Sebastiano concerns to the rulers” (Sadiki 89).


Prof. Pursley

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Emerg. of Modern
Mid East

December 21,

Democracy and Social Justice in the
Middle East

            Question 1:

World War II, a new political order was established in the Middle East and
around the world. Though there are various examples of nations and entire
regions witnessing vast improvement in terms of social justice and democratic
procedures, the Middle East, as a whole has remained rather stagnant in this
regard. In this essay, we will explore some of the motives behind this
phenomenon through the analysis of various different scholars and primary
sources, as well as aim to give a greater understanding of the general climate
in the Middle East that has made reformation such an obstacle. Moreover, we
will couple the arguments made by scholars with numerous historical events
where an effort to democratize or create a new order based on social justice
was present. In the end, it will be apparent that desires of the Arab
populations for the creation of new social and more democratic reform was
subdued by foreign entities like the Untied States, making the road to
democracy far more treacherous.

            To understand the Middle East, we
must not limit ourselves to purely the governments and rulers involved at the
very 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 we
look at scholar, Larbi Sadiki who uses the bread riots in Arab territories taking
place in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a way to showcase the need for a radical
reform movement, “Bread riots served to express disdain for unjust and
authoritarian rule as well as to mediate the public interests and concerns to
the rulers” (Sadiki 89). From this unrest, Sadiki argues that the Arab idea of
democratization came to life. For it was the implementation of neo-liberal
policies, which took away government subsidies, increasing the price for bread
and creating higher levels of unemployment—naturally leading to a bread
shortage in many of these areas. If we take the Sudanese bread shortage riot of
1985 as an example it becomes evident how the desire for a democratic government
was legitimate. In this sense, Sadiki helps us disprove the myth that democracy
stands and will forever remain a foreign concept for the Middle East.
Al-Turabi, the political and Islamist leader of Sudan at the time, praises the
acts of his countrymen for overthrowing the president of the time, Jaafar
Nimeir, establishing that the Sudanese population, “Demonstrated to the rest of
the Arab people that popular protest can deliver victory against dictatorial
forces, no matter how well equipped they are” (Sadiki 78). There is little
doubt, that the dismantling of dictatorial forces tends to result, at least in
theory, in more democratic governments, and while the success of these states has
been less than ideal, the basis for a newly established democratic state exists
within the minds of the people – something Sadiki alludes to throughout his
writing. The power of dictatorial regimes remains nevertheless, as a mountain
to climb and even for those that managed to do so, like Sudan had other issues
to deal with even though they were ahead of the curve in many ways.

            This brings us back to the idea of
an 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 much
different one, “The most secular regimes in the Middle East have been the
independent of the United State. The more closely a government is tied with
Washington, the more Islamic its politics” (Mitchell 1). A prime example of
this can be seen in the oil pact reached between the United States and Saudi
Arabia. In an effort to establish a strong and profitable trade policy, the US
helped maintain the dictatorial and corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, despite the
various protest it against it. While the connection between authoritarian rule
and Islamists policy may not be clear at first, it is undoubtedly synonymous
for the same type of rule. In this fashion, the United States by aiding in the
functioning process of an authoritarian government, has discredited the ability
for a democratic state to come to life. Mitchell expands on this notion when he
states, “One thing that stands out is the increased involvement of Washington
in the prolongation of a series of war and conflicts, through both the arming
of protagonist and the blocking of diplomatic solution” (Mitchell 12). By
increasing the hostilities within these states, the US has effectively halted
the progression that would see the dismantling of dictatorial regimes and the
instalment of more democratic states. This also silences the voices of the
masses, who have consistently implored for a change in government. Mitchell
allows us to realize how the lack of social justice is directly connected with
the inability of political protests (peaceful and non) to overthrow and rapidly
replace old regimes. Mitchell’s critique of the US is indicative of how the
possibilities for democracy in the Middle East might have already been well
underway, had Washington not been so heavily involved in foreign affairs.

            Saudi Arabia was not the only Middle
Eastern country to experience close ties with Washington. Egypt too, became a
part of America’s overarching control and rule in the 1970’s. Under president
Gamal Abdel Nasser who held the post from 1956-1970, the Egyptian government
managed to pass socially progressive polices which Nasser saw as key to
achieving a true democracy. A speech from the former president highlights his
ideals for Egypt, “Justice is equality of distinction and not dictatorship of
capital, not dictatorship of feudalism, not political nor economical nor social
exploitation” (Gelvin 359). Nasser’s success as a man of the people in Egypt,
is more than understandable, especially in a time where social progress was
seldom in the Middle East. Nasser was able to bring Egypt as close to being a
democracy as it has ever been and while not short of critics, Egypt’s social
evolution was heading in the direction of the future. Under Nasser, Egypt was
focusing on creating a pan-Arab nationalist movement, similar to the one Ghana
was 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 of
nonwestern nationalistic entities, “The United States placed itself in opposition
to Nasser and the pan-Arab nationalism Nasser personified… The United States
perceived “excessive” economic nationalism to be a direct threat to its
national security” (Gelvin 308). Let us not forget that in a time that was
defined by the Cold War, the United States was weary that poor economic countries
would not halt themselves at social equality, but that they would push the
boundaries into a possibly communist state—not to mention the threat of any
large and newly formed state. The possibility of this occurring was enough to
make the US prefer more authoritarian regimes, which remained imperfect at
best, but guaranteed the end to socialist ideals from spreading to the pan
level. It was in fact a decade later, that the US made substantial efforts to
diminish Nasser’s efforts to create a pan-Arab movement and many of his
democratic polices. While the ways in which the US imposed a new form of
neo-liberalism to achieve its ultimate goal remain vast and require a detailed
explanation, what we can clearly perceive is why the United States favored
dictatorial rule. For only a decade after Nasser’s death, Hosni Mubarak would
take power in Egypt and rule through authoritarian and anti-democratic means
for the next thirty years. His rule however, was one that guaranteed Egypt’s social
and economic stability which calmed the concerns held by the US. Not only this
but this allow the US to include Egypt into the ever-growing global trade
network, which is largely controlled by the United States through the World Bank.

            Timothy Mitchell expresses his views
on the unequal and one-sided relationship between the US and Egypt when he
states, ”