Lifestyle & Belief

Violence Across the Mideast: Are Islamic Radicals Stronger than Ever?

Egyptian authorities postponed a move to disperse two Cairo sit-ins by supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi to "avoid bloodshed," an official said on Monday.

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Meanwhile, Morsi supporters stepped up rallies to demand his return to power.

But there's bloodshed elsewhere in Egypt, and around the Middle East.

Militant groups have attacked military and police bases in the lawless Sinai peninsula, which borders Israel. There have also been coordinated holiday bombings in Iraq. And terror threats and drone strikes in Yemen.

Bill Braniff, the Executive Director at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, known as START, said it's easy to see why people are thinking that Al Qaeda and its ilk are running amok.

"Al Qaeda-style violence and organizations that carry the flag of Al Qaeda gain capacity because of the violent situation in which they live."

For Braniff, the Islamist radicals are like a group of vultures waiting to pick apart the carcass of a failing state.

And these days, there are a lot of carcasses.

"While democracies tend to generate less violence, according to democratic peace theory," Braniff said, "democratizing regions tend to be very violent."

But it didn't have to be this way.

"There was just really no place for violent, radical jihadist thought," said Marc Lynch. He heads the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.

He said militant Islamists were reeling from the events of the Arab Spring.

Those revolutions showed people in the Middle East that unity trumped violence as a way to depose dictators and create democratic, inclusive governments.

But that message has been drowned out by the past year or so of chaos, especially the ongoing civil war in Syria and the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-lead government in Egypt.

"The danger of what happens in Egypt is that it basically tells all of those potential Islamists who might've been thinking that democratic participation can work, that they were wrong and that maybe in fact Al Qaeda had a point all along," Lynch said.

That is a hard argument to counter.

Robert McFadden is with the Soufan Group, a strategic risk assessment firm.

He said we shouldn't draw any big conclusions from what's happening across a wide swath of the Middle East and North Africa, because radical groups spring up in different areas for very different reasons. Though he said all the groups tend to follow the same violent ideology.

"That message of violence continues to fill the void where there's, say, weak governance in West Africa and the Sahel belt in Africa," McFadden said. "In Yemen, in Iraq and in Syria. That kind of narrative of "the only answer is violence" continues to grow, and that's a concern."

McFadden said the US needs to both continue policing the world's hotspots, while spreading the message that violence isn't the answer.

Bill Braniff, of the the terror study group START, said the US needs to be highly selective about where it focuses its energy.

"A place like Syria which has chemical or biological weapons become increasingly important. Places like Yemen have such great challenges ahead of them, that I think we have to be very careful about the level and kind of engagement that the US signs up for. Because a lot of the instability will continue to be generated by things outside of US control," Braniff said.

Braniff recommends a policy of "containment" for places like Yemen, making sure the terror groups aren't able to operate beyond their own borders.

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