Home > News, Politics, Religion, United States > Can the West affect change in the Middle East?

Can the West affect change in the Middle East?

http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQdlKPfNBmqNMjr_YZ1Laa56l9fxAId5olvpwW5QLj5Ob86OiWNThere is a piece in the Guardian on Tony Blair’s proposal that the Western World should do more to:

help “liberal and democratic” elements in the Middle East and north Africa following the Arab spring – or risk the formation of new Islamist governments that are not “genuine” democracies.

Blair makes these points:

Britain and the US had previously been “too reluctant to push dictatorships on a path to democracy because the trouble really in the region is the more religious and extreme elements are very well organised and the liberal and democratic types basically aren’t”

– there was a battle between competing elements in the Middle East as to what is democracy?

– “Then you have got this Islamist movement, in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very well organised, and where frankly, it is not clear that they want the same things as us and it is not clear that the type of democracy they would create would be a genuine democracy.”

I think it’s too late and anything we do will be construed by them as “colonial interference,” a charge which the Islamists have previously exploited and can reiterate.

In Egypt, for example, back in February 2011 the demonstrators all seemed to call for freedom and democracy, without any Islamist banners. And yet, now, look who they voted for: the Muslim Brotherhood, and to make matters worse, they gave an unexpected boost to the more extreme Salafist group. There we have it: that is their definition of “freedom and democracy.”  … Are the Syrian protesters the same, I wonder.

Are the only two possible practical/political alternatives in the Muslim/Arab world a secular tyranny or an Islamist tyranny? So far that is what we have been seeing — as well as a cycle of violent competition between the two. (Sometimes between an Islamist tyranny against another Islamist tyranny, such as the case in Saudi Arabia since the Royal House of Saud is Islamist.)

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  1. December 30, 2011 at 12:30 am

    “So far that is what we have been seeing — as well as a cycle of competition between the two.”

    You nailed it. Middle Eastern democracies have a tendency to yield Islamic fundamentalism. To wit, you have a democratic Lebanon controlled by Hizbullah and a democratic Gaza controlled by Hamas. Add Egypt to the mix and you have an undeniable trend toward increasingly Islamic fundamentalist democracies.

  2. December 30, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Thanks Sean for your input. Your last phrase “Islamic fundamentalist democracies” would, I guess, come supervised with a theocratic overseer (as in Iran). 🙂

  3. December 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    The question in your title is still the point of the precipice of folly for the US as it has been since the CIA removed a democratically elected president and installed the Shah into power back in the late 50’s. Historically, the US has been more comfortable with secular tyrannies that are more subject to monetary influence. Given our track record, we do not have the moral authority with that side of the world in order to help enact democracy.

    Furthermore, nearly everything we attempt to effect on that side of the world has a factor of blowback that is nearly always unpredictable. We expend nearly countless resources on the various actions in the mideast and the only apparent benefactors are multinational oil producers.

    The only real reasons to get involved from our post modern perspective is to protect our oil interests and prevent a nuclear armed Iran. Even these objectives are possibly out of our grasp. Futhering democracy would really only serve as a cover for the real reasons.

  4. December 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    But the blowback argument works both ways. Often what hostile regimes in the Middle East do invites our reaction to protect our interests and those of our allies in the region. It has always been unpredictable, and always will be — that’s just in the very nature of politics.

    About your first point on 1953 Iran, it’s much more complicated than that. Remember that Mosaddeq already had enemies from within Iran after what he did to fight the Shah (who appointed him PM) and expel his sister; Mosaddeq’s unilateral decision to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian oil company in which the UK had a major stake; Mosaddeq’s close ties with the communist party in Iran and Soviet involvement at a time of cold war tensions; etc. All these factors meant that the US and UK could fight back by taking him on — that’s the blowback created by Mosaddeq — and reinstate the Shah, who already had support in Iran and from within the military.

    In sum, we merely took advantage of an already existing political power struggle in Iran and attempted to influence it to our advantage, just as the Soviets were doing the same.

  5. December 31, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for the detailed historical perspective, much of which supports my original point. The US has been quite content to work with and support secular despots over the course of the last 60 years.

    Our track record for supporting democracy in the mideast coincides with nations in whom we have oil and arms trade interests. Democratization is merely a cover to make various actions (trade sanctions, military actions) more palatable to our own citizens as we serve the needs of the oil and arms industries.

  6. December 31, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    You’re welcome. I think that there is really no rule on who the United States can work with (except those listed as terrorist). The US has shown that it can equally well work with non-secular Islamist regimes like the Royal House of Saud, as well as those in Kuwait. The US can just as equally not be able to work with non-Islamist secular regimes like Saddam and Assad (and at one point Gaddafi). It depends entirely on the nature of the regime. Turkey is another example, before and after its turn to Islamist rule (though a relatively more moderate brand).

    Concerning democracy and ‘democratization’, I suspect that they don’t have the same definition that maybe we have of the term (as in the US or Canadian Constitutions) — which in my mind is not merely holding elections. But … that’s another can of worms. The question might be: can the Muslim Arab world become democracies in the Western sense given their Islamic traditions? (I guess they ‘can’, but how likely under the circumstance?) Or might they have to invent their own brand — maybe like Turkey’s model. By democracy, I mean one where you have equal rights for women and minorities, freedom of religion, the press, assembly, division of powers, limited term president or PM, rights of opposition parties, respect for the rule of law, and not subjecting citizens to something like Sharia Law. (I’d bet I left something out, but that’s the gist of it.) Inventing something like that from scratch that suits them will be no easy task (esp. when large segments of their populations are illiterate).

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