The unfolding violence in Syria should finally put an end to the illusion fostered in the West that ‘Arab Spring’ was ringing in freedom and democracy into the Middle East.
Few in the West comprehend the extent to which the Arab-Muslim world is in the midst of a historical convulsion. It is somewhat similar to the sort of upheaval that gripped Europe as a Christian continent in the eventual making of the modern world.
Fewer still comprehend that this current phase of Arab convulsion, beginning in January last year in Tunisia and presently taking hold of Syria, was ironically uncorked by the much maligned George W. Bush when he took the gambit of bringing regime change in Iraq.
A half-century ago in the aftermath of the Suez War of 1956, the Middle East was shaken by the tumult of Pan-Arab nationalism. It undermined the old order and brought a generation of men in military uniforms to rule as despots across the Middle East. That earlier tumult was stifled and contained. It was not allowed to run its course and exhaust the fury of an oppressive culture that retarded the progress of Arab politics from dictatorship to democracy.
In a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in June 2004, President Bush candidly explained why Arab politics remained stuck in authoritarianism.
“For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy,” he said.
Regime change did not work out smoothly or satisfactorily for the Iraqis. The reason in part was Iraqis received their freedom, as Fouad Ajami chronicled in his book on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as a “foreigner’s gift.”
Yet the idea of regime change was contagious, and in time it took hold of the Arab masses. And once the “Bush Doctrine” was swallowed by Bush’s successor in the White House — though Obama and his minions will never admit this — it meant the end for those Arab despots, such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, tied to the West.
The Syrian despot is tied to Iran, Russia, China and has the support of anti-American regimes such as Hugo Chavez’s in Venezuela. Consequently, Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen are prepared to crush their opposition regardless of the denunciations of human rights groups and governments in the West.
Even if the Syrian despot survives in power, the historic convulsion seizing the Middle East will not be contained or stifled this time around. It is through experiencing the full havoc of this convulsion that people of the Middle East will eventually learn they need to move out of their closed circle of tribal politics, and shed the collectivist ideology of Islamism if they want freedom and democracy for themselves.
Freedom cannot be a foreigner’s gift. When it is, it then breeds resentment and ingratitude as it has among Iraqis.
Islamism can provide no answer for Arabs in meeting the demands of the modern world.
Iranians opposed to their regime have learned this bitter truth. Arabs will have to discover it as they exchange tribal politics for totalitarian rule behind the veil of false religious piety.