REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Human Rights Watch has urged the West to accept the new reality that Islamist parties are the rising political powers in Arab nations where secular autocratic regimes were toppled in last year's so-called Arab Spring movement.
In the organization's annual report, Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the West should abandon traditional repressive regimes and begin working with new Islamist politicians toward democratic reforms. In Tunisia and Egypt, where fair and transparent parliamentary elections have been held for the first time ever, Islamist parties won unprecedented majorities.
"The international community must … come to terms with political Islam when it represents a majority preference," Roth wrote. "Islamic parties are genuinely popular in much of the Arab world, in part because many Arabs have come to see political Islam as the antithesis of autocratic rule."
"Wherever Islam-inspired governments emerge, the international community should focus on encouraging, and if needed be pressuring, them to respect basic rights -- just as the Christian-labeled parties and governments of Europe are expected to do."
The report also stressed that new Islamist governments should "abide by international human rights obligations, particularly with respect to women's rights and religious freedoms."
Roth said many Western nations, in their dealings with the region, practiced what he called an "Arab exception" that included fear of political Islam and terrorism, the need to keep oil supplies flowing and a longstanding policy of relying on autocracies to maintain Arab-Israeli peace.
"It is time to end the 'Arab exception' and recognize that the people of the region deserve respect for their rights and freedoms as much as anyone else," he added.