egypt riots 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Democracy is defined by most as the people’s power (from the Greek roots of
demos-kratos), but power has eluded the people in North Africa and most of the
Middle East for centuries. The notion of democracy as it is known in its Western
incarnation is incompatible with present-day North Africa and the Middle East.
Culturally, institutionally and religiously, democracy has not been able to gain
a toehold, with one exception – Israel.
The interesting thing is that
people in the region do rise up every now and then, yet freedom and democracy
Popular uprisings are also not immune to internal or
external manipulation. By their very nature, they lack a certain command and
control. Leadership is shared. Groups with divergent points of view join forces
to face a single enemy. The outcome of most uprisings (known as revolutions if
they succeed) is unpredictable. It is common, though, that the people have a
singular aim – change – without having defined the details.
can be bloody business.
Often, the power vacuum is filled by thugs,
warlords, strongmen or military dictators. The ever-so-brief flicker of the
intelligentsia’s participation in the popular movement comes to an end as all
diverging opinions are snuffed out and a singular path identified by a narrow
group with the least to lose or the most to gain.
THIS BRINGS us to the
current Middle East and North African crises, in which Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt
and Yemen are in the midst of popular uprisings.
Locally, the smart money
is on some sort of weak interim coalition government which within a year or two
will lead to fundamentalist governing bodies, not unlike those in Iran or the
Gaza Strip – or, for that matter, Lebanon. The pattern and blueprint has been
established, and we know that it works.
The exception is Turkey. It has
been able to achieve its transformation through democratic processes and without
bloodshed, while strengthening its economic and international
One may look deeply into one’s crystal ball for a long-term
projection based on today’s realities. One such reality is that the Middle East
and North Africa are being swept by organized fundamentalism, funded by friendly
powers. We need to acknowledge the possibility of dealing with fundamentalists
reigning over portions of Asia and Africa. While some key relationships may
initially change between the Middle East, North African countries and the West,
the dependencies are deep, especially economically. The world still needs
The Middle East and North Africa still need Western products and
The balance of power may gradually change, however, as China
and Russia move in to fill the vacuum.
The impact of such a significant
fundamentalist bloc will be felt across the globe. It will be experienced first
by Israel, which will bear the brunt of this tsunami, then by Europe, India,
Russia and North America. Japan, China and South America will not feel the
impact as much. Islamists in the West, India and select countries in Central
Asia will continue to organize themselves and have the support of the Middle
East and North African fundamentalist block. We can speculate that such a bloc
could form a Sunni caliphate with converging interests that could have a global
impact on economics, natural resources, culture, security, agriculture and so
A tangential impact of such a scenario may be the hastening of Iran’s
current transformation from an autocracy to a military state. In fact (in 10 to
15 years), Iran could very well find itself on the same side as Israel in such a
scenario, as the Shi’ite Persians are despised by even moderate Sunni Arabs.
This is evident today – as a key regional power, the Iranians have some serious
conflicts with the Egyptians, the Saudis and others in the Gulf over nuclear
development and attempts at regional domination.
Anglo-American support for Islamist movements in the region – to either curb
nationalism or divert gravitation toward the Soviet Union – has only served to
strengthen such a scenario.
And as we desperately seek to secure oil and
natural resources for our future, we will have to forge a new relationship with
a bloc that sees the majority of the world as infidels. This scenario certainly
sets the stage for a long-term Cold Warlike situation. Unlike the previous cold
wars however, the two sides will be dependent on one another.The writer
is a senior partner at Cyrus Echo, a public policy and international relations
firm in Ottawa.