March 1, 2008


The End of Jihad: a review of DREAMS AND SHADOWS: The Future of the Middle East By Robin Wright (PATRICK COCKBURN, 3/02/08, NY Times Book Review)

When the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003 it destabilized the whole Middle East. The American military had taken over the one Arab state with plenty of oil and a large population. Washington threatened to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. The first Shiite government to hold power in the Arab world in 800 years was soon installed in Baghdad. [...]

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East may be sclerotic, corrupt and detested by their own people, but they are very difficult to remove. Governments in Egypt, Syria and Libya that came to power by military coups in the distant past have learned how to protect themselves against their own armies and security forces. In each of those countries the Mubarak, Assad and Qaddafi families are establishing new political dynasties. President Hosni Mubarak, jokingly known to Egyptians as the last pharaoh, has, according to Wright, now held power longer than all but two other leaders in Egypt’s 6,000-year history, and is grooming his son Gamal to replace him. Political reforms have been purely cosmetic. Osama Harb, the editor of a moderate foreign policy journal, International Affairs, denounced Egypt’s supposed reform efforts as a sham but found he could not withdraw from the government’s inner circle without endangering himself. “It should be easy to resign, to say no,” he observed. “But not here. This is Egypt.”

Just one long-established regime in the Arab world has been kicked out by voters in a closely monitored election. It happened on Jan. 25, 2006, when Hamas won a victory over Fatah, Yasir Arafat’s very corrupt nationalist movement. It was the first time, Wright says, that an Arab electorate ousted an autocratic leadership in a free and fair election — a message that resonated throughout the region. The immediate response of the international community was to boycott Hamas. “The United States is like the prince in search of Cinderella,” the Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told Wright. “The Americans have the shoe, and they want to find the kind of people who fit the shoe. If the people who are elected don’t fit into the American shoe, then the Americans will reject them for democracy.” Fatah was encouraged by the United States, Israel and the Western Europeans to ignore the results of the election and build up its military strength.

We just need to have more faith that folks will grow into the shoe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2008 8:42 AM
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