Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands

I haven’t written much political news in a while, especially around the issues at play in the Middle East, a favorite topic of mine in the past. It’s probably time for a check-in as there have been some really interesting developments of late and I’m feeling like it’s probably time to comment. Not to mention I was asked about it twice this week and who am I do deny an audience?

The thing I find most fascinating about politics and especially the realm of  international relations, is the integration of various systems which exist within the larger context of the geography in a given region. In the Middle East this integration is especially complex, I would suggest that nothing happens in any country in that part of the world which is not tied in some way to events or conditions which exist in the region as a whole. I think of the place as a giant balloon and when you squeeze one part, the balloon pops out somewhere else.

This is made more complex by an inherent instability in the region which I believe comes from the relative immaturity of the nation states there and the prevalence of tribal allegiances over national identities in most of the regions countries. This transition to nationhood I believe is at the root of virtually all of the areas conflicts, Syria being the most egregious example at the moment. Civil Wars and specifically tribal wars have throughout history, always been among the most violent and bloody of conflicts. And that is because the goal of these wars typically is not just to expand borders or acquire resources, but rather to annihilate your enemies and to settle scores which of course adds a whole new level of violence.

Nation Building

For people to feel like they’re a part of a nation, the nation which they are a part off has to be successful and successful nation-states share some common characteristics. To name a few that I think about:

  • A strong middle class who can share in their countries economic success. If a countries citizens can participate in and benefit from the success of the nation, they will feel like they have a stake in that nation which creates loyalty. This is accomplished by the way, through private ownership of property and capital, and the perception/ability of individuals improve their lot through the economic system in the country. Free markets help as well but I don’t believe they are the most important characteristic. Topic for another discussion.
  • Free and regular elections. Regular elections enable people to take the long view on a their countries development and to have perspective on their own well being and their future success. In the United States for example we can live through bad administrations because we know that even the worst government will not be in power forever. We have institutionalized peaceful change, which is one of the most important contributions of our Republic to the rest of the world. Imagine living in Egypt and having to put up with Mubrarek’s corrupt government for 30 years, and doing so with no end in sight. No one is going to be motivated to do anything.
  • A free press which monitors and contributes to a countries political debate. A free press holds political leaders accountable and creates societal transparency. Interestingly enough this thought has caused me do to a 180 on the Snowden affair. I now believe we needed some transparency in our intelligence gathering agencies. Again, another debate on that subject.
  • A free judiciary. Checks and balances on governments have proven time and time again to be critical to a countries economic and political development. Morsi, the recent popularly elected president of Egypt for example attempted to shut down Egypt’s judiciary because they were impeding his attempts to manipulate the Egyptian constitution in order to crate an Islamic state. More than anything else, that was the reason the military ousted him.

There are probably others but in my mind these are the critical enablers to achieving national success for a country. In every Middle Eastern Country save two, these conditions are still evolving, and until they do there simply isn’t going to be stability in the region. And, in lieu of these conditions, people will affiliate levels below nation; city, religion, tribe etc. And the lower you go, the more likely you are to have gang style violence. The only proven political system which can keep countries with many separate and hostile factions quiet unfortunately is a dictatorship. See Marshal Tito if you would like a great example.

The two exceptions by the way, Israel and Turkey, both of those countries are relatively far along in their development, although I worry about the direction Turkey is taking from time to time.

Over the next week or so I’m going to expound on this topic (remember, I was asked about it twice this week) and give you my two cents on how the sands are shifting in this region and do a country by country assessment of my thoughts.

I’m feeling strangely motivated to write again!

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