Saturday, March 05, 2011

Middle East Democracy: American Dream Will Come True?

The United States has been exploring political reform in the Middle East for a long time. Leading think tanks and NGOs have been helping empowerment of rural communities, women, ethnic minorities and so forth in the Middle East. Particularly, since 9-11 terrorist attack, and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, American policymakers have begun to give high priority on democracy promotion throughout the world. European foreign policy experts follow this. Moreover, have any Japanese leaders talked about Middle East political reform so seriously without US-led initiatives associated with the Afghan and the Iraq wars? Only through joint endeavor of the Western alliance, has Middle East democracy become a key agenda of global security to defeat terrorists, like Al Qaeda.

Some people say that the unrest in the Middle East implies the decline of American influence. As Facebook revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are posing impacts to Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, they argue that grassroots quest for democracy will shake pro-American but corrupt regimes, which will tempt Iran to expand its influences (“As Arab world shakes, Iran's influence grows”; San Jose Mercury News; February 23, 2011). Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was critically alarmed by Iranian warship passage through the Suez Canal (“Passage of Iran ships through Suez delayed by 48 hours”; Haaretz; February 20, 2011).

It is partly true that the unrest in the Middle East provides a good chance for emerging powers to fill the power vacuum. As the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt suggests, new democratic regime may not necessarily be a staunch ally to the West and Israel. However, we must remember that distrust to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has grown among the American public since 9-11 attacks, although they are long term allies to the United States. Suicide bombers in the attacks were mostly Saudi Arabians and Pakistanis. Innumerable conservative bloggers among grassroots Americans detest corruption and poor governance in both countries that nurtured terrorism.

Western intellectuals are also bitter to Middle East dictatorship and monarchy. Christopher Davidson, Reader at Durham University in the United Kingdom, argues that wealthy and unaccountable Persian Gulf monarchs are no longer. exempt from Middle East turmoil. Davidson says Gulf monarchy is akin to single party dictatorship as political parties are mostly forbidden. Social inequality and human rights abuse are not the only problems. Due to nepotism and long rule by current monarchs, Saudi Arabia and Oman have problems to select competent successors. Therefore, governability of Gulf sultanates is deadlocked (“Lords of the Realm”; Foreign Policy; February 21, 2011). Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband compares current Middle East to Berlin 1989 rather than Iran 1979 on Twitter.

Among Arab nations, Egypt is the key to foresee the transformation for democracy. Michael Barone, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that reform in the Middle East will give an unprecedented opportunity for American leaders to ally with only pristine partners. In history, the United States had to take an option to be allied with autocratic regimes such as Stalin’s Soviet Union, in order to defeat more critical threats (“As with Other Fallen Allies, Egypt Will Vex the US”; Washington Examiner; February 5, 2011). Senator John McCain expresses unabashed support for civil movements, and says it is a great opportunity to advance toward Ronald Reagan’s dream of the world free of tyranny (“John McCain on Egypt”; Weekly Standard Blog; February 8, 2011).

Middle East unrest is not a great opportunity for contenders to the West. The rise of Islamic democracy will inflict impacts on China. Minxin Pei, Adjunct senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that Chinese leaders are beginning to understand that economic growth-based legitimacy is unreliable, since social inequality and corruption are becoming increasingly serious as seen in Egypt. Pei argues that the Chinese Communist Party must take a difficult step toward gradual democratization like Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil (”The Message for China from Tahrir Square”; Financial times; 12 February, 2011).

Russia is also just a reactionary actor. NATO Under Secretary Lord George Hakobyan mentions that Russia sent weapons to dictator regimes such as Libya and Yemen, in order to manage the unrest. Like China, turmoil in the Middle East is no chance for Russia to replace America in this region.

While Iran explores to seize the opportunity to expand influences in the Middle East, it faces domestic uprisings. For fear of another Green Movement, the Shiite theocracy arrested opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Now, the United States and the EU discusses tougher sanctions on Iran, as taken against Libya (“What about Iran?”; Wall Street Journal; March 3, 2011). Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton argues that the United States is legitimately interested in preventing Iranian expansionist ambition to help democracy throughout the Middle East (“How Freedom's Foes Exploit Arab Unrest”; New York Post; February 21, 2011). Things do not necessarily develop in favor of Iran.

Recent turmoil in Libya shows us that only US and NATO troops can act as the Global Police Force. Regarding Western intervention, Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director of Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said, "I don't think they would have any problem with this. I would suspect that the Arab world would support this" (“Analysts: More Libyan bloodshed could prompt U.S., NATO intervention”; CNN; February 25, 2011). According to Sir Richard Dalton, Former British Ambassador to Libya, the threat of bloodshed in this country is serious enough to consider international humanitarian armed intervention. Though Russia and China oppose Western military intervention, Libya has been isolated in the Arab world. Also, Libyan oil production can be replaced in the short term by others like Saudi Arabia. Dalton says both points are the key to make Western humanitarian intervention more acceptable (“We must stand ready to intervene in Libya”; Daily Telegraph; 27 February, 2011).

Since Middle East reform is a long time policy pursuit of the United States, Michelle Dunne, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge US involvement in democratic transition of Egypt (Open Letter; Working Group on Egypt; February 7, 2011). Furthermore, William Kristol says if Obama helps Arab democracy, “we critics of his administration here at home will be glad to salute him” (“Obama's moment in the Middle East - and at home”; Washington Post; February 23, 2011). Regarding widespread concerns to Islamists, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Former Member of the Parliament of the Netherland, denies the rise of fundamentalism. In case of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is an ideologically diversified group, consisted of tribal leaders, free-market liberals, socialists, hard-core Marxists and human rights activists. Ali points out that it is vital to found effective organizations to make democracy sustainable (“Get Ready for the Muslim Brotherhood”; New York Times; February 3, 2011).

The media dramatize the Facebook revolution, but internet software is just a tool. People who use the software are far more important than Facebook or Twitter. Don’t forget that American and European development aid organizations, think tanks and NGOs have been involved in empowerment of Middle East citizens. That has given tremendous help to awaken educated people in this region. The Obama administration needs to bear it in mind.