Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Complexities of the Middle East

The Middle East is current being roiled by political upheaval. But is this a sign of budding democracy...or does it foreshadow the spread of Islamic fundamentalism? Actually, the reality is that the situation is extremely complex...and defies simplistic answers.

The signs pointing toward democracy include the young leaders in Egypt who helped toppled Mubarak. And yet, while the revolution in Egypt was not initially led by the Muslim Brotherhood, they are now trying to capitalize on the situation. So even if the revolution began by those wanting democracy, there is no guarantee that the end result will be a more democratic country.

Signs of democracy might also include the recent unrest in Libya and Iran. Neither of these nations is remotely allied with the U.S. or Israel, so the unrest is not an Islamic reaction to any pro-Western leanings in either country. Rather, this revolt is being fueled by those who don't like the abuses of very dictatorial regimes that are Islamic in nature.

One clear difference between the unrest in these different countries is their response. Those countries more oriented to the West are being pressured not to respond harshly or crack down on the dissidents. So far this has resulted in the ouster of Mubarak, and it is currently causing serious problems for Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan. In contrast, countries like Libya and Iran have responded to the unrest with mass arrests and live ammunition. The West has condemned these actions, but there is little else they can do.

In once sense it looks like the West's insistence on a liberal, western approach to individual rights is actually threatening to undermine those regimes that are most friendly to the West. And the alternative might very well be administrations that are equally as repressive...but far less friendly. So should the goal of our government be to force countries to adopt our standards for individual liberties even if it threatens their continued existence, or should our goal be to support those governments that are friendly to the West...even if those governments don't hold to the same standards of democracy and personal liberty as us?

The choice is not as simplistic as some might think...and our country needs to work through the situation very carefully...or we might find ourselves in the Middle East with no democracy--and no allies.

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