Making Sense of the Cartoon Controversy

Ideologically, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are closer to the Iranian mullahs than to the modernist Turkish Islamists. But they have come a long way in the last five years, thanks to their engagement in the political process. The performance of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood over the next few years will shed further light on the nature of their social agenda and foreign policy.

But one thing is clear: Islamists will meet a fate similar to their secular precursors if they do not deliver the social goods, or if they entrap their people in costly military adventures against their real or imagined enemies. The electorate would disown them as surely as it is turning away from today's leaders.

In other words, the Muslim electorate is not itself Islamist in a radical or fundamentalist way; rather, it is disaffected and fed up with oppression, corruption and incompetence, and is "throwing the bums out" -- akin to voting out Republicans in favor of Democrats, or vice versa -- doing something "normal" in a democratic society. This fear must torment Hamas' leaders as they try to govern a society under occupation that is in the throes of socioeconomic and political turmoil and whose economic survival depends on foreign assistance.

The Bush administration must realize that the Islamists' electoral victory represents the beginning of the democratic process, not its end. More, not less, democracy is a key to overcoming the existential crisis in Muslim societies.

Fawaz A. Gerges, who holds the Christian Johnson Chair in Middle East and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, is author of the recently published "The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global" (Cambridge University Press). Gerges is a senior analyst for ABC News.

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