Change in the Middle East is Good. Right?

The Middle East is on fire.  Changing. Revolutions. Dictators falling and democracies failing. Is it positive?  Here’s my take….

Tunisia and Egypt are the two “revolutions” that seemed, till now, to have worked.  Of course, the long- term effects are still to be seen.  But why did they work there and they don’t seem to be working as well in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen? And what about Saudi, Jordan and the other Gulf states? Let me give this my best shot.

Some countries in the Arab Middle East are relatively homogeneous.  Others are of mixed people groups. Some are more tribal than others.  And some are led by minorities who must repress the majority to stay in power.  From this, you can almost guess the conclusions.

Tunisia and Egypt are a little less tribal than some of the other countries and are relatively homogeneous in their makeup.  Tunisia is almost 100% Sunni Muslim and its leaders were Sunni Muslim. Egypt is 85% Sunni Muslims and its primary leadership were Sunni Muslim.  The Coptic Christians of Egypt worked hand in hand with the revolution ­ in fact some amazing stories of Muslim-Christian cooperation and protection came from these last few months. Bottom line for these two countries ­ a peaceful grassroots revolution was possible because the people were able to agree on their immediate goals.

Yemen is unique. It is desperately poor. It is homogeneous ­ almost 100% Sunni Muslim.  But it is extremely tribal.  If the current President’s tribe is ousted, which tribe will reign?  This has caused a lot of confusion and hasn’t allowed for any clear grassroots goals.  Yemen is not likely to go well even if President Saleh has to step down.

Syria and Bahrain are cases where a minority group is ruling the majority (as it was in Iraq with the Sunni Saddam Hussein ruling the vast majority who were either Kurdish or Shi’ite).

Syria has been ruled by Hafez and now Bashar Al-Assad since 1971. They are Alawite Muslims. Syria is mostly Sunni with significant minorities of Shi’ite, Druze and Christians.  The only way the Assads have stayed in power is by brutality.  (Much like Saddam stayed in power). If/when that is removed, the country is likely to descend into chaos (like Iraq).  The people there do seem to be coalescing around the mutual goal of ousting the “evil dictator” but the question of who takes power and how will be extremely difficult for this country which has never tasted anything slightly pluralistic or democratic.

Bahrain is similar. It’s been ruled by the Khalifa family since the late 1700’s. They are Sunni. But the majority of Bahrain are Shi’ites. It’s the one Shi’itie “island” in an otherwise totally Sunni Arab Gulf. The fear there is that the connection between Iran and Bahrain’s Shi’ites might lead to some unhelpful stirring of the political pot.  (There are also Shi’ites in Eastern Saudi, near the Bahraini border).  Bahrain is further complicated by the large presence of U.S. Military on the island.

The Royal Families of the other Gulf countries (Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, the Emirates and Qatar) are all scrambling to make concessions before things explode there as well. Due to the relative wealth in those nations, revolution is less likely to be immediate.  Jordan would fit in this category as well.

As I’ve said before, the policy of the United States in the region is one of stability at all costs. Notice how reticent we’ve been to actively support the revolutionaries.  Even in Libya, we did a little ­ but quickly have backed out.  I believe that’s because we have no idea who we’d end up supporting.  Revolutions in the Gulf could affect our oil.  And/or the security of Israel.  I’m not commenting on the wisdom of that point, simply that it is.

So is change good? Depends.  We all have friends who have changed for the better. And…for the worse. And when they change for the better is was likely a spiritual breakthrough of some sort.  Let’s pray for God’s wind of change in the Middle East. The people there have been living in a desert and are thirsty!

The Middle East is on fire. Changing. Revolutions. Dictators falling and democracies failing. Is it positive? Here’s my take….

Comments

  1. Very helpful overview, thanks Carl!

  2. Carl- keep making us think!

  3. Jared Holsing says:

    I appreciate the thumbnail sketch of the region. It feels like arriving at a reunion of a huge family that you’re just meeting for the first time… It usually takes forever to untangle all the characters, stories and connections 🙂 You’ve pulled us aside and sped up the process. Thanks!