The Palestinian vote was a win for democracy - but also for a radical group the US rejects.
Palestinian voters availed themselves of the time- honored democratic right to "throw the bums out" in their first legislative elections in a decade Wednesday - exactly the kind of action implicit in President Bush's push for democracy in the Middle East.
But by snubbing the Fatah Party of US-supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in favor of the radical Islamist group Hamas, Palestinians also put the Bush administration in a difficult spot.
The US might now seem hypocritical to many Arabs - encouraging democracy in the Middle East, while rejecting the choices that result from its exercise. At the same time, questions mount over whether Mr. Bush's campaign for democracy is encouraging the empowerment of Islamist militants across the region.
"This [election result] is really going to scare ... other governments in the region, and the Egyptians in particular are going to tell the US, 'We told you so,' " says Arthur Hughes, a former deputy assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs. "They'll see this as more evidence of what comes from our pressure to open up their societies, but they won't acknowledge that their hard-line tactics are what are leading to the growth" of Islamic extremism.
The "irony," Mr. Gerges adds, is that the Bush administration's championing of the Middle East's democratization has allowed the radical Islamists to "flex their political muscle" - from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Lebanon and Iraq.