Sahin Alpay The 44th Annual World Conference of the International Association of Political Consultants (AIPC) was held in Istanbul this past weekend. I was asked to moderate a panel titled Arab Spring, False Spring? Quest for Democracy or Prelude to Anarchy? Since most of the participants were political consultants from the West, I seized the opportunity to raise a few points on the lessons of the Arab Spring they should consider sharing with their clients. With some additions, this is what I told them. Do not support autocratic regimes on the assumption that they serve your interests. Under all conditions, supporting democracy would serve your interests better in the long run. Do not rely on establishing close relations with militaries to promote your interests. By doing so, you alienate the people. Do not demonise the Islamists. Like all other political ideologies, Islamism has many different interpretations, and the potential for change. As regimes open up, freedom of expression and association broadens, and competitive elections take root; they are likely to embrace democratic principles to meet the demands of people. With the post-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power, this is one of the major lessons Turkey already stands for. Today, the major divide in the countries of the Arab awakening is not between Islamists and others, but between those who favour democratisation and those who oppose it. Look at what is happening in Egypt. Islamist movements are increasingly differentiating and taking on adjectives of reformist, traditionalist, leftist, rightist, liberal and conservative. They are debating among themselves the issues of citizenship, human rights, women's rights, non-Muslims rights, governance, development and political participation. Four political parties with roots in the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have already been formed: Freedom and Development, Al-Nahda, Al-Reyada and Al-Tayyar AlMasry. The Salafis, Muslim fundamentalists, have already given birth to three different political parties: Al-Nur, Virtue and Authenticity. Some of the Salafis argue that there are more commonalities between them and the liberals than things that divide. People, who have their roots in the radical Islamist are arguing that there is need for self-criticism and that Islamists cannot monopolise Islam. They have formed the Construction and Development Party, which renounces violence and prepares to take part in the elections to be held at the end of this month. (Ashraf El-Sherif, a foremost Egyptian analyst of Islamist movements, provides an excellent overview of the new course of Islamism in an article titled Islamism and post-identity politics in revolutionary North Africa to be published in the journal Current History this month.) Do not forget that many of the news stories and commentaries on Islamism in the Western media are full of prejudices and distort the reality. Even The Economist, the respected British weekly journal with a worldwide readership, reported in its October 15 issue that Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda Party, which won the elections in Tunisia last week, opposes the liberal Code of Personal Status that gives equal rights to women and threatens to hang a prominent Tunisian feminist in Basij Square in Tunis. The journal had to publish a correction in its next issue saying: Neither of these statements is true. We apologise unreservedly to Mr Ghannouchi (The Economist, October 22, 2011). Consider what Marwan Muasher, the former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, said: First, Islamists are not stupid. Arab countries face daunting challenges and whoever governs them will need to tackle tremendous political and economic problems. Islamist don't want to be blamed for the mess. Second, they are not as popular as some Western pundits and decision makers think. Political Islam benefited from closed authoritarian systems throughout the Arab world because there was no alternative. Third, the vast majority of protesters are not seeking to replace autocratic regimes with religious theocracies.people want jobs and better lives and will demand results. The best way to deal with Islamist parties, therefore, is to include them in government and hold them accountable (The New York Times, November 2, 2011). And the final point I raised was: Do not base your policies on the principle of unconditional support to whatever the Israeli governments are doing because this serves neither your interests, nor those of the Israeli people. The writer is a columnist for Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman, with which The Nation has a unique content sharing agreement. After working for Cumuriyet and Sabah, he is now a presenter on CNN Trk. Email: