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Predicting Middle Eastern Politics: 10 Questions with Daniel Pipes

By Greg Callaghan ~

Greg Callaghan conducted this interview with Daniel Pipes for The Australian.

Callaghan: In Egypt, Islamist parties now hold about 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. Given the majority of demonstrators in Tahrir Square were liberal secularists, has Egypt’s Arab Spring been hijacked?
Pipes: No, because the liberals of Tahrir Square did not force Mubarak from power. The military took advantage of their mass demonstrations to dispatch a president it had had enough of, in large part because of his intent on handing power to his son, Gamal.

Callaghan: Is the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood bad news for Egypt’s Coptic Christians and secularists?
Pipes: Yes, but the Copts have fared badly under the military as well, which engaged in a pogrom against them a half year ago. I doubt the Muslim Brotherhood has had a victory but rather see the parliamentary elections as basically fraudulent.

Callaghan: Is there a risk that the major beneficiaries of the mass demonstrations in the Middle East will be well-organized Islamic parties?
Pipes: Yes, well-organized Islamic parties are in a position to seize power in a number of countries including Libya, Jordan, Syria and Yemen. But I see this less the result of fleeting economic tribulations than the consequence of a deep frustration about the weakness of the umma, the Muslim community, over the past two centuries. I call this the trauma of modern Islam.

Callaghan: Had the U.S. not gone to war in Iraq, would Saddam Hussein have been toppled by his own people anyway?
Pipes: No, because Saddam Hussein’s regime was unique in its brutality and in his determination to hold on to power. The Syrian regime is probably the closest parallel to it.
I doubt whether the Iraqis would have revolted against Saddam; if they did, I doubt whether they would have succeeded. Remember, Saddam used chemical weapons against his own people in 1988.
Callaghan: Is Iran’s regime weakening?
Pipes: It’s certainly feeling the heat. The European oil boycott is having an effect and the current struggle between President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei reflects serious internal divisions between the clerical elite and military veterans like Ahmadinejad.
I see Iran as comparable to the Soviet Union in the 1970s: a powerful and bellicose state but a hollow one because most of its subjects are alienated.

Callaghan: What is the likelihood of a U.S. and/or Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities?
Pipes: I can’t answer that but I do sense that the Iranians will be prevented from acquiring nuclear arms. Tehran is as dead set on building nuclear weapons as the North Korean leadership.

Callaghan: Wouldn’t a military strike against Iran galvanise the population behind the theocratic regime?
Pipes: Perhaps, but it might cause them to turn in anger against the government. This is hard to predict.

Callaghan: You’re more pessimistic about Turkey than Iran, aren’t you?
Pipes: Yes. When the Islamist party, the AKP, came to power in 2002, it trod carefully around the military and did little to overturn the secular principles established by Ataturk in the 1920s. When it was re-elected in 2007 the AKP’s Islamisation project became much more evident, especially weakening the military’s political power. Since its re-election last year the AKP’s gloves have come off and the bullying has increased.

Callaghan: Can Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad survive?
Pipes: No. Increasing resistance from the soldiers, growing economic problems and burgeoning international opposition doom the regime.

Callaghan: Is fundamentalist Islam increasing or decreasing in influence?
Pipes: It is peaking about now. The collapse of the Islamic regime in Iran would be a key event in its decline.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. @2012 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

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