PursleyEmerg. of ModernMid EastDecember 21,2017Democracy and Social Justice in theMiddle East Question 1:SinceWorld War II, a new political order was established in the Middle East andaround the world. Though there are various examples of nations and entireregions witnessing vast improvement in terms of social justice and democraticprocedures, the Middle East, as a whole has remained rather stagnant in thisregard. In this essay, we will explore some of the motives behind thisphenomenon through the analysis of various different scholars and primarysources, as well as aim to give a greater understanding of the general climatein the Middle East that has made reformation such an obstacle.
Moreover, wewill couple the arguments made by scholars with numerous historical eventswhere an effort to democratize or create a new order based on social justicewas present. In the end, it will be apparent that desires of the Arabpopulations for the creation of new social and more democratic reform wassubdued by foreign entities like the Untied States, making the road todemocracy far more treacherous. To understand the Middle East, wemust not limit ourselves to purely the governments and rulers involved at thevery top of national affairs, but rather we ought to highlight the difference,that was often present, between the governing body and the public.
To do this welook at scholar, Larbi Sadiki who uses the bread riots in Arab territories takingplace in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a way to showcase the need for a radicalreform movement, “Bread riots served to express disdain for unjust andauthoritarian rule as well as to mediate the public interests and concerns tothe rulers” (Sadiki 89). From this unrest, Sadiki argues that the Arab idea ofdemocratization came to life. For it was the implementation of neo-liberalpolicies, which took away government subsidies, increasing the price for breadand creating higher levels of unemployment—naturally leading to a breadshortage in many of these areas. If we take the Sudanese bread shortage riot of1985 as an example it becomes evident how the desire for a democratic governmentwas legitimate. In this sense, Sadiki helps us disprove the myth that democracystands and will forever remain a foreign concept for the Middle East.Al-Turabi, the political and Islamist leader of Sudan at the time, praises theacts of his countrymen for overthrowing the president of the time, JaafarNimeir, establishing that the Sudanese population, “Demonstrated to the rest ofthe Arab people that popular protest can deliver victory against dictatorialforces, no matter how well equipped they are” (Sadiki 78).
There is littledoubt, that the dismantling of dictatorial forces tends to result, at least intheory, in more democratic governments, and while the success of these states hasbeen less than ideal, the basis for a newly established democratic state existswithin the minds of the people – something Sadiki alludes to throughout hiswriting. The power of dictatorial regimes remains nevertheless, as a mountainto climb and even for those that managed to do so, like Sudan had other issuesto deal with even though they were ahead of the curve in many ways. This brings us back to the idea ofan authoritarian government and its continued survival in Middle East territories.Although one tends to see the United States as the chief democratic diffuser,this has not been the case in the Middle East. In fact, the reality is a muchdifferent one, “The most secular regimes in the Middle East have been theindependent of the United State. The more closely a government is tied withWashington, the more Islamic its politics” (Mitchell 1). A prime example ofthis can be seen in the oil pact reached between the United States and SaudiArabia.
In an effort to establish a strong and profitable trade policy, the UShelped maintain the dictatorial and corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, despite thevarious protest it against it. While the connection between authoritarian ruleand Islamists policy may not be clear at first, it is undoubtedly synonymousfor the same type of rule. In this fashion, the United States by aiding in thefunctioning process of an authoritarian government, has discredited the abilityfor a democratic state to come to life. Mitchell expands on this notion when hestates, “One thing that stands out is the increased involvement of Washingtonin the prolongation of a series of war and conflicts, through both the armingof protagonist and the blocking of diplomatic solution” (Mitchell 12). Byincreasing the hostilities within these states, the US has effectively haltedthe progression that would see the dismantling of dictatorial regimes and theinstalment of more democratic states. This also silences the voices of themasses, who have consistently implored for a change in government. Mitchellallows us to realize how the lack of social justice is directly connected withthe inability of political protests (peaceful and non) to overthrow and rapidlyreplace old regimes.
Mitchell’s critique of the US is indicative of how thepossibilities for democracy in the Middle East might have already been wellunderway, had Washington not been so heavily involved in foreign affairs. Saudi Arabia was not the only MiddleEastern country to experience close ties with Washington. Egypt too, became apart of America’s overarching control and rule in the 1970’s. Under presidentGamal Abdel Nasser who held the post from 1956-1970, the Egyptian governmentmanaged to pass socially progressive polices which Nasser saw as key toachieving a true democracy. A speech from the former president highlights hisideals for Egypt, “Justice is equality of distinction and not dictatorship ofcapital, not dictatorship of feudalism, not political nor economical nor socialexploitation” (Gelvin 359). Nasser’s success as a man of the people in Egypt,is more than understandable, especially in a time where social progress wasseldom in the Middle East.
Nasser was able to bring Egypt as close to being ademocracy as it has ever been and while not short of critics, Egypt’s socialevolution was heading in the direction of the future. Under Nasser, Egypt wasfocusing on creating a pan-Arab nationalist movement, similar to the one Ghanawas hoping to lift off the ground in Africa under Kwame Nkrumah. In doing so,Nasser made himself an enemy to the United States which feared the alliance ofnonwestern nationalistic entities, “The United States placed itself in oppositionto Nasser and the pan-Arab nationalism Nasser personified… The United Statesperceived “excessive” economic nationalism to be a direct threat to itsnational security” (Gelvin 308).
Let us not forget that in a time that wasdefined by the Cold War, the United States was weary that poor economic countrieswould not halt themselves at social equality, but that they would push theboundaries into a possibly communist state—not to mention the threat of anylarge and newly formed state. The possibility of this occurring was enough tomake the US prefer more authoritarian regimes, which remained imperfect atbest, but guaranteed the end to socialist ideals from spreading to the panlevel. It was in fact a decade later, that the US made substantial efforts todiminish Nasser’s efforts to create a pan-Arab movement and many of hisdemocratic polices. While the ways in which the US imposed a new form ofneo-liberalism to achieve its ultimate goal remain vast and require a detailedexplanation, what we can clearly perceive is why the United States favoreddictatorial rule.
For only a decade after Nasser’s death, Hosni Mubarak wouldtake power in Egypt and rule through authoritarian and anti-democratic meansfor the next thirty years. His rule however, was one that guaranteed Egypt’s socialand economic stability which calmed the concerns held by the US. Not only thisbut this allow the US to include Egypt into the ever-growing global tradenetwork, which is largely controlled by the United States through the World Bank. Timothy Mitchell expresses his viewson the unequal and one-sided relationship between the US and Egypt when hestates, “