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Katherine Krauss

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U.S. Intervention in the Middle East

Posted: 04/ 5/2012 8:50 am

This time one year ago, the entire Mediterranean Arab world was plunged into the chaos of the Arab Spring Revolutions, and no one could quite tell the outcome. One spring later, as the countries in this region begin to settle down, I would like to analyze the political trends of this region and why, because of historical precedent, the United States has no reason to be afraid of their future or the future of the countries in the region.

First, it is important to examine the recent political trends. As we have seen particularly in the governments in Tunisia and Egypt, as they seem to be the countries that have both undergone a revolution and created a relatively stable government, the trend in the Middle East seems to be an attempt to reconcile a traditional theocracy with a parliamentary democracy. In both Egypt and Tunisia, the Muslim political parties hold enormous sway with the people and had very good showings in the elections. As the United States is wary of theocracies -- and especially so of Muslim theocracies as fears of Islam extremism run high at times -- the United States appears to be hesitant in its approval of the governments of these new nations. However, when examined in historical context, a theocratic parliamentary democracy would seem to be the best choice, for it establishes a traditional base on the administrative level, while also modernizing the method of administration itself. This is an important move for all post-colonial nations, as there is obviously a need to modernize and keep up with the times but also preserve some of the traditions that existed before colonization so that the people of that nation can both identify with the government, and in so doing, believe that their government is not just another form of the colonial government trying to impose Western values on them -- a government against which they must rebel. Therefore, from a postcolonial standpoint, both Egypt and Tunisia are moving forward in the right direction, particularly because they are using historical precedence as their base from which they are building governments that are meant to deal with modern issues.

This historical precedence of Islamic theocracy in the Middle East began in the latter half of the first millennia of the Common Era. Shortly after Islam was founded in the seventh century, an Islamic empire stretching from the western borders of Pakistan to the western shores of Spain across the north of Africa was founded, and it was during this empire that the theocracy can be said to have reached one of its historical heights. Under this empire, scholarship and the arts bloomed; the Arabs have often been credited with preserving the documents that allowed for the artistic and scholarly development of the Renaissance almost 700 years later. In addition, they built many great architectural works, one of which was the Alhambra Palace in southern Spain, and which I consider to be one of the great architectural wonders of the world. All of this development was made possible not only by the great emphasis that the Arabs placed on scholarly subjects, but also because all religions were tolerated under this empire. There were extra taxes, to be sure, but this era was one of the few times in history where the myriad of ethnic and religious groups that makes the Mediterranean such a fascinating region were reconciled and, for the better part of a century and a half, got along. Less than 500 years later, the Ottomans attempted to replicate this great empire within a slightly smaller geographic area. However, the size of the empire is not quite as important as the fact that for 700 years this empire remained intact because of its policies of tolerance towards the multiple ethnic and religious groups under its jurisdiction.

That is not to say, however, that modern theocracies in the Middle East will automatically usher in a golden age of peace and tolerance, especially given the rise of more conservative Islam movements in the region. It is, however, important to note that when the Middle East has been at its most stable and prosperous, it was under a government that also exercised some sort of religious power. That said, the United States needs to recognize that this success under theocracy proves that not every country is suited for an American-style democracy, and that it is perhaps best for all parties involved if Americans adopt a principle of their own and let the people of the new nations craft their own governments. As a matter of fact, young Egyptians were quoted after the revolution saying that they thought an American-style democracy might not be the best solution for their country, that perhaps a parliamentary system like that of the British would be better. Another reason for the United States to withdraw its official statements of hesitance and ambivalence towards these governments is the complaint of those in the Middle East who say that they do not like the United States because it has the habit of imposing its values on other nations. Therefore, if the United States were to stop attempting to manipulate these countries in their post-revolution stage, they might even find that these nations end up becoming closer allies than they would have been had the United States given them an unsolicited government; and the more Middle Eastern allies the United States has, the closer we become to bridging the cultural miscommunication that has existed between our region and theirs during the modern era.