Islam, Democracy, and the Arab Future
Contested Islam in the Gulf Crisis
Raymond William Baker
There is no God but God, George Bush is the Enemy of God
Islamist Student Slogan at Cairo University
On 6 August 1990, after reviewing U.S. satellite intelligence of the Iraqi military buildup on the Saudi border, King Fahd, "Guardian of Islam's Holy Places," formally invited the United States to deploy troops in Saudi Arabia. Islamic scholars from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries supporting the decision explained the Saudi policy by analogy with the Prophet Muhammad's reliance on an unbeliever for assistance in a time of dire threat. A consensus of Arab states had already judged Iraq's invasion and subsequent annexation of Kuwait to be unlawful. But Fahd's decision to bring the United States full force into the Gulf sharply divided Arab governments and peoples, making the Gulf crisis the most significant political question for Arabs in the 1990s.
On the state level, Fahd's decision not unexpectedly prompted the threatened oil-rich Gulf states to join Iraq's traditional strategic rivals, Syria and Egypt, in backing the U.S. intervention, while poorer Arab states tended to side with Iraq or to declare their neutrality. The surprise came when ordinary Muslims by the hundreds of thousands sided with Iraq. They did so under Islamist banners, not always in accord with the policy of their governments.
Whatever its other consequences, the Gulf crisis energized Islamic forces in the entire region. 1 At the same time, the spectacle of Arab pitted against Arab and Muslim against Muslim raised the most basic questions about the health of the Arab-Muslim order in the Middle East. Intellectuals judged that the "sickness" of the Arab