Search This Blog

Monday, June 15, 2009


The Middle East is far less stable than the White House and many European leaders believe. There is little social and economic development. Both military regimes and pro-Western monarchies are shaky. The departure of U.S. troops from Iraq may not only lead to a vacuum in that country filled by both Sunni and Shi'i militias, but the perception that the West is weak might embolden other Islamists and lead nominally pro-Western regimes to make accommodation with Islamism. Security is declining in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only the Ethiopian army prevents a whole-scale Islamist takeover in Somalia.

Washington bases its policy toward the Arab Middle East on the pillars of alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The population in each country, however, is fiercely anti-American.[36] While Turkey appears stable in the short term, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia face uncertain succession. Both have already weathered Islamist threats to their security with their government secured only through significant military and security investment. Al-Qaeda continues to target both. Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri comes from Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Bin Laden has repeatedly denounced the Saudi government as illegitimate and called for its overthrow. On March 1, 2003, for example, he called for Muslims to revolt against Saudi Arabia and, the following year, complained, "In Saudi Arabia, it is the king and not God who commands sovereignty and complete obedience … I advised the government two decades ago to remedy the situation ... but it has not changed at all," he declared in a December 2004 statement.[37] The Islamic Republic of Iran, meanwhile, is overconfident. Iranian leaders already feel themselves the paramount power in Iraq and, perhaps, Lebanon. The Supreme Leader has referred to Iran as a "superpower."[38] Over the past year, Iranian officials have expanded their influence in Gaza and have questioned the sovereignty of Bahrain, a majority Shi'i sheikhdom ruled by a Sunni leader. Islamist terrorist groups are well-established in Somalia and increasingly active in Yemen, and together threaten the Gulf of Aden and, by extension, access to the Suez Canal.

Scholars and policy experts find attractive the notion that political Islam is a spent force.[39] Repeatedly, they have been proven wrong. Today, Islamism is rising not only in Egypt and Pakistan but also in once-secular countries such as Turkey. In of each these cases and in states including Algeria, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, only the military prevents further Islamist gains. But like the proverbial boy with his finger in the dike, armies dependent upon recruits for ever more conservative societies cannot forever hold off the flood. It is quite possible that the Middle East and South Asia might look quite different a decade from now. It would be wise for Western policymakers to consider the possibility rather than continue to assume that the militaries that imposed security in the past will continue to repel Islamism in the future.

David Bukay is a lecturer at the School of Political Science in the University of Haifa.

[1] The Economist (London), Nov. 16, 2006.
[2] See, for example, Rupert Emerson, From Empire to Nation: The Rise of Self-Assertion of Asian and African Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960); Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).
[3] Howard W. Wriggins, The Ruler's Imperative: Strategies for Survival in Asia and Africa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969).
[4] Michael Bratton and Nicholas van de Walle, Democratic Experiments in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 82-97; Houchang Chehabi and Juan J. Linz, "A Theory of Sultanism," in Chehabi and Linz, eds., Sultanistic Regimes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 3-48.
[5] Amos Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 104-5, 145-7; Michael Herb, All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 21-50.
[6] Al-Hayat al-Jadida (Ramallah), July 17, 2006.
[7] Zachary Abuza, "Jemaah Islamiyah Adopts the Hezbollah Model," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2009, pp. 15-26.
[8] H. Osman Bencherif, "Algeria Faces the Rough Beast," Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1995, pp. 31-8.
[9] Steven A. Cook, Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey (Baltimore: John's Hopkins University Press, 2007), pp. 13, 133-8.
[10] "Islamizing Egyptian Education," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 76-7.
[11] Ido Zelkowitz, "Fatah's Embrace of Islamism," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 19-26.
[12] Michael Rubin, "Who Is Responsible for the Taliban?" Middle East Review of International Affairs, Mar. 2002.
[13] Daily Times (Lahore), Mar. 2, 2007; Najmuddin A Shaikh, "Analysis: Implications of the Swat Deal," Daily Times, Feb. 22, 2009.
[14] David Caprezza, "Turkey's Military Is a Catalyst for Reform," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 13-23.
[15] Financial Times, July 31, 2003.
[16] Soner Cagaptay, "Turkey's Secret Power Brokers," Newsweek International, Mar. 30, 2009.
[17] Open Letter to President Obama, Mar. 10, 2009.
[18] Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 291-323.
[19] Arab Human Development Report 2002 (New York: U.N. Development Programme, 2002), pp. 2-5.
[20] Moisés Naím, "What Is a Gongo?" Foreign Policy, May/June 2007.
[21] Sharq (Tehran), Jan. 2, 2006; Halim Barakat, The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 273-5.
[22] Dankwart Rustow, "Transition to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model," Comparative Politics, Apr. 1970, pp. 350-1.
[23] "Map of Freedom in the World, Tables and Charts: Combined Average Ratings: Independent Countries, 2008," Freedom in the World, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2008), accessed Apr. 20, 2009.
[24] Mustapha K. al-Sayyid, "The Concept of Civil Society and the Arab World," in Rex Brynen, et. al., eds., Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1995), pp. 131-48; idem, "International Dimensions of Middle Eastern Authoritarianism," in Oliver Schlumberger, ed., Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 215-6.
[25] Elie Kedourie, Democracy and the Arab Political Culture (London: Frank Cass, 1994), pp. 103-5.
[26] Eva Bellin, "Coercive Institutions and Coercive Leaders," in Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Michele Penner Angrist, eds., Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005) pp. 21-41.
[27] Marsha Pripstein Posusney, "The Middle East Democracy Deficit in Comparative Perspective," in Posusney and Angrist, Authoritarianism in the Middle East, p. 2; Nicola Pratt, Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2007), pp. 189-204.
[28] Frederic L. Pryor, "Are Muslim Countries Less Democratic?" Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2007, pp. 53-8.
[29] Michael Herb, "Princes, Parliaments, and the Prospects for Democracy in the Gulf," in Posusney and Angrist, Authoritarianism in the Middle East, pp. 169-91.
[30] Fouad Ajami, The Dream Palace of the Arabs (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), p. 155; Philip Carl Salzman, "The Middle East's Tribal DNA," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2008, pp. 23-33.
[31] Daniel E. Price, Islamic Political Culture, Democracy, and Human Rights: A Comparative Study )Westport: Praeger, 1999), pp. 137-56, 177-86.
[32] Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 28-36, 54-61, 85-91; idem, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 1-6.
[33] The New York Times, May 11, 2003.
[34] Saad Eddin Ibrahim, "Dissent and Reform in the Arab World," conference transcript, The American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2006.
[35] Alex Alexiev, "Tablighi Jamaat: Jihad's Stealth Legions," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 3-11.
[36] "America's Image Slips," Pew Global Attitudes Project, Washington, D.C., June 13, 2006.
[37] International Islamic News Network, Dec. 16, 2004; Rediff India Abroad, Dec. 16, 2004.
[38] Abrar (Tehran), Nov. 27, 2008.
[39] See, for example, Ray Takeyh, "Islamism, R.I.P," National Interest, Spring 2001.

Related Topics: Middle East politics | David Bukay To receive the full, printed version of the Middle East Quarterly, please see details about an affordable subscription.

No comments:

Post a Comment