attempting to influence international perceptions of their positions and work. The content varies between the Arabic and English versions of the site, and will be examined further in the section on the Muslim Brotherhood.

These three goals overlap significantly in both their intentions and desired outcomes; however, each goal targets a different actor: the public, the media, and the regime. Following an analysis of these three areas, this paper will proceed into a case study analysis of the websites of the IAF, the PJD and the Muslim Brotherhood.