As we slog through a boiling summer, we also are being bombarded by the news about the instability in the Middle East – a hot place to be these days and not only because of the daily temperatures.
It’s been more than a year and half since Egypt started it revolution against President Hosni Mubarak, and it’s still struggling. The new Muslim Brotherhood government is trying to establish its power and prowess over the traditional military structure that wanted to prevent any type of Islamist rule. How the game will play out in Egypt is anyone’s guess but the one hopeful sign for the people of Egypt is that it is a fairly homogenous society. Yes, there is a Coptic minority which has many reasons to complain about their past treatment, but it is a small minority and we should not see the door-to-door sectarian battles that are ongoing in Syria and Iraq. Egypt is also a country that has been in existence for millennia and not a fabricated country created at the end of a world war. America’s decision to back the revolution in Egypt seems to have been a good one – although to some of us it was very late. We will never know if the U.S. had dropped support of Mubarak publicly as early as February or March, if the secularists would have been able to win the election.
Then there is Syria — a country truly falling apart. Although no one supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, no one really knows whom to support. The opposition is fractured and contains some rational people but also has militants, Islamists, Al Qaeda, and probably many others. Many Americans seem frustrated by Al Assad’s ability to stay in power and about America’s inability to force him out or the decision to not arm the opposition. Having been around when the U.S. did arm the anti-Soviet Afghan opposition, it can indeed backfire on us. Remember where Osama Bin Laden started? Al Assad will indeed go, but what worries the people who know this part of the world well is the question: What will happen when he’s gone? Civil war, sectarian murders, a spreading of instability and refugees to neighboring countries just to name a few potential outcomes. As Richard Haass of the Council of Foreign Affairs said on MSNBC this week, “There could be a lot more dead after Al Assad falls than we have now.”
Another country that was carved out of the region by the British is Iraq, which seems to be slipping down a path of resurging sectarian violence. Sunni versus Shia has reared its ugly head again. The U.S. is no longer policing the streets and, therefore, car bombs and suicide bombers are creeping back into the society. There is a fear amongst the cognoscenti that Iraq could end up back in a civil war. Iran would then once again fuel the Shiites in order to get greater influence – especially if its vassal state of Syria forces Al Assad out.
And I haven’t even discussed Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Lebanon, or Jordan! I’ll leave that for another day.