Bombarded by news, observers of Middle East politics are reminded daily of the conflict raging between Palestinians and Israel, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Lebanon and Syria, between Egypt and Hezbollah, between Israel and Hamas, between Syria and Israel, between Syria and Iraq (resulting from Syrian terror), between UAE and Iran, between Algeria and Morocco, between Saudi Arabia and Libya, etc, etc, etc.. So many conflicts between so many nations, so many religious ideologies, and so many family squabbles that it is very easy to find yourself a pro-Lebanon this month and against Lebanon the next, pro-Saudi Arabia this week and against Saudi Arabia the next, pro-Syria today and against Syria tomorrow.
Take the profile of a secular Muslim, pro-west, pro-minorities, against oppression and against religious extremism in any form. That person is content to see the Syrian government support the Christians of Syria but not so when the same government oppresses another minority: The Kurds. That person is content to see the Lebanese debate Hezbollah’s arms but not so when Syria and Iran interfere. That person is content to see Iraq’s democracy flourish but not when sectarianism is highlighted by the media as if to remind us of the fragility of democracy in the Arab world. That person is content to see Muslims rising against terror but not when the same Muslims support Palestinians who do not differentiate between violence and dialogue.
Many other scenarios can be highlighted in which we see ourselves support a country one day and become against its policies the next. One of the most extreme scenarios I find rather cynical is Saudi Arabia supporting Israel to halt the Iranian nuclear ambitions. This is tantamount to the ultimate illusion the region has seen under its present, modern borders. Wahabbis and Jews coming together, quietly, for a short-term goal after which normalcy, exasperated by hate, will surely return.
Why so many anomalies? Why does the region have so many conflicts all brewing simultaneously? There are several answers, depending on who you ask. If you asked the intellectuals, they will point their fingers at Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you asked the scholars, they will oscillate depending on who is driving the policy. If you asked the religious extremists, they will talk of Israel hindering their goals of an Islamic Caliphate in Jerusalem. If you asked the seculars, they will point their fingers at Islamic extremism fueled by ignorance and oppression. But the real reason is the incessant jostling by dictatorial regimes to keep democracy at bay and keep their rule safe.
When the US liberated Iraq from an Arab dictator, the club members all united to stand against the US and against liberation. Upon failure, they all kept silent as Syrian and Iranian terror machines descended upon Iraq to destroy its fabric, disrupt its democratic processes, and kill as many Americans in order to leave the region before they liberated another country. Unanimously, they all conspired to the harming of Iraq. But Iraq being populated by resolute men and women, has survived. Nonetheless, all Arab dictators see Iraq the way they see Lebanon: If we cannot destroy its democracy, let’s at least spur civil unrest, influence its politicians, and flood the country with intelligence operatives with sinister aims.
Lebanon, a democracy, is another good example. Saudi Arabia established itself inside the country after proposing the Taif agreement, which ended a 15-year old civil war. Syrians were not happy with the arrangement but Hafez al-Assad, a minority Alawite living dangerously in a majority Sunni country, knew better than to confront Saudi Arabia. Not so with Assad son who dispensed with Saudi Arabia by killing Rafik Hariri at the same time he consolidated Hezbollah’s strength in cohort with his Iranian allies. Lebanon’s fledgling democracy, to this day, is a tool in the hands of Arab dictatorial regimes and the Iranian extremists through Hezbollah. The people can vote in Beirut but power resides in Damascus and Tehran.
This also explains the reason why secular extremist Arabs, like Assad, want democratic Israel destroyed.
If you really want to know the reasons why Saudi Arabia mended its fences with Syria after taking the lead role in Lebanon from the Saudis, look no further than to the goal of saving, collectively, all the Arab autocracies at any cost. Saudi Arabia would rather lose Lebanon than allow a democracy in Syria.
Assad violates the Kurds because of their separatist aspirations as people without a country and whose voices will lead to democracy. Saudi Arabia violates the Shiites in the Eastern Province because they sit on the oil that provides them with so much power to retain their non-democratic rule. Iranians violate the Ahwazis because they will never submit to the central role of the Mullahs in Tehran. Israelis won’t submit to the return of the Palestinians not because they are heartless but because it will tip the balance, under Israeli democracy, in favor of an Arab takeover of Israel from within.
All of this result in conflicts.
But if Arabs were governed by democracies, there will be no more misery for the Palestinians as all refugee camps may be banned and Palestinians integrated should they desire to. Ahwazis and Kurds and Copts and Druze and Assyrians and Baluchis, and Turkmens will have a measure over control of their destiny not by hiding but by voicing their concerns over policies of forced immigration or religious discrimination or even deliberate extermination by extremists through a free press and freedom of expression. In a democracy, politicians are empowered to find solutions and solve problems, not so in an autocracy where a ruler has but one goal: To protect himself. If stability is our aim in the region, then democracy should be our answer.
Unlike many analysts who believe that Democracy will usher extremists to power, I believe the opposite is true. Take the Muslim Sufi sect in Syria representing the majority of Sunnis. In Sufism, spirituality and not politics drive the followers of this peaceful sect. Most Sufis accept the government that rules them, even if they disagree with its policies. But with democracy, Sufism will have an equal voice in capturing the imagination of people as will say the extremists Muslims because spreading spirituality no longer represent a danger to a dictatorship whose central policy is to control the masses. Imagine if Sufism prevails, how this will change the whole Middle East region!!
Democracy is the answer to conflicts in the Middle East and to the confusion we all have become part of when we witness the destabilizing policies of authoritarian regimes.