Why more Islam not less is good for the Middle East (and democracy)

islam democracy

Religion has played an important part in the Arab Spring, either as a ideological influence behind calls for change or, more recently, as a major force in elections. Islamic parties already dominate the political scene in Tunisia and Egypt, and will likely do so anywhere else democracy allows a free vote.

Most Westerners assume that that these trends can only end up hurting the region.  For them, religion is a major cause of the problems that plague the Middle East, and greater secularism is essential for democracy and progress. But such notions show just how little outsiders understand the region, its dominant faith, and the political dynamics driving change from Morocco to Iran. Continue reading

Libya: Tripoli (and others) Should Welcome Benghazi’s Demand for Autonomy

Libya

Last week, 3,000 militia and tribal leaders from eastern Libya announced unilateral plans to begin establishing their own autonomous government. They demanded a return to the loose federation that existed before Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi came to power in 1969.

Predictably, the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Tripoli rejected these calls. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, even claimed that they were inspired by elements loyal to Gaddafi’s old regime.

This is a mistake. Although Libya would in an ideal world be just fine with a unitary government built around a single national assembly, it is more likely to create a robust state that can meet the needs of its people if it empowers its regions. Continue reading

Is the map of the Middle East about to change?

If people in the Middle East could democratically choose what country they lived in, would they choose the one they are in now?

Amidst all the talk of an Arab Spring, the fragility of the Arab state is often forgotten.

Whereas developed countries are almost always the product of an organic, internally driven process, in the Middle East’s case, the countries are mostly the product of a British-French agreement made in 1916 (Sykes-Picot) that paid little attention to local sociopolitical realities. As a result, few possess the historical roots, social cohesion, and legitimacy necessary to nurture the complex institutions that are a prerequisite for development and democracy. On the contrary, most suffer from both sectarian divisions and weak government—the causes of state fragility. Continue reading