Democracy in the Middle East?
About this blog: A struggle over the future of the Middle East is under way: Will terrorist groups and other authoritarian regimes hold sway or will the people of the region seek freedom and democracy? Walid Phares, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argues in “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East” that the West doesn’t fully understand the conflicting forces at work in the region. The future of the Middle East lies in the outcome of a battle between anti-Jihadists who see virtue in democracy and the proponents of violence and terrorism. To win the war for freedom, Phares contends the West must first better understand the groups that reject it. Here, he discusses the roots of the tensions between political movements in the Middle East.
Since the end of the Ottoman Empire, through the many conflicts of the 20th century, the Middle East and North Africa have undergone two countervailing trends: the rise of authoritarian regimes and radical political groups, and the growth of resistance movements struggling against them for greater autonomy.
On the one hand are Syria’s Baath Party, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis and Iran’s Khomeinists, along with radical organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorist groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. On the other hand are the Kurds, the Berbers, the Copts, the Africans of Sudan, and democracy forces from Syria and Lebanon to Algeria.
In the past hundred years, the greater Middle East has experienced coups, terrorism, genocides and oppression, but also massive demonstrations, elections, resistance and democratic revolts. It has given birth to dozens of reform movements, and unleashed waves of women, students and other dissidents calling for democracy.
A million and a half of men and women from multiple religious and ethnic backgrounds marched through the streets of Beirut in 2005 against occupation and terror and for freedom; a million Iranians, mostly youth, demonstrated in Tehran in 2009 calling for democracy; Darfur’s genocide has been exposed; the Africans of southern Sudan are polling for their self determination; the Kabyles of Algeria are rising; in Afghanistan the outcome of the conflict will be decided between young women teaching peace to their future children and a return of the Taliban and in Iraq the future will be played between Terror militias and humanist teachers in middle schools; across the region dissidents and reformers are competing for the hearts and minds of youth with the Jihadi fundamentalists.
The world has seen both sides of the coin: the violence of terrorist groups and militias, and the peaceful aspirations of millions who have taken to the streets of cities and towns to demand the rights their governments deny them.
In next few years, I believe, both movements will gain speed. So who will win, and what can the West do to help freedom and democracy prevail over oppression?
The race in Middle Earth is on with us or without us, and the revolution is eventually coming. But the choice is also ours. As previous generations have stood with the Solidarity Workers of Poland and intellectuals such as Vaclav Havel and as they’ve supported change in South Africa, they can and should repeat the great democratic exercise in the Middle East, at least with words. And in the battle of ideas, words are the beginning of freedom.
| December 2, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger
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