Was the Arab Spring a victory for extremism?

The other predictable response among Westerners has been to rationalize the rise of Muslim fundamentalism by arguing that the Muslim Brothers and even the Salafists are not the bogeymen we think they are. Scratch a Muslim Brother, the argument goes, and you’ll find the Middle Eastern analog of a European Christian Democrat. This argument elides the misogyny and anti- Semitism of Islamists, not to mention their embrace of various baroque and pathetic conspiracy theories, including the notion that the attacks of 9/11 were plotted by the Mossad or the CIA. On the other hand, the Egyptian Brothers no longer have to look to Iran to see how Islamists govern; they can look, and are looking, to Turkey, where the ruling AKP party has come closest to maintaining a commitment to traditional Islam without turning its back on the West or completely cutting off the oxygen to liberal-minded secularists.

A set of less predictable responses to the upheaval in the Middle East would include, at the outset, a strong dose of analytical humility. No one knows how these newly empowered Muslim political parties might govern. Never having governed before, the parties themselves don’t know. There are reasons for conditional anguish: The (now contracting) economy of Egypt can’t afford to be led by people who believe “Islam is the solution,” and it certainly can’t be brought into the 21st century by leaders who want to build a bridge to the 7th. But no one has yet offered compelling proof that the Brotherhood would break Egypt’s treaty obligations or press its views through violence.

Another less predictable response might come in the form of fatalism: What will happen in the Middle East is going to happen.