The past, present and future of the Middle East

By Prince Gharios of Ghassan Al-Nu'Man VIII
Published: Mar 10, 2014 09:56 PM GMT / 
Updated: Mar 10, 2014 09:56 PM GMT

The West must stop looking to the Middle East with "westernized eyes". The moment we stop doing that, we'll realize a calamitous truth: the great majority of the problems in the region is the result of western interference in all levels.

Concept

We live in a globalized world. By that assertion, we can conclude that there's no nation that's absolutely self-sufficient in all areas. That dependence might be related to energy, agriculture, manufactured products, etc.

The WTO (World Trade Organization) has 159 nation-members and 25 observer governments, in other words, 98% of the world is somehow engaged in trade, buying and selling and, by extension, having multiple interests with different nations.

In the modern world the individual is more and more dependent of his neighbor for everything. Only a hermit, living completely isolated, may be relatively independent of other people. Today, even being financially independent and living alone, someone is extremely dependent of everyone. This dependency goes from the immediate community to even far away nations. For example: your coffee comes from South America, your milk comes from a farm a few miles outside the city and your car's gasoline comes probably from the Middle East. Your clothes and sports’ gear are made in China, Pakistan, India or Indonesia...

That fact brings us to a Buddhist philosophical concept called: interdependence.

“Pratītyasamutpāda” (Sanskrit; Pali: “paticcasamuppāda”) can be translated as “dependent origination” or “dependent arising”. On a general level, the principle refers to one of the central concepts in the Buddhist tradition—that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions.

The concept of interdependence is the basis for other main principles in Buddhism, like “karma”(causation) , rebirth (wrongly called in the west as 'reincarnation'), the arising of suffering and the possibility of liberation through realizing no-self (destruction of the ego).

The general principle of “pratītyasamutpāda” asserts that everything is interdependent.

Western influence

One must understand that the Arabs are in charge of their own affairs for the first time in one thousand years. They've been under Turkish control for centuries which ended with the Ottoman's defeat in the WWI and the consecutive dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. That advent was succeeded by the British and French mandates in the region that only served their own European colonialist interests.

"In effect, the political map of the Arab side of the Gulf, both in terms of state boundaries and ruling regimes (with the exception of the Saudis), was determined by British policy in the area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." (F. Gregory Gause III, "Oil Monarchies", p.22)

"… The British froze the existing tribal-political map. By recognizing and protecting some families as rulers in certain territories, they interrupted the historical process of rise and decline … By protecting the smaller states militarily; they halted the expansion of the Saudi state in the first half of the twentieth century. As a result, in the 1960's and 1970's they bequeathed independent sovereign states to the heirs of those ruling families." (Ibid.)

"During the twentieth century, Britain came to control not only foreign policy but domestic politics in the smaller Emirates as well." (Ibid. p.23)

"Rulers who were inconvenient, because of excessive independence or excessive incompetence, were removed from power by Britain." (Ibid)

In the end of the 1940's both British and French mandates ended, living the middle-eastern to their own faith. Although the direct intervention was momentarily over, several other indirect ones started to operate in the whole region. All tentative of republican regimes in the region today were poorly imitations from the west. Like the Ba'ath party famous for being Saddam Hussein's, founded in Syria in 1947 and present all over the Middle East today. The party was conceived to be socialist inspired in European totalitarian regimes. Even the present monarchies are inspired less on the traditional sultanates and more on the absolutist regimes of Europe.

It’s accurate to say that the western regimes interfered massively in the natural process of politicization in the region. The results are known, the terrible fiasco of the immature “Frankestein regimes” mimicking the worst of what the west could offer politically.

What about democracy?

Democracy

Nothing can be more accurate than Winston Churchill’s famous quote:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

A lot of people confuse “democracy” with “freedom”. A great example is the American people. They think they live in a “Democratic Republic”, where the will of the majority rules. That’s not true. The United States of America is a “Constitutional Republic” where what rules is the law (Constitution), not the majority necessarily. That can be easily perceived by the results of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Official results point that Democratic candidate Al Gore had 50,999,897 votes or 48.4% of the votes against 50,456,002 or 47.9% of votes for the Republican Bush. Even with over half of million (543,895 to be precise) more votes, Al Gore was defeated by Bush.

Democracy is a long process, not necessarily an obligation of all nations.

Professor Bernard Lewis wisely said:

“The Western world suffers from the rather pathetic illusion that democracy is the natural and normal condition of mankind, and that any deviation from this condition is either a disease to be cured or a crime to be punished.”

The principle of majority rules just work when the voting people are politicized. When the people know enough to decide what’s better, not just choose for the sake of having the right to do so. That’s only achieved through education.

Brazil can be considered a stable democracy. Even with the brief military dictatorship (1964-1985), the South American nation can be considered today a country with solid democratic process. However, a vote can be bought today with a t-shirt, a pair of flip-flops or even a sack of rice. Is the democracy working properly? By the recent millions of people on the streets of all the Brazilian capitals, it’s doubtful.

The rule of majority is not healthy if isn’t exercised with basic information that, the majority of the people, don’t have. That harms their capacity of choosing. An example can illustrate that easily. Imagine a household with five people: a couple and 3 children, with ages from 8 through 12. If every night a vote was proposed for the dinner menu, probably the parents would vote for a healthy dinner once they know, at least some of them, the results of a bad diet. When consulting the children they’d unanimously say: “Pizza!!!” Every night, they would win once they’re the majority. Does that mean that pizza every night is the best diet for all of them? Of course, not. So, again, if the people don’t know all the elements of their options, the democratic process is inefficient and even dangerous.

Does that mean that the people in the Middle East are not ready for democracy? Not necessarily, although the disastrous results in Egypt would point to that.

Freedom, education and dignity are crucial; they’re the vehicle for democracy, not the other way around.

The Middle East needs freedom and transparency from the governments, which allied to proper education, will lead to an efficient democratic process, but that will take time.

Present

Going back to the principle of interdependence, the Middle East today can be compared to the game of 'Jenga', a tower of bricks that, if you move one of them the whole tower can collapse.

The Carnegie Endowment identified the main 'bricks':

"Three clusters of countries and three major issues present particular challenges for the United States in the new Middle East. All of them have been negatively affected by U.S. policies in the last few years. Developments in the Iran–Iraq cluster present significant threats to U.S. security. The Lebanon–Syria cluster is not as threatening, but it has become a highly unstable area that affects the surrounding countries. The Palestinian–Israeli conflict has turned from a chronic problem into a major obstacle to cooperation with even friendly regimes in the area. The three clusters are not unrelated to each other, but it is helpful to examine them separately at the outset. U.S. policy makers also confront a set of region-wide problems. The first is the challenge of nuclear proliferation, which is most acute in relation to Iran but goes beyond it, with a growing number of Arab countries talking of developing a nuclear capacity. The second is the dilemma posed for the United States by domestic political struggles in many countries, initially favored by the United States as part of a program of democratic transformations, but from which the United States has backtracked, undermining U.S. credibility and raising questions about its intentions. The third is the growing saliency of sectarianism." ("The New Middle East" - Carnegie Report - Marina Ottaway, Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, Karim Sadjadpour and Paul Salem p.4)

The only mistake in the aforementioned assertion is state that the 'bricks' are not related to each other. May be not directly, but definitely the power oscillation between the 'bricks' have definitely effects in the whole 'Jenga tower'.

That can be easily proven by the weakening of the power of Iraq with the fall of Saddam Hussein. No questions about the fact that the world is a lot better without him, however, his fall gave more power to the other side of the dispute: Iran.

Having more power, Iran can interfere more in the region, increasing its influence in Syria and even financing insurrections in countries like Bahrain, therefore unbalancing the 'tower' even more.

The western interferences are miscalculated – not considering the big picture of the region - and even when they’re more altruistic, they end up causing more trouble than benefit. It has been this way since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Either the west must consider the interdependence of the whole 'Jenga tower' and its reflections as moving each 'brick' or stop interfering in the Middle East at all, once the consequences of miscalculated actions are bringing only destruction and pain both for the region and for the west which is suffering endlessly with the menace of living under siege because of the constant threat of terror.

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