About Obama’s Chewing Gum and the Price of Democracy in the Middle East



In the last four years, many Arab countries have become stuck in chaos and armed conflict not experienced in a previous six decades of independent development.

Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, the region has swung between dramatic turnarounds, while the socioeconomic and political crisis has been based on the grounds of ethnic and religious feuds.

Persecuted and murdered, Christians and other minorities in the Middle East are forced to emigrate, while the parties of political Islam use religion to deliberately deform public opinion. Under the cover of dogmatic causes and reasoning, they seize power and indulge in the benefits that come with it. This is the method used by armed Shiite militia to brutally enforce its authority over the capital of Iraq and other large Iraqi cities. The same strategy has been used in Iraq by the jihadi of the Islamic State, acting in coalition with local Sunni tribes and former officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. Every day, the Islamic State group commits attacks on history, museums, monuments and 3,000-year-old cities in plain sight — right before the open eyes and the cold face of the world.

Yemen has also been torn up by enemy factions, with its bigger cities under the control of the Iran-backed armed forces of Shiite al-Houthi, and other regions of the country ruled by al-Qaida and the Islamic State group’s jihadi. The southern part of the country is on the verge of breaking apart, with Sanaa seeking independence. Four years of war have left Syria in pieces, its state institutions in ruins and its citizens subjected to murder, fleeing the country.

With its territory controlled by rival militia groups, one in control of Tripoli and others in control of other cities, Libya is practically not a state.

Lebanon labors under the turmoil of never-ending religious clashes. It’s been a year since its ethno-religious communities have been unable to settle on an agreement to choose a new president.

The list goes on. There are other Arab countries threatened by failure of the state. The whole region is characterized by a quick erosion of government institutions and exposure of the dictatorial style of those in power. Unfortunately, their efforts have long been directed primarily at the reinforcement of repressive systems designed to guarantee their own survival. For years the leaders of those countries have built lasting dictatorships, not democratic procedures, rule of law or protection of human rights, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation.

It makes me think of Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, who pointed out in a self-critical manner in a lecture at the University in Cairo that, “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.”

The chaos triggered by the Arab insurgents lends a highly significant dimension to her conclusions. Freedom in this region did not provide democracy. The opposite happened — the violence, hatred and suppression of the other cultivated for years by the despotic regimes fueled the arms of those who had been fed with it. The Islamists stole the revolution from the youngsters who started it and then threw their societies into the prison of religious dogma. More violence and more extremist outbreaks follow.

The Islamic State group does not terrorize the Syrian people any less than Assad’s regime does. Twelve years after the collapse of Saddam’s government in Iraq, sectarian terror victimizes thousands of innocent people. For them, the notion of democracy has turned into an empty word abused by bloody conflicts and separation. Today, one-third of the country is under the control of the Islamic State group, while in the air in Baghdad one can feel the growing power of the armed Shiite militia who are rising against the current government.

All this is happening without an adequate response from Washington; that same Washington that tries to show Iraq as the new model of a democratic Middle East.

The new model of a democratic Middle East is squeezed between artillery shots and airstrikes coming from one side, and the terrifying crimes of the jihadi and their ever growing power coming from the other side. A political deadlock and tightening social pressure dooms the future of the new generation. According to a report issued by the U.N. Development Program, in the Arab states in 2018, Arab youngsters with graduate degree will reach 105 million. Those 105 million people will hit a market with a 50 percent unemployment rate.

Both the United States and Europe are not ready to face the challenge of a Middle East speeding toward the abyss of civil war. The European states are staring, powerless and perplexed, at the new danger of radical Islam — a real threat.

Although the apocalypse is coming, Obama is deaf. He does not hear the noise of disintegration and war in the Middle East. The Washington Post made a point by publishing an article in which an anonymous source talks about the president chewing gum while listening to his counselors telling him about the growing breakdown of Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon and about the Iranian contribution to the chaos in the region.

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