The radical voices are loud and have been pushing people forward in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Sectarianism between different religious groups shows
up in the most unexpected places. Pro-revolutionary activists like Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mona Seif in Egypt have, along with others, been summoned for
investigation by the Egyptian prosecutor general in a move that is being interpreted by opposition figures as the Muslim Brotherhood government clamping
down on dissent.
Yet, in the midst of all of these challenges, there are great signs to be optimistic about the future. The reality of the uprisings and revolutions is that
they may have begun two years ago, but they are grappling with decades of trauma and turmoil. None of this should have been assumed to be easy, but the
real success story is where in spite of these challenges, very powerful moves are taking place.
When it comes to media, there are certainly things to be optimistic about. Despite the pressures and the difficulties, it is in this period of Arab history
that the likes of Bassem Youssef, the "Jon Stewart of the Arab world," has
emerged. It is at this time where media like Egypt Independent has come into its own as a truly independent
media establishment. It is at this point where other multimedia initiatives that seek to promote the effects of the revolution were born. Tahrir Squared, for example, sought to bring together original insight from experts, along with the latest
information and news on the region, to be a "one-stop shop" in that same spirit - something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but which has
already received a lot of attention.
It was inevitable that radical religious voices would become prominent after years of being kept underground. Yet, more mainstream voices are also engaging
- and are engaging well. Habib 'Ali al-Jifri of the Tabah Foundation in the United Arab Emirates has been
rated as the most influential religious voice on social media - and he consistently promotes a deeply respectful and open-minded interpretation of
religion. His following is growing.
Beyond specific religious preachers, there are also signs that a narrow, Islamist political project is failing. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, arguably
the mother-movement of all modern Islamism, has had an abysmal record thus far - and while Egyptian Muslims remain, on the whole, religiously conservative,
MB Islamism can no longer be considered the automatic "pious" choice. Religious identity aside, the MB has been "outed" as merely a political movement -
not the vanguard of religion that warrants automatic support of the pious.
On the contrary - and in the midst of that, other voices are becoming prominent. Within Syria, the leader of the Syrian opposition is Moaz al-Khatib - a
religious conservative, but not affiliated to either the MB or radical movements, with his speeches always mentioning positively the role of women and the
need to build a wider inclusive society in Syria, including the Alawites. That is the mainstream, not radicals like the Nusra, who have been harshly criticised by the Syrian opposition. Islamists might think that this is their
time - but in actuality, it is more likely the beginning of their end, as their old formations are incapable of meeting the challenges of building a new
Arab world. These countries are laying down the groundwork for a new Arab political centrism.