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Democracy and the Rise of Fundamentalism in the Context of North Africa and Egypt

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Recent threats against Westerners by Islamic militants in Egypt coupled with bloody attacks against foreigners by militants in Algeria and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York have chillingly reminded U.S. policy makers that the phenomenon many in the West call Islamic fundamentalism has increasingly assumed a xenophobic and, even more problematically, an anti-American cast. Fifteen years ago such threats and attacks would certainly have been cause for concern, but would probably not have been viewed as symptomatic of a major foreign policy challenge across the entire region. Today, that has changed. Across North Africa and throughout the Muslim world there is evidence that what is known variously as Islamic fundamentalism or Islamic revivalism is an important political force. Just as significantly, fundamentalism has become synonymous with the advocacy of radical change and of confrontation with the West. Anti-Israeli sentiment also figures prominently in the list of issues with which the fundamentalists stake their claims on the North African and Middle Eastern publics attention, but is just one of their grievances and not the chief one they hold against their own governments. Consequently, neither the United States nor other Western nations can assume that the anti-Western character of Islamic revivalism is likely to be satisfactorily addressed only by advances in the Arab-Israeli peace process, although the news out of Egypt suggests that the peace process certainly will be affected by the success or failure of fundamentalism in Israels powerful neighbor. The advent of Islamic fundamentalism as a formidable socio-political element in the Middle East and North Africa has posed a number of urgent questions for the United States and brought a number of long-standing elements of U.S. policy toward the region into conflict.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law

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