Tag Archives: democracy

A picture of Middle East difficulty


Why haven’t the Israelis and Palestinians made peace yet? A window into the difficulty can be seen in two articles in the Wall Street Journal today (August 20, 2013).

The first article details why the Saudis and UAE are siding with the Egyptian military: they see their nations’ interests as being free of the type of Islamism being espoused by the Islamic brotherhood. [Ignore the irony here for a moment – think Wahhabism.] As the WSJ states, “the Saudis and UAE want to deal a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and undercut the influence of the regional rivals that back them: Turkey and Qatar.” Saudis and UAE have pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt, more than counterbalancing any cutoff the US might make of our $1.5 billion.

In a parallel article “EU is to Debate Aid to Cairo” EU members are wringing their hands about what to do. They are increasingly reducing arms exports to Egypt and debating other aid that they would reduce. To give some sense of the relative lack of leverage this means, “Germany had approved weapons sales valued at [$17.6 million] in the first half of 2013…” Again, a drop in bucket.

But more importantly, the approach to dealing with the issue is what is striking. The Saudis and UAE’ers, who live in the region and understand the cultures and mentalities of the players better than Westerners do, are saying a strong hand is necessary inside of Egypt before democracy can be respected. The Westerners, who have our consistent ambivalent “let’s make nice and compromise for the good of everyone” approach and have not been particularly successful in our approaches to foreign cultures (think Africa, Asia, the Middle East) over the centuries, believe the specter of democracy is more important, even if a type of theocracy results.

Israel, the only nation that straddles the Middle Eastern and Western cultures, wants a stable Sinai peninsula and western border with Egypt. It senses that a stable government is vital, and that isn’t likely to happen until General Sisi can install law and order: “‘Only after stability is restored, only after law and order is enforced, only then can you start to talk about launching a process that leads to more democratic processes,’ sad the senior Israeli official.” Though at the same time Israel is wary of an Islamic backlash throughout the region.

So the Obama administration dickers (that has been its approach in most foreign policy for 5 years now) without a clear strategy. And, as a senior Arab official says in the first WSJ article, “‘I don’t think that Washington is really in the conversation’ on Egypt in a significant way.” Seems to be true on Syria as well.

Why is Kerry pushing the Israeli-Palestinian line right now? Perhaps it has to do with the same naïveté driving our wrong-headed approach to Egypt and Syria?

Addendum on August 21: See the article by Walter Russell Mead that is more articulate about this problem in the American Interest just brought to my attention, “Bambi Meets Godzilla in the Middle East.”

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