The Middle East: From Bad to Worse

It is not just Venezuela that is currently suffering an exceptionally serious collective crisis. The transition in the Middle East — also a “developing” region — from traditionalism to modernity has reached a stalemate, or perhaps is even in a state of regression.

In Latin America, the concept of “democracy” has theoretically been present since its independence, meaning democracy was able to grow in some of the region’s countries. On the other hand, the Middle East has inherited millennia of patriarchal, feudal and tyrannical authoritarianism, broken up only by very short liberal periods that have never captivated the soul of its people (with the exception of Israel, which, due to the knowledge and culture brought over with the Jewish diaspora, had an advantage in creating a democratic and developed society).

However, this stalemate or regression in the Middle East is not only limited to the dead weight of defunct structures and traditions. Negative imperial interference taking place in the region since World War I is also to blame. In violation of promises made to Arab nationalists in 1915, England and France divided up and colonized the region, sharpening its internal divisions and rivalries (including the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine). After 1945, the U.S. and the Soviet Union each imposed their presence on the region, both fighting over strategic resources and for the political support of the people.

In this renewed Russian-Western “Big Game,” Moscow had the good sense to gamble on factors of social progression in the region, while the U.S. fell into the trap of betting — many times over — on the reactionary players. This is how Washington’s secret services toppled the democratic nationalist (non-communist) regime of Mossadegh in Iran, and installed Mohamed Reza Pahlevi’s right-wing dictatorship in the country. Moscow instead succeeded in gaining the support and trust of the most prominent leaders of a new progressive nationalism — such as Nasser in Egypt, the Baathist leaders of Syria and Iraq, Ben Bella and others in Algeria’s FLN, Gadhafi in Libya and a series of nationalist, left-wing rulers from Afghanistan. None of these men were democratic; they all exercised dictatorial and militaristic powers and violated human rights. Yet they established the separation of state and mosque, adopted social equality measures and supported the liberalization and updating of custom. They were tyrants, but their stance was secular and pro-modernization.

Toward the end of the ’70s, the vigorously anti-communist President Jimmy Carter renewed the West’s offensive against the Soviet bloc, putting an end to the policy of stable coexistence that Nixon and Kissinger had favored. Carter gave the green light to a new Cold War strategy that would work against the USSR and its nationalist, leftist allies. This armed and supported all the traditional Islamist forces that had been repressed by the secular leaders but who were still influential in the hearts of the poorest and the excluded as well as in some sectors of the middle classes. With this geostrategic perspective, the U.S. started to inflate large jihadi movements — the Taliban in Afghanistan, among others, which would later escape its grasp and become one of its fiercest enemies, under the names of al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq. Frankenstein created a monster he could not control.

Obama is aware of the need to correct terrible mistakes from the past, and it seems his likely successor, Hillary Clinton, is too. For the good of the Middle East, we wish them success in this endeavor.

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