Peter Storey writes that the big question facing the revolutionaries of the Middle East is: Can you handle democracy?
In this country, in the mid-late 19th century, democracy still had a stigma attached to it. It was seen by many as mob rule by the uneducated masses that will make ill-informed decisions. Today, in America, these arguments are being brought to the fore of politics in questioning the Middle-East’s compatibility with democracy, with the question on everyone’s lips being ‘can they handle it?’
The authoritarian and secular rulers of many Middle-Eastern and Arab nations are remnants of the Cold War when America played a large role in installing them and making sure they were upheld so that the region didn’t fall to communism. However, with the Cold War over, these rulers continued to play a role in denying Islamofascism from gaining a foothold in the area. With the recent upheavals in the region, America is beginning to question whether the Middle East can handle democracy, or whether it will inevitably turn into a theocracy, similar to Iran’s.
As Lyndon Johnson once said of dictators the USA held sway over, ‘they may be bastards, but at least they are our bastards’. The American executive was and is willing to put up with tyrants so long as they contain their volatile country with a pro-American government with pro-American policies. Although there were attempts to scale back support in the late 1980s under Reagan in regions that weren’t volatile, such as Chile, America still backed many of the dictators they wished to remain in place, namely Mubarak in Egypt. With the rise of Islamofascism, however, a scale back of American backed authoritarian rulers in the Middle East was impossible, especially with what America viewed as the negative presence of Iran in the region.
What America faces is a battle between her values and pragmatism. In Tunisia she gave relatively warm support to the protesters as Tunisia’s strategic importance in the region is of little importance, but when Egypt began to erupt it was clear America was having second-thoughts. Egypt has the largest population in the region and has control over the Suez Canal. If Egypt were to fall into the hands of an Islamic theocratic regime, the potential repercussions for America (not to mention Israel) could be devastating for international relations. If one of the oil rich nations follows suit, or if Bahrain (home of the United States Fifth Fleet) successfully overthrows their monarchy, it is questionable how America will act. Obviously America can’t invade and install puppet democratic regimes like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. The neo-conservative foreign policy boat has sailed.
Ultimately, America won’t be happy until there are democratic regimes in the Middle East that are pro-Western orientated. Why does America take such a stance against Iran’s nuclear programme? Why does America continue to economically support Israel? I could ask a dozen similar questions, but the answer to all is simple – America wishes to remake the world in a Western image (more precisely, it’s own). If Canada started building nuclear weapons, there would be barely any opposition at all and when Greece faced her gigantic debt, no one saw America coming to the rescue. These Western nations are secure. It is particularly in the Islamic region where America now has her eyes turned to, with hundreds of thousands of troops mobilised and millions (if not billions) of dollars invested to protect her interests. The worst case scenario for America is for another Iran to emerge from these protests, preaching a very anti-Western dogma.
Clearly, the next year in the Middle East will be a turning point for US foreign policy, perhaps for a generation depending on how extensive these revolutions are. Maybe it will be a sign of America’s waning power if these nations go the way of Iran, and perhaps it will be a sign of Iran’s waning influence in the region if the Middle Eastern people chose to side with America and the West. It is, for once, down to the Middle Eastern people to decide their destinies this year.
I wonder what the Colonel would think if he was still alive and saw one of his KFC restaurants in Tahir Square being used as a hospital for people injured by security forces of an American backed dictator, using American weapons and American ammunition. I also question what the Egyptian people make of that and how that will affect their voting intentions. One may mull that over at one’s own discretion.