Violent Islamists may join politics after Arab Spring: IISS

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Violent Islamist groups may take advantage of a security vacuum caused by the Arab Spring uprisings but were more likely to join the struggle for power under a new political order, experts said Tuesday.

A new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) warned however that democracy was not an inevitable outcome of the popular revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and across the wider Arab world earlier this year.

At the launch of the think-tank's "Annual Review of World Affairs", Emile Hokayem, a senior IISS fellow, said that the downfall of tough regimes had provided an opening for violent Islamist groups.

"I'm not saying that terrorist activities will necessarily happen but the collapse of security states is certainly something that creates an operational opportunity for these groups," Hokayem told a press conference in London.

However, the IISS report said the uprisings had undermined extremists by showing how change can be brought about without violence, while the idea of a global war suffered from the proof that country-specific action could work.

Hokayem argued: "Global jihadism has benefited from the fact that these groups thought that they couldn't do anything at home so they had to fight elsewhere, including the far enemy. Right now the opportunity is closer to home.

"At the same time Islamist groups, including violent ones, realise that to be relevant they have to be engaged in the new politics of the Arab world and that means engaging in elections, in coalition politics, in parliamentary politics."

Popular uprisings have swept the Middle East and North Africa in the past nine months, ousting presidents Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and causing major unrest in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

In Egypt and Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Ennahda (Rennaissance) party have emerged as major political forces, although both are expected to seek power-sharing deals from elections later this year.

IISS director-general John Chipman warned that democracy was not an inevitable result of the uprisings.

"The transitions that have taken place so far remain half-baked and the promise of more democratic outcomes remains laced with the risk that sects, military institutions or other groups might still hijack the process," he said.

He added: "The struggle between security forces, liberal elements and Islamist parties to create stable, democratic and representative government will be the defining feature of the post-awakening period."

© 2011 AFP

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