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International Politics, On the Bookshelf

Book Review: Arab Spring or Islamic Supremacism?

Both Egypt and Tunisia have looked to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a model for the Arab Spring in their own states. In his recent book, Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, Andrew C. McCarthy condemns this outlook as “perverse.”  “It is perverse to regard the Islamist AKP as a ‘model for the Arab Spring,’” he argues. “The main lesson of the Arab Spring is that the mirage of Islam as a moderating force hospitable to democratic transformation exists solely in our own minds, for our own consumption.”

McCarthy goes into depth about the changes in Turkey brought about by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership: a reduction in women’s rights, attacks against religious minorities, oppression of the press, and stacking of the judiciary. He exposes how Erdogan and his buddies at the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation work together to support Hamas and terrorist activities.

However, readers may be put off by the difference between the title and the book’s contents. Those most interested in the Arab Spring itself will likely be dissatisfied with McCarthy’s coverage of the Tunisian, Libyan, and Syrian conflicts. (Many receive just a paragraph.)

In terms of the Arab Spring itself, McCarthy focuses largely on the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt–which he outlines in the last two chapters. “The objective of this book is not to relate a definitive history of the ‘Arab Spring,’” writes McCarthy. “That would impossible [sic] at this early stage.” McCarthy’s manuscript was finished in July 2012, he writes.

The book is also replete with typos which should have been caught by the editor.

McCarthy’s main points compare Turkey and Egypt. Namely, in both countries the Islamists adopted “justice” as part of their name; in Egypt, the word “freedom” was added to the “Freedom and Justice Party,” run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Freedom” indicates the goal of total submission to sharia, argues the author. “Justice” is another way of referring to sharia jurisprudence. Both terms outline a progression where democracy is a “train” to an Islamist state, he writes, harkening back to a 1998 quote from Erdogan: “Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination.”

McCarthy argues that these Middle Eastern regimes will encounter more repression as they become democratic (in the case of Egypt) or Islamist (in the case of Turkey). “Islamic culture does not work that way. The new regimes may be popularly elected, but make no mistake: They will be rulers, not representatives,” writes McCarthy. He argues that, culturally, Muslims in the Middle East are looking for rulers to submit to, not true democracy. In the case of Turkey, he asserts that the state is progressing away from true democracy rather than toward a model “Islamic democracy.”

“Islamic supremacism is just a different kind of dictatorship,” asserts McCarthy. “By comparison to secular dictatorship, it is actually more totalitarian because Islamic supremacism is about not the personal aggrandizement of the rulers.”

Islamic supremacism is thus “about the imposition of a comprehensive social system that governs life down to the most granular details” through the use of sharia.

I highly recommend Mr. McCarthy’s prior book The Grand Jihad. You can read my review here. However, its sequel lacks an index and list of resources, the absence of which undermine the writer’s credibility in Spring Fever.

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