Don't Hold Your Breath for Democracy in the Middle East
by Dan Ehrlich

The protests and upheavals throughout the Middle East are more symptomatic of people realizing they have been ripped-off for generations by dictators and finally want a better deal, not necessarily better government, based on democracy and the rule of law.

Remember the Arabs are a timeless people to whom autocratic and theocratic rule has been a way of life for centuries. The idea of self-rule is an alien concept. The only reason it has worked so far in Iraq is because the US organized and implemented a democratic process there. The test will come after we leave.

The developed world should not place too much hope that the results of all these protests will be more democratic and humanitarian governments that will seek to live in peace with Israel and tribal nations in the region such as Palestinians and Christian Arabs. The rise of Arab nationalism after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 has been at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and has strengthened ancient tribal divisions in the region.

Whereas Muslim nations overall reject non Muslims in positions of power on their turf, individual Arab countries have hard and fast loyalties to the predominant tribe or religious group in their countries. This may cause hostility towards anyone seen as an outsider.

A good example is Lebanon when it was the lone predominantly Christian Arab nation. During a brief period in the 1950s and 60s its French orientation and moderate views allowed it to develop into the Middle East banking and resort center. Then came the influx of Palestinians after the failed PLO coup in Jordan. The arrival of so many Muslims tipped the balance away from the Christians with Lebanon slipping into internecine conflict and civil war.

Palestinian workers in other Arab countries have been subject to prejudice and even attack. To this day the Arab League edict still stands that Palestinians can’t gain citizenship in other Arab countries. Yet this has been standard procedure since 1948. Arab nations have refused to accept Palestinian refugees from wars waged by these same Arab nations.

For their part, the Palestinians would like to do to Israel what they helped do to Lebanon…cause it to disintegrate into cantons, a partition similar to the one the Arabs rejected in 1948. But that still wouldn’t help the Arabs.

Several surveys of living standards reveal Arab nations woefully behind all developed nations and even below most lower end Latin American nations. The United Nation’s Human Development Survey shows Norway Number 1, the USA 4, Israel 15 and the closest Arab country, the UAE at 32. Libya, which is now in utter chaos, was rated 53, Tunisia is 81, Jordan 82 and Turkey, a non Arabic Muslim nation that wants to join the European Union is 83. Way down the list is Egypt at 101 at Yemen at 133.

The Arab world is similar to the USA in one key geopolitical area. It needs an enemy or scapegoat for its economic shortcomings and the excesses of its potentates. For decades America had Communism as an all-purpose enemy. With that gone, and the fact we are an economic hostage to the world’s biggest nation, one that’s Communist, we had to find another adversary…terrorism…we are in a never-ending war of terror.

But, for the Arabs that enemy has been Israel…the simple fact is, if Israel never existed they and the West would most probably face the same problems. The West would still be fighting to control Middle East oil until it runs out and the Arabs would be blaming each other and the West for their problems.

Remember, the displaced Palestinians are products of wars waged by the Arab world against Israel in attempts to destroy that country. But, for their part, many Arab rulers were just as happy to see Israel survive as an all-purpose scapegoat for their shortcomings. And the reason given for Jewish victories against the divine forces of Islam sounds like a retelling of Christian mythology. They were in league with Satan’s servant, the USA. And, like some Christian fundamentalists, the Arabs are waiting for the day of their salvation.

The revolution now sweeping the Middle East is part and parcel of Arab nationalism they gained after WW1…It’s just now, thanks to television and the Internet, they can see more clearly who has been selling then short. Yet, they still have their bigoted attitudes, prejudices and hatreds for perceived enemies of Islam.

However,  things may be changing a bit. Years-ago many Arab citizens of Israel expressed a desire to live among their own people even though they had better living standards in the Jewish state. However, a recent survey revealed a majority of Arab residents of old Jerusalem would choose to remain Israeli citizens regardless of any Palestinian state that emerges. They cite better living standards and public services.

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