Middle Eastern Realities

Apr 1st, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Politics & Current Events

The wave of populist uprisings throughout North Africa and into the Middle Eastern nations necessitates that we step back and do a reality check.  What is going on?  Is there a difference between what occurred in Egypt or Tunisia, for example, and what is occurring in Libya?  What are the available options for these nations currently undergoing turmoil?  Let?s examine these questions in this Perspective.

  • First, columnist Tom Friedman helps us understand that there are two different types of states in the Middle East:  ?Real countries,? with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (e.g., Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Iran), and ?Tribes with flags,? many created after World War I, with a myriad of tribes and sects that have never melded into a unified nation (e.g., Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates).  Friedman writes:  ?The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators.  They have no real ?citizens? in the modern sense.  Democratic rotations in power are impossible because each tribe lives by the motto ?rule or die??either my tribe or sect is in power or we?re dead.?  In the more mature nations?Iran, Egypt and Tunisia?the populations are more modern, more homogeneous and more open to true democratic reform.  The nation, at least potentially, is more important than the tribe.  But in Libya or Bahrain, for example, it is difficult to determine where the desire for democracy or the desire for ?my tribe taking over your tribe? begins.  In other words, what is really going on is a civil war between tribes, not a desire for democracy.  This was the challenge in Iraq?three tribal societies (Sunnis in the middle, Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north) all fighting for control.  Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Libya are all Iraq-like civil-wars-in-waiting.  Therefore, the current situation in the Middle East is quite complicated.  May God grant our leaders wisdom in determining what is truly a push for democracy and what is really tribal civil war.
  • Second, what are the viable options for these nations in conflict?  Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger correctly identifies only three options:  The first is Gadhafism, the stability of the fist; the second is the enforcements of Islam; and the last?and most desirable?is economic modernity.  If Gadhafi survives, we will see a brutal repression and slaughter of those who opposed him.  This is the standard now in Iran and has been so in Syria, where the Assad family in 1982 slaughtered its opponents in the Hama massacre.  If Gadhafi survives, this repressive ?model? of stability will no doubt spread.  But if it does not survive, pre-modern Islam might replace it.  A repressive rule by radical Muslim clerics could replace the dictators like Mubarak or Gadhafi.  This is the real fear of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example.  The challenge for the people of these nations would be that they are merely exchanging a brutal dictator for a group of intolerant, ruthless Muslim clerics.  Witness Iran!  There are now 11 separate nations experiencing some kind of insurrection.  It is a significant opportunity for these nations to either engage modernism or fall back into some form of medieval Islam.  Dealing with unemployment issues (currently quite high in most of these nations), governmental corruption and the stupidity of nationalizing core economic institutions must be replaced with forward-thinking financial and economic leaders who see economic growth as the engine driving social and political change in these Middle Eastern nations.  In terms of long run stability, economic modernization offers the most hope.  Europe and the United States must do everything they can to insure the third option at least has a chance of success.  There are not many success models in the Middle East but these 11 nations experiencing some form of insurrection offer a strategic opportunity for economic modernization.  May God grant His common grace in the region.
  • Third, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is growing in its influence.  Once banned by the Egyptian government, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government.  As the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has had an edge in the contest for influence.  The military seems to be using the Brotherhood to foster stability within the nation.  But many fear the Brotherhood as an elitist, secret society that would be detrimental to the new Egypt.  The Brotherhood is advising the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, and a member of the Brotherhood was appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution that the people just voted to accept by a majority of 77.2%.  If the Brotherhood gains increasing power in the new state, is its intent to establish an Islamic state in Egypt?  Perhaps, but Egypt has a significant number of Coptic Christians and it has granted women rather significant rights and freedoms, which would be in jeopardy under an extreme Islamic regime.  Many questions remain about the role the Muslim Brotherhood will play in the new Egypt.  But, we do know that its influence is now the greatest it has ever had in modern Egypt.  We should be praying that the Brotherhood will not attain significant power in the new Egypt.

See Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (23 March 2011); Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal (24 March 2011); and Michael Slackman in the New York Times (25 March 2011).

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