A believer in the possibilities of coexistence, Sayed Kashua is, or perhaps was, the most prominent Arab-Israeli author writing in Hebrew. Punctured with staccato prose, his column on leaving Jerusalem, perhaps forever, was a beautifully written, heartbreaking admission of defeat. For him, the notion that Arabs and Jews could live together had been shattered. “All those who told me there is a difference between blood and blood, between one person and another person, were right,” Kashua concluded.
Kashua was writing very specifically about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but his resigned pessimism—after holding on, for years, to what may have seemed like naive hope—could just as well be applied to the entire region.
If this second phase of the “Arab Spring” is really about anything, it is about a collective loss of faith in politics. Just as Kashua has given up, so too, for instance, have many pro-military Egyptians. Yet their loss of faith, unlike Kashua’s, led them to embrace, in panicked desperation, a violent absolutism. I remember how, before the Arab revolts began, Egyptians would take pride in the fact that they, unlike some of their neighbors, had little history of civil conflict and political violence.
The July 3, 2013 coup in Egypt has had a chilling effect beyond the country’s borders, strengthening one particular narrative among both regimes and their opposition: that the only currency worth caring about is force. With the relative decline (for now) of the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Islamist groups that had made their peace with parliamentary politics, radicals and extremists have quickly moved to fill the vacuum. They do not counsel patience. They tell followers and fence-sitters that there is little need to wait 20, 30, or 80 years for the Islamic State, or something like it. The Islamic State can be realized now through brute, unyielding violence. Within the varied, often fractious world of political Islam, the radicals remain a minority, but their numbers belie an outsized influence.