The New Middle East

May 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

With the death of Osama Bin Laden and what some are calling the ?Arab Spring,? a new Middle East is emerging.  Its parameters are far from clear but there are some discernible characteristics.  Most of them are rather troublesome.

  • First, the demonstrations that have swept most parts of the region at first were energized by opposition to corruption and repression.  With unemployment rates so high, a real sense of frustration with authoritarian governments was real and played a major role as well.  In a sense, these movements have been about justice, democracy and modernity.  Such sentiments contradict the goals Bin Laden and al Qaeda represent.  Al Qaeda envisions the return of the Islamic caliphate, not embracing the West and its values.  The so-called Arab Spring is a repudiation of everything Bin Laden and al Qaeda preached and represented.  No one in Liberation Square in Cairo was yelling ?Death to America.?  The Arab Spring has simply overwhelmed the jihadists of al Qaeda.  Yet, the Arab Spring that swept Hosni Mubarak from power has not been replaced by an encouraging state in Egypt.  The caretaker government has already made some radical shifts in foreign policy.  It has extended a strong hand to Iran.  An Iranian destroyer was allowed to pass through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979.  It has also fostered a unity agreement between the two rival factions of the Palestinians?Fatah and Hamas, a renowned terrorist group.  Both of these developments are not good news for Israel or for the United States.
  • Second, why exactly did Bin Laden?s vision of a radical, almost medieval caliphate fail?  Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes that Bin Laden was undone by his love of violence.  ?He pushed it too far:  Slaughtering innocent Africans in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 was tolerable since the targets were American embassies. . . Killing American soldiers on the USS Cole in the port of Aden was praiseworthy since no modern Muslim power had ever so humbled an American man-of-war.  And destroying the Twin Towers and punching a hole in the Pentagon was just astonishing.  But then came the slaughter that could not be ignored, as al Qaeda affiliates started killing in Muslim lands.  The suicide bombers who hit Casablanca in 2003 and Amman in 2005 made an impact.  But the war in Iraq was Bin Laden?s great moral undoing . . . the carnage there, carried in all its gore by Arabic satellite channels, produced a backlash.  There was a limit to the number of Shiite women and children that Sunni Arabs could see murdered.  Blowing up hospitals, mosques and shrines?even Shiite ones?became too ghastly to sublimate into an acceptable war against Americans.?  Are we finally approaching a point where Islam is constructing a moral/ethical universe in which militants can no longer compellingly call upon Islamic history to justify rebellion?  Is the dream of a caliphate enforced by militant Islam a dead vision?  In my opinion, it is too early to reach this conclusion.  But, with Bin Laden dead, the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East in flux, and Iran?s influence in ascendance, there is a real possibility that a new Middle East is being born.  Only God knows whether this is indeed an accurate projection.  One thing I do know, this new Middle East is not a positive for Israel.
  • Third, the new interim government between Fatah and Hamas that was brokered by Egypt is not good news for Israel.  Jimmy Carter, in a recent op ed piece, argued that ?support for the interim government is critical, and the United States needs to take the lead.  This accord should be viewed as a Palestinian contribution to the ?Arab awakening.??  I could not disagree more!  The major issue in the agreement is that Hamas still affirms its charter, which calls for Israel?s destruction.  In all discussions about peace in the Middle East (whether brokered by the US or the so-called Quartet [the US, UN, Russia and the European Union]), the conditions have always been that Hamas must recognize Israel, accept previous agreements with it and renounce violence if it is to be a partner to the negotiations.  Hamas refuses to meet these conditions and, even in the agreement with Fatah, has re-affirmed that refusal.  This new agreement provides for the establishment of a government of technocrats that would prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections in a year and work for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.  The accord also calls for elections to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the formation of a joint security committee.  The thorniest and most difficult detail of the accord yet to be decided is the platform of the new Palestinian government.  Will this new platform conform more to Mahmoud Abbas and his renunciation of violence or will it adhere to Hamas and its terrorist agenda?  Why should the world community expect Israel to negotiate with this new entity, when a major part of this new entity refuses even to recognize the right of Israel to exist?  On the surface, this agreement seems impossible and absurd.  But this is a part of the new Middle East.  It is confusing and difficult.  Only our Lord knows the future!

See Joel Greenberg in the Washington Post (27 April and 9 May 2011); Jimmy Carter in Ibid. (4 May 2011); Wall Street Journal editorial (3 May 2011); and see the Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht essays in the Wall Street Journal (3 May 2011). PRINT PDF

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