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The never-ending conflicts in the Middle East can be traced back since before World War Two. Though there have been many peace plans to end the conflict, sadly there has been little peace. America and many other countries have tried to solve the problem in the Middle East by making it democratic. They have rejected every effort and continued to cause turmoil and the militant groups seem to overrun the country. Which begs the question, will the Middle East ever become democratic? Why or why not? It seems to be the question that many political theorists try and solve, along with organizations that spend many hours and millions of dollars in relief efforts trying to do.
Even with many failed attempts, I will also try and solve this problem as well and come up with a solution. However, like every problem there are many actors that played a part, and made the conflict what it is today. To put it into perspective at just how long this conflict has been going on, it can be traced back all the way to 1917 when Britain put in the Balfour Declaration. This supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, though without prejudicing on its non-Jewish communities within Palestine. As we will come to find out, it is not until 1923 when Britain leaves the Golan Heights from Palestine to French-run Syria. That Britain’s official mandate over Palestine, from the League of Nations, comes into effect. It is then in 1936 when a three-year Arab revolt begins, amid frustration at rising Jewish immigration and continued colonial rule from Britain.
It has been very clear now that the colonial rule under Britain and the allowance of Jewish immigrants into the Middle East is what caused the revolt of the Arabians. This revolt came with a further complication. There were there was a deal between Britain and France to shape the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and divide the region. These spoils of the recent war were to be shared evenly amongst the winners. As with the 1885 Berlin Conference where Africa was carved up amongst the various European Empires, parts of the Middle East were also to be shared. This would require artificial borders, support of the monarchies, dictators and other leaders that were soon to be the new leaders of these new lands.
However, it seems that America has been involved with the conflict since nearly the end of World War Two. In 1945, at the end of the WWII, America urged Britain to lift its restrictions on Jewish refugees settling in Palestine, but Britain resisted the pressure. Instead, in 1947, Britain asked the newly formed United Nations to handle the Palestine problem. After the UN, proposed a partition to the Arabians, but the Arab states rejected the partition of Palestine and the existence of Israel. The armies of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt attacked but were defeated by the Israeli army.
It is these actors and many more that will be used to look at the current conflict as we use these past conflicts to try and come up with an answer to if the Middle East will ever become democratic. Also, discuss as to if they do become democratic, why they did. Or if they don’t, why they will not. The current events happening in the Middle East are what seem to be the most interesting to many political theorists. This is because many people and even large countries like the United States believe democracy “to be the do all end all for a failed state.” Though when the United Stated invaded Iraq in 2003 to try and put an end to this conflict it proved tougher than expected. A US-led coalition had won what appeared to be a quick victory that would seem to have lasting results. The US focus on a conventional effort to defeat the regime, however, did not accomplish a mission and did not achieve a lasting strategic result of any kind.
Infighting within the Bush administration, made it clear that the United States invasion of Iraq took place without any real plan for a stability operation. The United States then decided to disband the Iraqi army. US support of Shi’ite exiles and an acceptance to exile many Sunnis and other Iraqis provoked many key elements of Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite populations that soon turned into a major counterinsurgency conflict lasting until 2009. In the process, it separated Iraq between the Sunnis and Shi’ites. It also created strong Sunni violent extremist forces that survived to eventually become ISIS.
The current state of the Middle East seems to be that of violent civil war, while the United States seems to be interrupting. Repeatedly the Middle East rejected our military presence. In the western experience, democracy and liberalism usually went together, to the extent that democracy became the shorter version of liberal democracy. Liberalism preceded democracy, allowing for it to become more popular. As the political scientists Richard Rose and Doh Chull Shin pointed out;
Countries in the first wave [of democracy], such as Britain and Sweden, initially became modern states, establishing the rule of law, institutions of civil society, and horizontal accountability to aristocratic parliaments. Democratization followed in Britain as the government became accountable to members of parliament elected by a franchise that gradually broadened until universal suffrage was achieved.
This is exactly what the United States is trying to do for the Middle East. The US believes that the solution to the Islam’s problem is that they lack real structure with the solution to that problem being democracy. Iraq needs a government in which they can look up to, and trust and not have to worry about power being unevenly distributed. As we know, the people are used to power being taken by force, though with democracy power is given equally.
Rose and Chull also wrote, “third-wave democracies have begun democratization backwards.” Getting democracy backwards is which led to the rise of “illiberal democracies,” which is a newer term that Fareed Zakaria documented in his book “The Future of Freedom”. Zakaria sought to dissect liberalism and democracy together. They argued that democratization is “directly related” to illiberalism. Michael Signer made an argument in his book titled “Demagogues” describing the rise of “demagogues,” which grew in popularity through the ballot box.
Elbridge Gerry, a representative from Massachusetts, who stated that “allowing ordinary Americans to vote for the president was madness.” Signer said that “at its simplest level, democracy is a political system that grants power based on what large groups of people want.” And what the larger groups want is what may not be good for constitutional liberalism, which in turn weakens democracy making it useless. The idea of Islamists seeking, or being in, power tells that we need to review the relationship between liberalism and democracy. Illiberal democracy under the Islamist is different from the Venezuelan or Russian for many reasons. For Islam’s, illiberal democracy is not something that is looked at as an unfortunate fact of life but instead something to believe in. Although they may struggle to define what exactly it means, Islamist parties have a very distinct intellectual and ideological “project.” This is the reason they are Islamist.
America does have good intentions with the Middle East, though it goes without saying that the plan for its future needs to be seriously rethought. The largest problem that America seems to be having is trying to integrate to the Islam’s that they need a better structured government. Some “liberal” Islam’s have said that religion should no longer be an issue in their country.
During his campaign for president, former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh explained to his people to a Salafi television channel: “Today those who call themselves liberals or leftists, this is just a political name, but most of them understand and respect Islamic values. They support the sharia and are no longer against it.” In his own words, he tried to redefine that, all Muslims are, by definition, Salafi in the way that they are all loyal to Salaf, the earliest generations of Muslims. He seemed to say, we are all Islamists, so why deny it? Futouh, in all his purported liberalism, really does believe that the Egyptian people and all Muslims had a natural inclination toward Islam. As Salem Falahat, a former general overseer of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, once said, “If they have the opportunity to think and choose, [the Arab and Muslim people] will choose Islam. Every time freedom expands among them, they choose Islam.” What is not being seen by the United states is that, no matter how hard we fight and try to force democracy in the Middle East, we are in fact fighting a losing battle. If you take a look at the chart above you can see that the congressional approval rating is continuing to plummet. What we did not expect is that Islam does not need to be enforced to its people. The Islamic people will use whatever means they seem fit to enforce it themselves, even through a “democratic process” of their own.
As the evidence and history of this ongoing conflict show, the Middle East is showing no signs of ever becoming democratic. From these many examples and quotes of Brotherhood leaders, speaking clearly that no matter what offer they are given they will choose Islam. There is no possibility for a form of government to settle in. Thus, let’s take a much closer look as to why the Middle East will not become democratic.
What the United States fails again to understand is that democracy is simply not the solution for complex societies like the Middle East. The US setting up camp and seeming to never leave any time soon only seems to make matters worse. The reason for the failure to implement our form of government is that democracy, as we know it, just cannot thrive in Middle Eastern countries where family, tribe, and personal friendships are picked over structure and reform of the state. The Middle East is not one to be governed by the rule of law. They look for values that will increase their quality of life instead of looking to make a government support system.
Still, the United States failure to understand the Middle East has had effects that will take many years to fix. Iraq of course is the biggest example. Many Americans were opposed to the invasion of the country, not because of any feelings for Saddam but because many of them believed that the alternative would be worse. Come to find out, they were correct. Politicians and political theorists were concerned that the US invasion would potentially destroy the stability of the Gulf which had, since the fall of the Shah in 1979, depended on a trio composing of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Their fears would soon come true and that is exactly what happened. We now can figure that the Iranians were only able to dominate the Gulf region due to the US invasion.
It is unclear what the extent of our control is in the Middle East. Yet, this does need a realistic approach to the situation on the ground and we need to find what we can do to change it. Obviously, the conflict in the Middle East is now more complicated than ever before as militant groups try to persuade individuals into thinking they are there for their interests. The militant groups seem to hold the state together even in the face of all the opposition. The leader keeps all the different elements of its society in tact with attention being administered to each party. Though he may rule with an iron fist, it is only to be used when necessary, as the public understands well. They do seem to support these groups so long as act as more of a protective force instead of a ruler simply seeking power.
Following our invasion, the Iraqi army was disbanded, though it is obvious that it most likely took itself away because of our superior force. There simply was no need for them. The US then forcefully closed the Ba’ath party, the only political organization in the entire country. Even though it was an organization of Saddam’s rule, it was not very bad. Anyone in a position of responsibility in the party, just like we see in the Soviet Union, where everyone was obligated to be a member of the Communist party, Iraqis were forced to be members of the Ba’ath Party. Therefore, the Senior Iraqi members of the Ba’ath party were only following suit. The end game of the US was to get rid of the party and ruin the social and political structure the country so as to better prepare it for democracy. Then the United States would have a clean slate once they were ready to start implanting democracy.
When the United States finally realized that the Middle East would not accept any form of new government they soon realized that we must stop the development of the Islamic state. That would need a solid government in Baghdad. One that would need to take steps to win back the loyalty of the Northern tribes who are Sunni and could take on the Islamic extremists if they had too. The reason the United States is so keen on stopping “Islamic states” is because it is a major threat to the stability of the whole Middle East. Also, it makes an area under the control of Islamic extremists which in turn is a threat to the US because of their anger towards our invasion.
This then forces the United States to be effective in the region and make our own security force. For once, we need to learn from the past and ensure that the policies we put in place take into account the indigenous people in the countries, and the entirety of the region. We cannot afford any to make any more mistakes. The growing chaos in the Middle East is a real and present danger both to our economy and the peace of our society.
What we are really seeing in the Middle East is the reaction to over sixty years of authoritarian rule. Yet, any historian could tell you, revolution is easy, but creating governance is hard. It proves to be more difficult when you are going against former military elites, political elites, and Islamist parties who have been kept under wraps since the beginning of the Arab Nationalistic movements.
The intriguing part of ISIS is that it has proven itself to be a better alternative to the former government in the corrupt and failing Arabian states. They had a society in where they were poorly served by their government. It was at one point so bad that if the citizens raised any protest or complained, the governments would pay for armed forces to keep their citizens in silence. Many have said that the rise and fall of the price of petroleum can often correlate with the flow of human rights in major oil-producing countries. The strong military-government relationship then resulted in protestors being, shot at, arrested, or killed during any sort of demonstration. If we can understand these trends we can help future movements become more successful when the time comes. For example, Egypt has been in three transitions and is still getting nowhere when the citizens revolt.
So, will the Middle East ever become democratic? Well as we have come to learn, America has been involved with the conflict since nearly the end of World War Two. Yet this time even included other countries such as Britain trying to help the Middle East. All plans given to them only seem to fail. This could likely be due to the Iraqis strong ties to Islam. Salem Falahat, the former general overseer of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, stated, “If they have the opportunity to think and choose, [the Arab and Muslim people] will choose Islam. Every time freedom expands among them, they choose Islam.”
The Middle East seems to be a culture that the United States is not used to. The reason for our failure to implement our form of government is that democracy just cannot thrive in Middle Eastern countries where family, tribe, and personal friendships are picked over structure and reform of their state. The Middle East is not one to be governed by the rule of law. They look for values that will increase their quality of life instead of looking to make a government support system. Still, the United States failure to understand the Middle East will now have lasting effects that will take many years to fix. Iraq, of course, is the biggest example.
Though most importantly what we should be realizing is that the militant groups seem to hold the state together even in the face of all the opposition. The leader keeps all the different elements of its society in tact with attention being administered to each party. Though he may rule with an iron fist, it is only used when deemed necessary. The public fully understands this. The public in Iraq does seem to support these groups so long as act as more of a protective force instead of a ruler simply seeking power. Though the rise of these militant groups can only be blamed on us. Following our invasion, the Iraqi army was disbanded, though it is obvious that it most likely took itself away because of our superior force. There simply was no need for them.
With all this evidence, I firmly believe that democracy is just not the government for the countries of the Middle East. As much as the United States may want it to be, it only seems that we are only making the conflict worse. Also, how can we expect them to take our form of government when our very own people do not even agree with it? It is time we stop looking at the Middle East as a humanitarian effort and pull back out of the countries. We obviously cannot yet understand how they run their country, but that does not make it our job to fix.
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