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U.S. policymakers fear a “Shia crescent,” a regional alliance led by Iran. A dawning “Muslim Brotherhood crescent” is far more threatening.

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(Tablet Magazine)

Until January of this year, U.S. policymakers and American allies feared what Jordan’s King Abdullah II had dubbed the “Shia crescent.” The thinking was that as Iran’s power grew, this strategic alignment of hostile governments would stretch from the Islamic Republic of Iran, through its ally Syria, on to the newly empowered Shia majority in Iraq, and up to the shores of the eastern Mediterranean where it would reach Hezbollah in Lebanon. But that was before pro-American dictators started to fall like dominoes across the region. What we’re looking at now is what some, like historian Martin Kramer, have called a “Muslim Brotherhood crescent.”

Take a look at the map. In last week’s Tunisian elections, the Islamist al-Nahda Party, once outlawed, won 90 out of 217 seats. As goes Tunisia, so goes the Arab Spring. In Libya, several Islamist figures, some of them reportedly aligned with al-Qaida, seem likely to fill the vacuum left by Muammar Qaddafi’s death. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest Islamist movement, is prepared to compete for 50 percent of the country’s parliamentary seats in elections scheduled for later this month. The exact strength of the Islamist element in the ongoing Syrian uprising remains to be seen, but the contours of this new crescent are already becoming clear.

An Islamist alliance drawn from the region’s Sunni majority spells a kind of long-term trouble for U.S. and Israeli interests that may be equally or even more dangerous than a Shia crescent—even if Iran gets a nuclear bomb. After all, the Shia crescent is sectarian by definition, which means that its transnational character actually enfeebles it. As most analysts recognize, if the clerical regime in Tehran comes tumbling down then all its regional assets will also be weakened, if not destroyed.

That’s not true of a Muslim Brotherhood crescent, where the relative strength or weakness of Tunisian Islamists, for instance, has little bearing on the political power of Egypt’s Islamist movement. As University of Virginia professor Ahmed al-Rahim explains in a forthcoming issue of The Historical Review, “the Muslim Brotherhoods—from Morocco to Egypt to Iraq—have operated in practice as national Islamist organizations.” That is to say, the Muslim Brotherhood crescent is powerful because it both draws on the political aspirations of the regional Sunni majority and is deeply rooted in national sympathies.

Parts of the West perceive this dangerous situation with a good deal of sangfroid. France, for instance, though it backed Tunisia’s former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali when the uprising against him first began last January, now welcomes the Islamist triumph in its former colony. The election results are “tremendously good news,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé. “After decades of disputable and disputed elections,” Juppé continued, “the ballot went ahead under excellent conditions: no notable incidents, and very high turnout by Tunisian voters.” So long as hundreds of thousands of Tunisian refugees don’t wash up on French shores, Paris would settle for Osama Bin Laden’s ghost as the country’s ruler.

Washington’s position is a bit more complex. Even before the Arab Spring, the Obama Administration correctly believed that the Islamist movement was fast becoming one of the major powers in the region. The president’s advisers, including counterterrorism czar John Brennan, can be blamed for their enthusiasm in reaching out to outfits like Hezbollah, whose political program and intentions they misunderstood. But it was actually the Bush White House that set the precedent for reaching out to Islamists.

In order to keep the peace in Iraq, the Bush Administration was compelled to make peace with—and buy off—local Sunni Islamists that shared the U.S. interest in defeating al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. Moreover, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is from the Dawa party, a Shia Islamist organization co-founded by Hussein Fadlallah, the late spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Perhaps most significantly, despite the warnings of our Israeli and Palestinian allies, the Bush White House pushed for the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2005 that brought Hamas to power.

All the Obama Administration did was read the writing on the wall: Given a choice in free and fair elections, Arab electorates will invariably put Islamists in power. It is for this reason that the present White House has privileged its relationship with Turkey, and to a lesser extent Qatar, while it has downplayed its alliance with Israel. If the Islamists are riding a wave, the administration’s logic goes, then it is useful to have an Islamist as a go-between, like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is reportedly the world leader with whom Obama speaks most often after British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Some argue that in spite of its anti-Israel and anti-Western rhetoric, Erdogan’s Freedom and Justice Party really is a model moderate Islamist organization. After all, there’s no ban on alcohol in Istanbul bars, and Turkish women aren’t compelled to wear the headscarf. Unfortunately, these domestic issues have virtually no bearing on vital U.S. interests. What should matter to U.S. policymakers is that Erdogan is the architect of an adventurist foreign policy and has promised to send warships to protect future aid flotillas. Erdogan, who uses anti-Israel rhetoric to stir the passions of the Arab masses, is no moderate, but a demagogue who has patterned his career after the modern Middle East’s most famous radical, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Indeed, “moderate” is a word that gets thrown around recklessly when it comes to the Islamist groups that comprise this new Muslim Brotherhood crescent. Consider the leader of al-Nahda, Rashid Ghannoushi, who, after many years of exile, may well be Tunisia’s next prime minister. He is routinely described as a moderate, even though he has praised the mothers of suicide bombers and believes that the “region will get rid of the germ of Israel.”

Perhaps to better understand the term “moderate” we might consider Islamist parties in the context of how they exercise power in their local environments. Where Osama Bin Laden spoke of a revived caliphate that would unite the umma, Islamists like Ghannoushi, Erdogan, and the Muslim Brotherhood are focused on their own national projects. Extremist Islamist outfits like Bin Laden’s original al-Qaida live in caves and rely on the support of Middle Eastern governments in order to accomplish operations like blowing up planes. So-called moderate Islamist parties, on the other hand, win electoral contests that leave them in charge of Middle Eastern governments, security services, and militaries with artillery, tanks, air forces, and navies.

Despite their name, the moderates are more dangerous than the extremists by a matter of magnitude. It’s no wonder the Obama Administration seeks to appease them by keeping Israel at arm’s length.

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Norvell DeAtkine says:

Having been around the Middle East academia ( but not in it)for many years I can tell you that our middle eastern academia is sunni chronic. Academia has a deep Shi’a knowledge deficit and our state department people educated (?) by sunni professors follow the Getrude Bell view of the Arab shi’a as mysterious religious fanatics. We did not understand the Shi’a view in Iraq and still do not.
cheers Tex

Lee Smith continues to be a clear thinking American writer on the Arab/Muslim Middle East. He needs to be listened too.

Marnie Heyn says:

Duh. My mother will be gratified to read in print what I’ve said, over and over, for the past two years. Keep up the good work!

HannaH says:

To say that Bush did the same thing. That Obama is doing in the Mideast. Is leftist insanity. There is no comparison. We are so much more danger now. Because of this childish president. I thought Carter was bad. This man makes Carter look like a saint. How many people Israeli Americans are going to die. Because of Obama’s insanity

Steve Stein says:

“Obama Bin Ladin” is a keyword now?

Lee continues to flip out in typical fanatic paranoid fashion like the foaming Islamaphobe he is. Lee can always be reliably relied upon to provide this kind of crazy “analysis.”

Anti-semitism remains a plank in the Muslim Brotherhood platform. I doubt that the party can eschew its origins, no matter how much their adherents have claimed that the party now rejects violence. Salafism in its many guises is ultimately all about creating a caliphate that will impose its modernist ideology on everyone, and moderate Muslims are the ones who will lose the most because they will never attain the freedoms they have sought in the Arab Spring. The Muslim world is the battleground, but the fight will have collateral damage in the West. Realists recognize the origins of Islamist jihad in the fight against the Ottoman Turks, the West, and the Jews, and not blame Islam, but the Salafist ideology that propels jihad.

sharon says:

It is unfortunate that the extremists in every religion, in every country, destroy progress, hurt education and harm women. It is true in the United States and Israel where the orthodox Christians and the orthodox Jews drag each country into irrational behaviors. The “Arab Spring” will be the worst of these, with its 5th century ideology and its 21st century weapons. It is sad for those of us that believe that religion belongs in the church, snyagogue or mosque, and in the family. It has no place in the running of government.
It is so annoying that in this country right wing religious organizations are “tax free”, since they stick their noses into all aspects of governing. Just think of what good the money could do if these institutions were taxed.

George One says:

In Turkish villages, the AK party goes around paying young women to wear the “veil” and social pressure is doing the rest, and even in Istanbul, alcohol drinkers have been attacked, so there’s nothing moderate about Erdogan internally or externally.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Well. Turkeys is supporting the anti Assad movement. Iran wants Assad to remain in power. Egypt military have firm control of the country. Lybia is a tribal society, and will remain so. Tunisia was secular, and will remain so. The war mongers Iran Syria Hezbollah Hamas will remain so. There will be no surprises when all these Muslims start fighting each other. The Arab Spring will develop into the Muslim debacle. Just remember 1989 Iran with their Ayatollah Khumeinih and Iraq with Sadam Hussein engaged in an eight year war that killed one million Muslims.
At the same time Haffes al Assad in Syria killed 50,000+ civilians in the city of Hama, now his son Bashar has killed 3500+ civilians of course.

After all as long as we get our oil and the Muslims get the petro-dollars and the petro-euros all is fine that ends fine.

No the Muslims are the Muslims and that is the way it goes.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Jules calls islamophobe the one that tells the truth about Muslims Islam you have it. Self denial and mirages is the weakness of this commentators. There were United Nations reports written by Muslim scholars in 2000 and 2010 describing the dire conditions of the Muslim people gone worst with each decade. They were ignored. Then the Arab Spring developed. And continues. It is a long road. Too long. Will there be another United Nations report issued by Muslim scholars in 2020. Sure. Will there be any improvements of the Muslim populace? Not so sure, though.

andrew r says:

Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more ignorant of world affairs, I can always count on articles like this and the comments section to make me feel 10 IQ points dumber.

“It’s no wonder the Obama Administration seeks to appease them by keeping Israel at arm’s length.”


Ashraf says:

Another ‘Islamophobic’ misinformed analysis packed with stereotypes and essentialist thinking… Most of the comments follow suit, unfortuantely! Please don’t claim to be experts on ‘Islam’ or the ‘Muslim world’ or the Middle East while you know nothing about it, other than a pile of never-ending cliches!..

Martin Knutsen says:

Im left wondering: How “close” does the Obama administration have to be to Nethanyahu and Lieberman for Lee Smith to be happy? Do they have to salute and shout “sir”? Is any disagreement with Israel automaticaly an apeasement of the islamists?

The Muslim Brotherhood is a loosely knit group of national organizations or movements, of which the Egyptian MB is the most influential.

Yusuf Qaradawi, whose exasperation with Israeli intransigence goaded him into justifying Palestinian acts of violence against Israeli civilians, takes, overall, a more rational view of the relationship between Islamic states and non-Muslim states.

Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Egyptian MB, has twice turned down offers to be the leader of the MB.

In “Fiqh al-Jihad” (The Jurisprudence of Jihad”), Qaradawi encourages a “middle way” conception of jihad: “solidarity” with the Palestinians and others on the front line, rather than violence, is an obligatory form of jihad.

Financial jihad, which corresponds with the obligation of alms giving (zakat), counts as well.

And Muslims should recognise that technological change means that media and information systems are as much a part of the jihadist arsenal as are guns.

As long as Muslims are free to use media and other resources to press their case, there is no justification for using violent force.

Qaradawi’s overriding position and that of most islamists is in conformity with the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him):

“The ink of scholars is, in holiness, equal to the blood of martyrs.” (Some recensions say the ink is more holy than the blood.)

Qaradawi (and the MB itself) follows the course of “wassatiyya” (centrism). He once wrote:

“There are people who prohibit everything and others who give the freedom to do everything. I am between the two, between the extreme right and the extreme left.

Sunni Muslims are 90% of the worlds Muslims; they have the most influence in the Muslim world. In some ways, Shia Muslims can be compared to the Karaim in Judaism–a minority with errant beliefs. However, willingness to die willingly as a form of self-sacrifice makes them very dangerous.

Vilification of the MB will not contribute to world peace.

Certain factual errors undermine the writer’s credibility, especially when it comes to Shias/Shia politics.

For instance, the cleric he refers to as “Hussein Fadlullah” is actually MOHAMMAD Hussein Fadlullah. (I.e., “Hussein” is his father’s given name, not his given name.)

More importantly, the author implies that the Dawa party is dangerous because it was “co-founded” by Fadlullah, the “late spiritual leader of Hezbollah.”

2 problems here: 1st: Fadlullah’s co-founding of the Dawa Party came in 1957 or 1958 when he was a seminary student in Iraq – more than 20 years before Hezbollah was formed (1982 at the very earliest, but really 1985), and long before Fadlullah was involved in any kind of radical politics.

2nd (and I fault the author less for this because it’s a more common mistake): Fadlullah was not the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah.

That position is always held by the head jurist (wali al-faqih) in Iran – first Ayatollah Khomeini, now Khamenei. That is Hezbollah’s formal position, and always has been. There was a period in which Fadlullah was the highest ranking Shia cleric in LEBANON who backed Hezbollah (hence the Western misinterpretation), but that ended with a nasty split – so nasty that young Hezbollah supporters opened fire on Fadlullah’s motorcade, and spread rumors about his sexual preference.

People who followed Fadlullah as a jurist are usually not Hezbollah supporters. The group’s members/supporters generally look to A. Khamenei for religious guidance and often hold stridently negative views of Fadlullah.

Even until Fadlullah died, most serious Hezbollah supporters avoided his mosque in Haret Hreik, even though it’s the largest/nicest one in that immediate area.

Likewise, serious Fadlullah supporters often wouldn’t attend Hezbollah’s main mosque in Haret Hreik even if they were standing right in front of it at prayer time. They’d go elsewhere.

daastan20 says:

SO funny, Its seem like author has no Idea what Arab spring is and what Muslim wants. So if muslims wants to pick there way of life through a democratic way they all the sudden become Isalmist. If jews does that they are chosen people.
Lets look at the history who had killed more innocent people in past. Should we?
Serioulsy people look at his website name. This is pure propaganda…. Please I beg you dont listen to this crap. Muslim value every other co-relionist as a human bein. I can assure you that no one is against the democratic life style of west. As a matter of they kind of want to have same for them selves but little changes. We need dialouges more better commumications among each other there should be more better understanding.

I ran across this information earlier today while at work. Very informative. Sent the url to myself and will almost certainly bookmark it once I go back home.

Farooq says:

Every body forges his own instruments of retribution.So does US and Israel. Why the hell did you go to Iraq?

Muslims are like other human beings living on this planet. They too have similarities and differences among them. It is not as plain and simple as classifying them into Shias or Sunnis or extremists and moderates (which I guess is a term for westernized Muslims who are willing to look after the interests of the West rather than their own people).

Why are you afraid if they vote for parties whom they like? Given the freedom to choose, they will choose people who they think are capable of safe guarding their interests and working for their betterment. Just because someone prays 5 times a day and tries to follow religion and at the same time tries to find the cause and solutions for their problems, doesn’t make them terrorists.

Problem is that western governments and media want those people to be in government who can look after their interests (contracts, oil, Israel etc). Anybody who talks of nationalism and solving their own problems is targeted as a terrorist and an Al-Qaeda affiliate. To be honest, the elected government in Israel is more radical and right wing then any of those in a Muslim country. But this seems perfectly fine for most of those in Western media. Just like Israelis have every right to choose whoever they want to choose so does Muslims too.

What the writer has written here is pure, foul-smelling propaganda crap. Plain hatred-based, ignorant propaganda. Trust me, let democracy prevail in the Muslim world and it will be a much better place to live. Oil might be expensive, contracts may be given on merits to the deserving (and not on phone calls and arm twisting by western capitals) but the world itself would be a much better place then what it is now!

why are u so feared of them….dont u have any other thing to think

The Islamists came to power in democratic way just like that of America and Europe so we should give them respect and time and after that judge the outcome otherwise things will become a mess like that of Iraq and Afghanistan also we should understand that today Western countries has financial problems where they can not fire a single cruise so they should coperate with the new players in the middle east I hope the new comers will support the stabilization of the region and let the people in the area to live together in peacefull and harmony also all should respect the UN resolutions 383 and 242 this will make the middle east stable.


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U.S. policymakers fear a “Shia crescent,” a regional alliance led by Iran. A dawning “Muslim Brotherhood crescent” is far more threatening.

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