For decades, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab dictators used to tell Americans and Europeans that if they did not support them, the result would be Muslim extremists coming to power.

This is why these dictators never took drastic measures against Islamic fundamentalist groups in their countries. Even though Egypt and some Arab countries occasionally cracked down on these groups, they always made sure that the Islamists would stay around.

In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood organization had been outlawed for many years. However, this did not stop the organization and its supporters from operating under different labels.

In Jordan, similarly, the authorities played a cat-and-mouse game with Islamist groups and their followers. One day the Muslim Brotherhood in the kingdom would be good guys, on another day they would be bad guys.

This pattern gave the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to grow and win over more supporters, as the local people became more and more disgusted both with their dictators and the Western governments who supported them

Instead of focusing their attention on the Islamists, Arab dictators chose to chase secular reformists, liberals, democrats, newspaper editors and human rights activists; by suppressing the emergence of these people, the Arab dictatorships paved the way for the rise of radical extremists.

This is the reason the Islamist groups in the Arab countries are much more organized than the pro-democracy Facebook youth who launched the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Unlike the Islamist groups, the anti-government demonstrators in Egypt and Jordan still do not have leaders. Mohammed ElBaradei, who enabled Iran to build up its nuclear program by misrepresenting it to the West, has not succeeded in presenting himself as a charismatic leader of the opposition in Egypt.

In Tunisia, the youth who brought down the regime of President Zine al-Abidin Bin Ali also still do not have a leader.

In the absence of secular leadership, it is all too likely that the well-organized Islamist groups would, sooner rather than later, come to power.

The Arab dictators have only themselves to blame for the rise of radical Islam. For many years, these dictators incited their constituents against Israel and the West in order to divert attention from problems at home.

Ironically, as the dictators crushed any real democratic opposition -- to continue claiming to the West that radical Islam was the threat -- their constant rhetoric of incitement in the media and mosques actually drove many Arabs toward Hamas, Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood as the only alternative to these regimes.

The next time an Arab dictator tells Americans and Europeans that radical Islam is the only alternative to his corrupt secular regime, they should check to see what measures he has taken to contain the extremists.

Moreover, the Americans and Europeans need to ask why the Arab dictatorships continue to pursue the people wanting democracy, and not the radical Islamists.

Related Topics:  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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