As I read more and more about social unrest in the Middle East, I wonder what the fate of our new Middle East will be.
Just five years ago, Richard Haass painted a picture of the Middle East in the 21st century rife with conflict and instability. In his Foreign Affairs article, The New Middle East, he asserted that Iran, now stronger than ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left Iran’s dominant Sunni population unchecked by Iraqi Shiites, will become the most dominant nation in the region alongside Israel. This and other factors will result in Iran’s inception as an imperial power over the Middle East. This new Iran will surely seek to build up other country’s in its image, destroying any existing relationships with the U.S. or Israel.
In light of the recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and in other Middle Eastern nations, I feel Haas’ contention no longer reflects reality. After reading this New York Times article, it is abundantly clear to me that riots in Egypt and Tunisia have in no way lost momentum.
Throughout the Arab strip, people are rising up against oppressive illiberal democracies as if spurned on by Egyptian and Tunisian riots.
I wonder what Haass failed to envision in the Middle East. Did he fail to see the implications of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter? In 2006, these sites were hardly in the forefront. Perhaps he assumed that government forces would quickly crush any trace of dissent. Or more likely he saw the worst in people, as most conservatives do.
What I think is highlighted by this false prophecy is conservatives’ inability to acknowledge people’s innate virtue. Similarly, Americans fail to identify with people in the Middle East. Hindered by stereotypes, cultural differences, and misguided assumptions about terrorism, many Americans look upon the Middle East with disdain. Ironic that the same people we think share nothing in common with America are in the middle of some of the most historic political revolutions in this millennium. Just like America’s, these revolutions are grounded on the ideals of democracy and political and social equality.
I also wonder whether our hesitancy in accepting democracy in the Middle East stems not from our racial prejudices, but from our own self-interests. In this NYT article, Neil MacFarquhar quotes a former foreign minister of Jordan saying, “‘For decades, the U.S. sort of prioritized stability over democracy because of oil and Israel.’” Now that revolutions across the Middle East seem eminent, what will be the fate of the U.S. and Israel in this region?
More importantly, what are the implications of these riots in a more global sense? The American revolution sparked revolutions across Europe, usurping power from long-standing monarchies. Will countries outside of the Middle East be influenced by citizenry’s call to arms? It’s pretty clear that governments think so. China has worked hard to ensure that not even a hint of news about riots in Egypt and Tunisia reach the attention of its 1.3 billion citizens. Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, and other party members are certainly growing uneasy as thoughts of protests migrating from Manama, Benghazi, and Tahrir Square to Tiananmen Square float into their subconscious.
Regardless of their outcomes, these developments reinforce several key points. First, ideas are contagious and cannot be hampered by government intervention. What this means for America is that fighting terrorism with brute force is completely asinine. By acting with aggression we are only bolstering their resolve. It was once said that revolutions are born in hope and fueled by anger. Instead of fueling terrorist’s anger and commitment to their cause through violence we should seek to influence them with soft power and non-violent intervention. Second, it cannot be forgotten that without Twitter, it would have been difficult to ignite such a flame amongst Egypt’s citizenry. Third, America and other nations in the Western World need to do away with inherent racism and prejudices. Richard Haass saw the worst of the Middle East and failed to predict the potential for social change. Maybe he’ll think twice the next time he writes an article for Foreign Affairs.