Middle East: To Challenge the Patriarch

© Copyright 2012 Ideas That Shape (ITS)

By Joseph Lerner, Edited by Col. Gordon Forbes (ret.)

MENA-300x176It is essential to be prepared for a possibility that the plans for implementing the Western-style democracy in Middle Eastern countries may be unsuccessful. The Tunisian uprising ignited the Arab Spring, which had a domino effect that resulted in an uprising in Egypt and removal of Mubarak, the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, an ongoing rebellion in Syria against the minority Alawite ruling class, led by Bashar al-Assad, and protests in Bahrain. These events have been interpreted in the West as a desire for establishing Western-style democracy by the people of the Middle East. However, those in favour of adopting Western-style democracy in the Middle East are in the minority and they were not instrumental in igniting the Arab Spring.

“This is not how the West, nor many Egyptians, thought the Arab Spring would turn out in Egypt. Their mistake was overestimating the significance of the democratic secularists, how representative the anti-Mubarak demonstrators were of Egypt as a whole, and the degree to which those demonstrators were committed to Western-style democracy rather than a democracy that represented Islamist values.” George Friedman, The Egyptian Election and the Arab Spring, Stratfor, May 29, 2012

In International Relations circles and amongst analysts the Arab Spring is perceived as a series of revolutions in the Middle East.  The term, Egyptian Revolution, was already used at the first gathering of the Egyptian people in Tahrir Square, who were demanding changes.  Comparing the Arab Spring to a revolution might be jumping to conclusions too soon.  Why?  The Arab Spring hardly consists of a series of revolutions in the Middle East.  The Arab Spring has been a series of decentralized and spontaneous uprisings and rebellions against oppression without having any clear, centralized leadership or well-structured political ideology.  Furthermore, one should realize that the circumstances that sparked the uprisings in most Arab countries were of an economic and social nature.   However, the uprising in Syria and Bahrain are of a political and sectarian nature.

During the Arab Spring, the reaction of many in the West, especially the mainstream media, was based on the misperception that the Arab Spring is a clear sign that the Middle Eastern people are eager to establish Western-style democracy.  For example, in October 2012 Doug Bandow in an article that was published by Forbes wrote: That blocking power is now at issue. While visiting Kuwait last week I increasingly heard people insist on creation of a government dependent on parliament, as in most Western nations. Some Kuwaitis even questioned the monarchy, whose ruling family goes back centuries in this region.

The cause of these uprisings was the oppression and frustration of the Arab population, especially the youths, who have no hope in planning for their future.  A majority of the youths in the Arab countries have no gainful employment and no means of supporting themselves, getting a higher education or developing skills that would lead to gainful employment.  Furthermore, the youths in these countries hardly have any proper social life.  All these frustrations and negative energies have been redirected towards uprisings, rebellions and in many cases the religious extremism in the Middle East.

“I don’t think the Arab Spring is necessarily a democratic manifestation, I think it is a populist manifestation,” Henry Kissinger, WSJ, May 21, 2011

The Middle East has a longstanding tradition of male leadership (patriarchy) that extends from the family to the structure of tribal elders and leadership of today’s nations.  For thousands of years the Middle Eastern nations have been ruled by kings and sheikhs.  Such form of leadership symbolically represents a king or sheikh as a father figure according to the traditions and cultures of the Middle East.  The king is the nation’s patriarch.  In the Middle Eastern traditions and cultures a nation is similar to that of a family.  The national unity of each Middle Eastern country, for thousands of years, has been ensured under such a patriarchal model of governance.

Furthermore, similar cultural and traditional political structures could even be identified in Middle Eastern countries whose form of government is a Republic.  Today, in the Republic of Turkey, the Prime Minister plays a similar symbolic role to that of the great patriarch of the Turkish nation.  The same principle applies to the governing structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Supreme Leader of Iran is a Shiite religious leader who is a king archetype.  The word, supreme, alludes to such a concept.  People of the Middle East have a longstanding traditional, cultural and spiritual affinity with such concepts, symbolism and leadership archetypes that represent kingship and patriarchy.

Whether Western values and standards are compatible with the Middle Eastern traditions or cultures or not, the people of the Middle East highly respect and treasure their way of life.  Therefore, the West must realize and acknowledge that the Middle Eastern uprisings and rebellions are hardly an indication that the people of the Middle East are interested in adopting the Western values, culture or Western-style democracy.  Essentially the people of the Middle East want economic opportunity and a better life rather than Western-style democracy that is socially alien to them.

However, this does not mean that those who started the Arab Spring are not interested in certain elements of  Western-style democracy, like Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly.  The traditions and cultures of the people of the Middle East hardly pose a threat to the Western values and way of life.  To develop a deeper understanding of such realities and to be able to better assist the region in economic advancement, Human Rights, stability and rule of law, it is necessary to learn about the traditions, cultures and history of the Middle East.  Western countries need to be flexible and adapt to these realities in their foreign policies and trade interactions with the Middle East.

Furthermore, it is important to realize and acknowledge that the Middle East is a region with many nations that are rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, precious metals and minerals.  The West needs the natural resources of the Middle East to be industrious and sustain its economic growth.  The Middle Eastern countries need to export their natural resources to the West and rest of the world to grow their economy and develop their infrastructure.  There is an undeniable symbiotic economic relationship between the West and Middle Eastern countries.  Therefore, trade, investment and infrastructure building need to become the central focus of the development of relationships between the West and Middle Eastern countries, within the context of International Relations, International Development and International Trade.

People of the Middle East enjoy and appreciate having Western high-tech and other products such as cars, smart phones, gaming devices and many more.  Furthermore, they are the consumers of Western entertainment, including movies and TV programs.  East and West share common economic and cultural grounds.

One wonders that whether Western-style democracy was really a proper lens to view the Arab Spring?  If it was yes, then to what extent?

The next question then is:  Are there forms of government that are compatible with both the Western interest in openness and the patriarchal traditions and cultures of the Middle East?  One might find some answers to this question.  However, regardless of how rational and pragmatic the solutions would be, the political and sociocultural obstacles in working towards such a model of governance will be:

a) how to ensure that Human Rights violations, especially Women’s Rights, are properly addressed within the cultural and traditional context of each Middle Eastern nation; and

b) how to gradually assist the Middle Eastern nations to install the concept of probity in the hearts and minds of each one of their citizens from an early age and throughout their public education.

Joseph Lerner is an analyst whose areas of focus are Geopolitics and Cultural Studies. He has received his education in political science at Glendon College / Collège universitaire Glendon, York University. Joseph’s academic interest is in investigating and learning about the logical thinking processes, methodologies and mechanisms by which the analysts, scholars and experts arrive to their conclusions. As a polyglot he speaks English, French, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Farsi, Dari and has a basic knowledge of German, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkmenistani and various dialects spoken in geographically related regions. Joseph currently serves on the Advisory Board of Ideas That Shape (ITS) and the Centre for Strategic Cyberspace + Security Science / CSCSS (London, UK). In the past, he has served on the Advisory Board of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS). Addendum, Joseph is member of Chatham House the Royal Institute of International Affairs (London, U.K.), International Institute for Strategic Studies – IISS (London, U.K.), Atlantic Council of Canada, Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and Canadian International Council (CIC).