A few weeks ago I wrote about the turmoil in Egypt and the importance of the outcome. We can now congratulate many of the people of Egypt who through generally peaceful protests managed to oust Hosni Mubarek as the dictatorial president. The Army has taken control and promises a transition to a democratic government. That’s all positive, even though to most Americans saying a military takeover of a government is good probably seems a little odd. We certainly would not accept that a military takeover in the United States or any westernized country would be a positive outcome. Nonetheless, I agree that having Egypt’s military in charge is the best outcome possible given the options.
A very interesting development now is how the examples of Tunisian and Egyptian protests have sparked similar unrest in a number of Middle Eastern nations.
If you’ve been watching the news you know that demonstrators in Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Syria and Bahrain have called for government change. The tone of the protests has varied from country to country depending on the opposition organization and the fear of a heavy-hand squashing any gatherings. Some of the governments are adept and applying levels of conciliation to stifle protests. Others take off their gloves and accept no active opposition.
The suppression in Libya has been especially hard. I suppose that’s no major surprise. Moammar Gadhafi has no plans to abdicate control anytime soon. The Syrian leadership also has a long history of crushing opposition. Apparently just the threat of that iron hand prevented any significant protests. Most people in Syria take life over fighting for representative government.
Bahrain has been a surprise for me in that I did not realize the level of discontent there. Bahrain is especially important for the United States because the Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters is there. Any unrest in Bahrain could threaten U.S. service personnel directly and also affect our ability to employ military power in the area. The monarchy and most security personnel are Sunni, but most of the citizens are Shia Muslims. This situation is further complicated by the number of foreign workers in the country. One message I saw indicated that over half of the people living in Bahrain are foreigners in the country to work. Bahrain cannot afford to have those foreigners threatened so that the workers would leave. That would have to have a significant effect on the nation’s economy.
The unrest is fueled by unemployment of young people at a much greater level than anything we are experiencing, as well as a desire for more representative government. The desire for democratic rather than dictatorial rule is heartening. As the leading democratic nation in the world, it is usually in our long-term interest for the principles of democracy to spread. However, the short-term interest may not be pleasant and if another dictatorship arises taking the trappings of democracy, our interests certainly will not be served. The trade-off between a friendly dictator based on mutual interests and an unfriendly democracy with positions based on emotion rather than benefits is a dilemma our national leaders from both political parties have faced for many years. Unfortunately, too often the party not in power tends to protest friendly relations with governments we would never accept here rather than accepting that the interests of the United States must come first. On the other hand, sometimes we have failed to weigh long-term and short-term gains as well as failed to comprehend the changes in the environment over time. I suppose that’s why being in charge of this great nation is not easy.
It is clear that change is coming. The level of change is unclear, but too many people are engaged for the political landscape to remain as is. Social media are enabling much of the protest by serving as the coordination means for motivating people to take to the streets. That is in itself an interesting development, as I’ve seen a variety of authorities debate the utility of such services for several years now. I’d say that the Internet, just as any new communications system can claim, is having an impact. Any person or organization desiring to influence people must be cognizant of the potential impact even of a dinosaur like me who refuses to join Facebook.
The Middle East is not going to look the same in a few years. That will affect our ability to obtain resources from the area and our ability to influence the governments. The effect could be positive or negative. To me that continues to argue for us to seek ways to be independent of any other nation. Our Founding Fathers warned us of becoming engaged in foreign affairs. While being isolationist is not an option today, we do lose control to some degree when we need something from another nation. The current unrest in the Middle East, with the lack of clarity of an ultimate outcome, argues hard in my mind for our developing alternatives for any resource we obtain beyond our shores.