The pro-Islamist West versus anti-Islamist Russia, China
In the present regional upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, how could one characterize the responses of Western countries on the one hand, and those of Russia and China on the other? Are there any ideological stances we can discern in their policies? One answer came from Daniel Pipes, who in a blog post for National Review Online, argued: "Whereas the European Union and the US government are increasingly sympathetic to Islamism, in part as a way to tame their own Muslim populations, Moscow and Beijing have a history of open conflict with their Muslim populations and therefore adopt policies more hostile to Islamism in the Middle East.”
Pipes raises an important topic for discussion, but how valid is the thesis? One particularly important case to note here is that of France and Tunisia.
France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, most of whom are of North African descent. Yet the French government was eager to see Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali – the pro-Western president who was subsequently toppled in the protests against his rule that sparked off the Arab Spring – keep hold of power, approving the sale of tear gas grenades to Tunisia just two days before Ben Ali was ousted.
Due to the outrage triggered in Tunisia by France’s initial stance on the uprising, the French government later regretted its failure to distance itself from Ben Ali earlier on, yet it is also clear that France’s willingness to maintain friendly ties with Tunisia will only persist as long as Ennahda – the Islamist party that won a plurality of seats in the Tunisian elections – sticks to its pledge not to implement Shari’a law in Tunisia.
MEANWHILE, IN an effort to mend relations between Tunisia and France, the secular President Moncef Marzouki, whose center-left "Congress for the Republic” is currently in a coalition government with Ennahda, recently visited France and felt a need to reassure the French parliament that Tunisia has not "fallen into the hands of Islamism.”