Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces

Reuters

An Israeli police explosives expert surveys the scene where a rocket landed in Timorim, east of Ashdod, November 21, 2012.

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  • There’s a depressing familiarity about the new Middle East. @DPletka

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  • What a shame to see the nations of the Middle East reenact the same play they have performed again, again and again.

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  • Look at the leaders that have come to the fore. Are they delivering economic reform and rooting out evil? No.

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This small war between Hamas and Israel will pass. The just announced ceasefire may be sustained. Or Israel may move from aerial bombardment to a ground incursion, which will deter Hamas from relighting the fuse for some time. But not forever, because Hamas exists only to fight with Israel. It has no other purpose. Those who counter that Hamas governs need only look at Gaza to understand that governance is far from Hamas’ aims or abilities. Will this late 2012 battle end differently for the Palestinians? Advance a two state solution? Heal the ills of the Palestinians? Allow Israel to live in peace and security? No.

Another question:  Will the realignment of the Middle East to an order more congenial to Hamas matter? Clearly, Hamas believed that with its Muslim Brotherhood brethren at the helm in Egypt and the new spiritual leader of the region’s Sunni Islamists at the helm in Turkey, this adventure would end differently. Of course, Hamas’ hope was not to destroy the state of Israel. Rather, it was to gain the upper hand in its endless and fruitless battle against Fatah for the Palestinian political mantle, ideally with the wind of the Arab world’s Islamist revolutions at its back. That won’t happen either. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsy and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are willing to lend rhetorical support and a few visits to Gaza, but they’re never going to do anything substantial for Palestinians because they neither care enough about actual Palestinian people nor wish to queer their pitch with Europe and the United States.

Finally, there’s a depressing familiarity about the new Middle East. It’s not the bombings or the terrorism or the death or the rote repetition of formulae; rather, it’s the reliving of history and the mindless expectation of a different outcome.

Step back a few years to the rise of the modern Arab state. That takes us a couple of decades from the post-World War II, post-independence era array of Kings and Emirs of Araby. The 1960s saw the rise of young officers movements and leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Muammar Gadhafi in Libya, and Soviet inspired “socialist” leaders like Syria’s Hafez el Assad.  Their mission was to restore the glory of Islam’s past, to right the calamity of the creation of Israel and to reject the Western orientation that corrupted their royal predecessors. Wars were fought with Israel; wars and territory were lost to Israel. And, slowly but surely, the young officers and their successors became the dictators they had pretended to revile. Finally, there were only a few threads that united most of those leaders – the desire for political and financial power, and a reflexive habit of blaming their nation’s ills on the Jews.

Over the last few years, those leaders have been tossed to the ash heap of history by populations that would no longer tolerate the oppression and fear that dominated their lives. In Tahrir Square, in Damascus, in Tunisia and in Yemen, demonstrators didn’t demand a Palestinian state, nor did they focus on the Jews. They spoke of economic and political freedom, accountability and democracy.

But look at the leaders that have come to the fore. What are they doing? Delivering economic reform? Not yet. Rooting out corruption? No. Delivering the fruits of political freedom to all? Far from it. Rather, they are imposing a new tyranny at home and hoping to distract their people from their failings by looking to Israel. Even Turkey, which is sliding away from the democratic freedoms and secularism that characterized its modern era, has begun to look more like the old Middle East and less like the trailblazer it could have been.

What a shame to see the nations of the region reenact the same play they have performed again, again and again, serving no one – least of all themselves.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

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