King's Evangelical Divinity School

28 March 2011

Middle East Unrest

There's a lot going on in the world since I last posted anything here, notably across the Arab world. I've been asked various times by concerned Christians what the wave of Arab protests and clamour for change might mean for Israel. I think this is because some within the media, together with several commentators on the political left, have interpreted the wave of anger on Arab streets as something specifically aimed at authoritarian regimes supported by the West. Indeed, this is how it appeared during the early stages of unrest across the Arab world. Thus, some Christians express concern that with the fall of the likes of Egypt's Mubarak, Israel has one less friend in the region, and if other pro-West Arab regimes likewise fall to the masses clamouring for change then Israel's security in the region is weakened considerably.

Actually, I'm not sure I agree with this analysis.
Although it is early days and no one can predict with  any certainty how the current wave of unrest spreading across the Arab world will play out (though currently, with what is happening in Syria, it seems to be strengthening rather than dissipating), I'm not convinced Arab anger is aimed simply at pro-Western authoritarian regimes (as was arguably the case initially), but rather at all authoritarian regimes across the Arab world. The Arab League's history is replete with dictators and authoritarian states which have treated their people shamefully. Too often, such leaders have denied their people basic political rights, maltreated their citizens abominably, and generally failed to provide an environment in which aspiration, innovation and opportunity flourish. I think, then, that while Iran's Press TV likes to portray the current unrest as a rejection of Western-backed regimes (ironic, given how Iran brutally suppresses opposition demonstrations in its own country, which go unreported on state television), these demonstrations we are seeing across the Arab world are aimed at Arab authoritarianism of all shades, whether pro- or anti-West.

So what, then, might this mean for Israel? Well, it's early days and as I've already said no one really knows how all this will ultimately play out. But look at how Hamas has put down attempts to demonstrate in recent weeks, while Syria's Assad is increasingly looking in trouble. He might survive, he might not - I'm not sure anyone knows at this stage. But it is clear that Syria, Hamas and Iran (not an Arab country but a key player in the region), all autocratic regimes which suppress their people's political ambitions, are clearly nervous as the dominoes begin to topple across the region. Quite simply, many Arab people have had enough, and the past tactic of distracting attention away from the failures of autocrats by demonising Israel and in some cases the West no longer satisfy many grassroots Arabs. Yes, the region may well further pro-Western regimes fall (and if they have been brutal towards their own people, who can blame them for revolting?). But likewise we may see strongly anti-Israel regimes such as Syria and Iran eventually be replaced with more open and democratic governments. Whatever their replacement, it is difficult to see how the alternative in these countries could be any worse, which can only be a good thing for Israel and the wider region as a whole.

The problem, of course, is the role of external actors which could yet shape the future of Arab unrest and revolution. President George W. Bush dreamed that the fall of one or two antidemocratic Arab states would lead to a domino effect. He may well prove to be right after all. However, an important ingredient in this whole affair is how the current Arab unrest is internally-driven. Arab nationalism is strong, and Bush's war in Iraq - likely designed as a helping hand to set the fall of dominoes in motion - had the opposite effect, helping to unite many Arabs against the West. This naturally begs the question of how current Western involvement in Libya might have a bearing on the situation. Other external forces include Al-Quaida and other Islamist groups keen to hijack future Arab revolutions for their own strategic means. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. But one thing seems certain: the continued centrality of the Middle East within the geopolitical sphere. It is still a region that gets the whole world angry and involved. Nothing much seems to have changed since biblical times, does it?

1 comment:

..MG Bennett said...

For starters, Bush's war on terror was designed not so much to stir the democratic spirit of the arabs but to make sure Israel is not threatened and the vast amounts of oil are in the hands of the kurds who can't be thankful enough for the american intervention and try to show their loyalty to USA anytime. Bush had no interest in destabilising regimes his predecessors assiduously nurtured close ties with.
Secondly, the big issue with Libya is Gadaffi's stance on Israel. He has been an outspoken critic of Israel all the time and pandering to the americans for a time could not help much when the powerful Jewish lobby in the USA is against him.
Thirdly, interestingly intervention wary France was the first to attack Gadaffi and it begs the question:" how much of an influence Mr Sarkozi's Jewish background had on his decision to kick start the bombing campaign?".

Now the Middle East has been a despised province of the Roman Empire which if not the Christianity would have remained for the Romans a place of strange monotheists, tent living bedouns,backward small town folks who can not really exert any influence over the wider Empire and even do not speak their original languages anymore.