THE rise of Islamic militancy is sparking new alliances in the
Arab world, challenging Europe's and NATO's security, and
threatening to alter the framework for a comprehensive Middle East
The ascendancy of Islamism as a political ideology appears
closely linked with the failure of secular leaders to reduce levels
of poverty and unemployment and the growing perception of Islamists
that Arab regimes are corrupt, authoritarian, and remote from their
As the Islamic revolution gains momentum in the Middle East and
North Africa, moderate Arab states, Israel, and the West are facing
two alternatives: Do you clamp down and try to obliterate Islamic
fundamentalism through repression?
Or do you acknowledge the positive aspects of the Islamic
revival, allow freedom of expression, and work with moderate
elements of the Islamic movement to see if Islam and democracy are
In some Arab countries, the network of Islamic influence is
offering its adherents a more meaningful community life by
providing an efficient social-welfare structure, health clinics,
and youth clubs.
"Tremendous tensions have arisen between Arab states over how
to deal with the Islamic movement," says Mamoun Fandy, political
science professor at Mt. Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In countries that allow Islamic movements a political outlet -
such as Jordan - the threat of Islamic violence is minimal. In
countries that use repression to deal with Islamic militancy -
Algeria, Egypt, and the Israeli-occupied territories - violence
from armed Islamic groups feeds a spiraling conflict.
"But the conflicts in Algeria and Egypt are different," says
Fahmy Howeidy, a moderate Islamist and columnist for the Cairo
daily Al-Ahram. "In Egypt, the radical Islamists are not fighting
for power. It is more about revenge and resistance ... about
families and tribes seeking revenge against the government."
The rapid deterioration of security in Algeria - where an
estimated 30,000 people have died since Islamists were denied
victory at the polls in 1992 - is contributing to an escalating
Algerian pressure cooker
An Islamic revolution in Algeria could spark instability in
Morocco and Tunisia and feed the Islamic rebellion in Egypt -
already under pressure from Islamic insurgents and the Islamic
stronghold of Sudan.
European countries - particularly France, Italy, and Spain - say
a violent seizure of power by Islamists in Algeria could spark a
mass exodus of Algerians to those countries and ignite Islamic
militancy in Europe.
In recognition of this threat, NATO decided last month to open
talks with five North African and Middle Eastern states to develop
a strategy to counter the security threat posed by the Islamists.
NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes said at the security
conference in Germany that since the collapse of communism in
Eastern Europe, Islamic militancy has emerged as the most serious
threat to Western security.
But some Western diplomats and political analysts question
whether NATO is the most appropriate vehicle to respond to the rise
The European Union has proposed a security conference that will
bring together North African, Middle Eastern, and European states
at a security conference in Barcelona, Spain, in November to
discuss how to promote stability in the region. …