“Have Islamists Really Won the Arab Spring?”

From the Atlantic.

Earlier this month, as a secular, liberal political coalition swept the polls in Libya, some Western observers hailed a “break in the Islamist tide” of post-Arab Spring electoral outcomes. Following victories for Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, it seemed stunning to find a Western-educated political scientist, Mahmoud Jibril, suddenly at the helm in Tripoli. Other observers, by contrast, noted the exceptional circumstances of Jibril’s triumph: not only had he achieved fame and acclaim in Libya beforehand, during the country’s revolution, by leading the rebel government in Benghazi, he also enjoyed staunch backing from his native Warfalla tribe, one of the most powerful tribal confederations in the country. These factors have been used to suggest that the Libyan outcome is an anomaly–and that a generation of Islamist-led politics still lies ahead in the broader region.

In a region as variegated and complex as the Arab world, it’s always perilous to make generalizations about “tides” rising and falling. And yet, even taking into account the many contrasts among post-Arab Spring governments and populations, there is reason to question the conventional wisdom that Islamists will hold power across the region for years. This is not to say that a sweeping tide is simply turning. It is instead to emphasize that prospects for sustained Islamist government in the Arab world were tenuous to begin with–and that recent Islamist miscalculations, combined with new countermeasures by their opponents, make the road ahead even more difficult for these parties than it needed to be.

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