Posted by: williamjsykes | January 3, 2009

A Sorry Portrait of Democracy in the Middle East

Upon the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the creation of a new world order accordingly, the United States -at least throughout the 90s and a good part of the subsequent decade- emerged as an unrivaled superpower across the globe in both economic and political terms. This, however, did not mark an easier time for an American policymaker as far as diplomatic issues were concerned. After the onslaught at the World Trade Center in 9/11, 2001, American foreign policy was somewhat preoccupied with preventing similar disaster through a mean of preemption with the greatest degree of focus given to the Middle East – where militant nationalism and anti-western sentiment remains prevalent.

Given the gravity of the present-day situation where the danger of terrorist attack is real, to ask whether we shall indeed wage a War on Terrorism seems to be out of question. Nevertheless, an inquiry concerning how we must conduct such endeavor remains valid. This is especially true with regard to the Bush Administration’s ideologically-driven policy to implant popular democracy throughout the region, something -at least by far- that generated outcomes that hampers, not strengthens our war effort in numerous instances, while also working to weaken our global stature through creating an impression that Washington attempts to intervene in a sovereign nation’s domestic affairs.

Historically, there have been zero instances throughout modern era where an implantation of popular democracy in a predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern nation -both inward and outward- resulted in that country’s prosperity and advancement in human rights. The relative progress in both economy and individual rights in Turkey, to take one example, was anchored only through the Kemalist doctrine that dominated Turkish politics form the country’s founding. Oddly enough, Kemalism in Turkey was implemented largely at the expense of mostly agrarian, traditional Muslim Turkish public through the presence of a benign Leviathan of military junta.

Take the example of the present-day Iraq. A part of the Ottoman Empire prior to the end of World War I, Iraq hardly possessed a sense of nationhood prior to the advent of Saddam Hussein in the early 1970s, whose Batthist regime ruthlessly subjugated any domestic grievance to the Sunni minority rule. George W. Bush’s decision to launch a general election in Iraq shortly before the U.S. Presidential Election of 2004 clearly helped the Dubya’s reelection attempt. By contrast, what we have -as Americans waging War on Terrorism- garnered as a result has been a borderline cleric state dominated by potentially pro-Tehran Shi’a majority that is hardly an asset in our struggle against various terrorist groups, who at the same time could take advantage of our presence in Iraq as a recruiting tool in their malicious cause amongst the region’s misguided youth.

The detrimental nature of popular democracy in the Middle East concerning our War on Terrorism is also vividly seen in Palestine, where Hamas –a known terrorist group funding suicide bombers– emerged victorious in a democratic election for Palestinian National Assembly in 2006. The rhetoric employed by Hamas, which includes a stringent allegiance to Sharia law and the destruction of the State of Israel, makes Yasser Arafat look like a Mother Theresa. A popular movement in Pakistan toppled Pervez Musharraf, our reliable and extremely important ally in War on Terrorism, leaving the country with a provisional government that could be hostile to U.S. interest in many respects. At the same time, the emergence of the so-called “Muslim Brotherhood” in Egypt could pose a serious instability or undesirable political upheaval in a country that is needed to root out militant Muslim extremists across the region.

An empirical study of modern history informs us that a relatively stable and negotiable Middle Eastern state is generated through either conservative governing structure –as seen in Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates– or a bold implementation of secularist politics often against the demand of the underprivileged, misguided public. While one could well argue that a vast array of Muslim extremism in the present was partially spawned by the West’s mishandling of a number of secular progressives of the region in the distant past (e.g. The West’s decision to topple a relatively civil, Sorbonne-educated Mosaddeq of Iran in 1953 that contributed to the 1979 Islamic thermidor of the country), a hasty implantation of democracy in the region as seen in the present-tense seems to have worsened, not alleviated the situation. Our struggle against terrorism could be won only thorough an immense degree of collaboration between moderate, negotiable nations forming a compelling phalanx against religious extremism that is detrimental to any reasonable state. And the introduction of democracy in the Middle East does not seem to strengthen such endeavor.



  1. I agree with you that focusing our policy on “democracy” is unwise..and well a little crazy. But id go further than our focus on democracy around the world is wrongheaded. There is nothing about democracy which is inherently good for American interests.

    Have you read Kagan’s the return of history and the end of dreams? He makes the argument for putting democracy at the center of our foreign policy, which I wrote about in a book review I did.

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