Wednesday, March 02, 2005


The End of the Middle East As We Know It

Well, perhaps not the end per se. As Churchill once said, "It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning."

Democracy is on the march in the Middle East.
Iraq has held popular elections; the Syrian puppet-government in Lebanon has fallen; the Saudis, of all people, might be allowing women to vote for a change; and even Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak ("President" since 1981!) says he'll permit an opposing candidate next time.

All this is described much better than I could by Mark Steyn:
Why is all this happening? Answer: January 30. Don't take my word for it, listen to Walid Jumblatt, big-time Lebanese Druze leader and a man of impeccable anti-American credentials: "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen."

Just so. Left to their own devices, the House of Saud - which demanded all US female air-traffic controllers be stood down for Crown Prince Abdullah's flight to the Bush ranch in Crawford - would stick to their traditional line that Wahhabi women have no place in a voting booth; instead, they have to dress like a voting booth - a big black impenetrable curtain with a little slot to drop your ballot through. Likewise, Hosni Mubarak has no desire to take part in campaign debates with Hosno Name-Recognition. Boy Assad has no desire to hand over his co-Baathists to the Great Satan's puppets in Baghdad.

But none of them has much of a choice. In the space of a month, the Iraq election has become the prism through which all other events in the region are seen.

True. And what does this say about the Bush administration, which made it all happen? Even if you believe (as many do) that they did not plan to spread democracy to the Middle East, it's still an extremely impressive achievement, even if achieved inadvertently. And if you believe (as I do) that this was the plan all along... well, now.

Granted, the transition to democracy is an extremely difficult one. (Democracy is inefficient and messy. Dictatorships are cheap.) As Glenn Reynolds is fond of pointing out, democracy isn't an event, it's a process. And democratic progress can be lost if you're not vigilant.

Nonetheless, hopeful though I was, I certainly didn't expect the dominoes to start to fall this quickly!

Where will this take us? Who knows. We certainly won't see flourishing democracies across the Middle East tomorrow, or even the next day. But I'm optimistic that we're walking in the right direction.

For me, the acid test for Arab democracies will be acceptance of Israel. And no, I don't think that's a knee-jerk reaction from a proud Zionist. Think about it -- Israel has, with fewer resources than nearly any Arab country, managed to outstrip them all, by far, in nearly every category that matters: economic growth, technological advance, education, innovation, contributions to world art and literature, even Nobel Prize winners. (What did Israel have that her neighbors didn't? The key missing ingredient wasn't manpower, or money, or resources; and it sure wasn't oil. But Israelis had freedom, to a degree utterly unknown in Arab countries.)

And Israel has proven itself more than ready to share the fruits of her labor with any that negotiate in good faith. So when Arab countries perceive that they have much to gain, and only their hatred to lose, by learning to work with Israel -- and when Arabs insist that their governments do so, and make it stick -- then we'll truly have something.


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