This November marked the 100 year anniversary of the end of the First World War. A war that changed the face of Europe forever and set the stage for, the most devastating war in all of human history, the Second World War. Since the late 1940s the nations of Europe that were most affected by the war have been able to bounce back and their economies, for the most part, made very strong recoveries. The past 100 years for the Middle East, since the end of World War I, have not seen the same recovery as Europe and the region remains an absolute mess to this day. Despite the Western World’s best efforts, countless revolutions and protests; none of the Arab Nations of the Middle East have come close to constructing anything closely resembling a democratic government (with the exception of Tunisia, maybe, where the Arab Spring kicked off in 2011). It should be obvious at this point that democracy simply does not work in the Middle East.
Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire maintained control over the Middle East. The Empire was a caliphate, the leaders of the various Muslim tribes throughout the Middle East represented their tribes and conducted negotiations and things of political manners for them. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war, Britain and France both rushed into the Middle East and divided the region into various nations states that we see on the map today. These nations are purely Western creations. The Arab people simply saw themselves as a collection of tribes and the entire concept of the Nation State was completely foreign to them. This is where a lot of the problems in the Middle East still stem from today.
In addition to the establishment of nation states in the Middle East, the French and the British also established systems of government that were just as foreign and unfamiliar to the Arab people. The French went about establishing Republics (Syria, Lebanon, etc.) while the British established monarchies (Iraq, Egypt, etc.). The Second World War brought even more turmoil to the region.
After World War II the British assisted the Jewish people of Europe in creating their own homeland, Israel. In order to establish this state the British and Jewish people simply dispelled the native population of roughly 700,000 people from their homes; forcing them into the surrounding regions of Gaza, the West Bank and Golan Heights. The Arab Nations made an attempt to regain the land lost to Israel but were unsuccessful due to British military support.
In 1954 Nationalists in Egypt, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew the Egyptian monarchy and took control of the government. Soon afterward the Egyptians took control of the Suez Canal. This was a huge victory considering the Suez Canal’s strategic importance in the region. Though troubles persisted in the region with Israel which ultimately culminated in 1967.
In 1967 the Armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan made their final attempt to reclaim the Palestinian lands lost to Israel. The Arab Nations were confident they would be successful because the British were no longer supporting Israel militarily. The conflict only lasted 6 Days (hence the name 6 Days War as it’s known today) and by the end not only had Israel absolutely decimated the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian militaries beyond all recognition but the Isrealis had even taken control of the Suez Canal, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. The 6 Days War is still regarded as the most devastating defeat ever suffered by the Arab Nations in history and this loss ultimately spelled the end for Nationalism in the Middle East.
By the 1970s the people of the Arab Nations had concluded that the ideologies of the West were failures and could never prosper in the Middle East. Despite the monarchies and republics still going onto survive, the Middle East was without an ideology. The vacuum left in the absence of political ideology was soon filled when the people began to recognize “Islam is the answer”. Thus, Islam as a political ideology, or Islamism, was born.
Islamism has persisted as the dominant ideology of the Middle East since the 1970s. The ideology spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East; partially in part due to foreign intervention on behalf of the West. Iraq was one of the few remaining secular monarchies left in the region until the US brought down Saddam Hussein in December of 2003. Afterwards the US soon learned the difficulties of establishing democracy in the Iraq when they discovered that the people would simply vote for whoever the Imams told them to, undoubtedly and Islamist leader.
Despite Islamism’s rise to power and continual growth; it is still far from a success. In 2011 the Arab Spring kicked off throughout every nation in the Middle East. People were able to organize protests in a moment’s notice via social media and, with the full support of the west, governments were ousted across the Middle East and democratic elections were held. The victory was short lived however because the people either elected new Islamist leaders or coup d’etats were staged by Islamists to take control. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring first began, could be regarded as perhaps the only success story of the Arab Spring.
Libya quickly overthrew and killed their dictator, Muammar Gaddafi and then promptly devolved into a state of civil war between various Islamist insurgence, including ISIS. The affects of this are still horrifyingly visible today as Libya has become one of the primary departure points for migrants entering Europe and a new African slave trade has arisen as well. Libya is essentially an anarchic failed state riddled with warring tribes all clamoring for power similar to Somalia in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The Syrian government, led still today by Bashar Al Assad, attempted to suppress the protests which resulted in civil war. The few rebel groups that were supposedly fighting for democracy received support from the US while Russia backed the Assad Regime in order to maintain access to the Syrian seaports in the Mediterranean. The war in Syria somewhat resembled the proxy wars between the US and Russia during the 1980s. The US backed rebels soon dissolved into the various Islamist groups that were most prominent among Assad’s opposition and from them ISIS was formed. There has been continual fighting there ever since but the Assad Regime has maintained control of the capital and coastal areas and, thanks to foreign intervention and the Kurds, ISIS has mostly been defeated in both Iraq and Syria.
2019 will mark the 8th anniversary of the Arab Spring and what little has changed since then has only changed for the worse. Foreign intervention from the West has proved to be a resounding failure in the Middle East, as have the Western political ideologies. If we can conclude anything it is that nothing we have tried has worked and nothing we tried will work. The problems the Arab World are facing are profoundly complex and attempts to establish stable democracies have not only failed every time but made things dramatically worse than they already were. It is not obvious how the Arab Nations should go about resolving their problems and it’s most certainly not up for us to decide. One thing is clear, however, democracy is not a part of that solution.