A Different Middle East

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Nathan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident and now chairman of the Jewish Agency, wrote in his seminal book titled The Case for Democracy about fear societies and free societies.  The Arab Middle East has been a collection of largely fear societies.  The recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, however, have transformed the psychology of many Arabs, and the political ramifications are soon to follow.

The fear barrier that gripped the people living in the dictatorships throughout the Middle East has been breached. The corrupt dictators in Egypt (Mubarak) and Tunisia (Bin Ali) are now gone, and others like them in the Arab world fear they are next.  These dictators deposited billions of dollars in Swiss banks, while their people suffered poverty, unemployment, inadequate schooling, and lack of medical attention. Millions of Arabs who live in poverty-stricken neighborhoods rushed into the capital cities by the tens-of-thousands, no longer fearing the military, secret police, or the police forces arrayed against them.  They proved to their cruel rulers that people’s power matters.

The new Middle East will favor the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which, in the absence of government social service systems, has grown enormously in popularity.  The mosque-based clinics, feeding stations, and petty employment gave the MB many millions of foot soldiers that occupied Liberation Square in Cairo, and other such squares in different capitals in the Arab world, from Algiers to Manama, and from Amman to Tripoli, and Sana.

In Egypt, more than half of the population of 84 million dwells in unplanned communities without running water, a sewage system, electricity, and telephone service. These people, unlike the elites who are tied to the regime, have no access to a social and medical infrastructure, and consequently the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been able to tap into their anger and frustration.

The next chapter in Egypt’s history is yet to be written, but there is little doubt that the MB will be a major influence.  Under the worst case scenario, the MB will force the powers that be to immediately sever their relations with Israel and, perhaps with the U.S. as well. The delivery of gas to Israel would cease, and Egypt would ally itself with Iran.  Such a government would also shut-down the Suez Canal to Western navigation, causing great damage to the European economy.  Domestically, a MB-influenced government would implement Sharia law as the law of the land, forcing the Coptic-Christian minority to flee the country, convert to Islam or live in even greater misery and fear.

On the other hand, if more moderate forces within the MB should prevail, Egypt would continue to constructively engage with the West and seek foreign investments in order to try and feed, cloth, and house its people.  Such an MB-influenced Egyptian government might refrain from assuming an openly anti-American and anti-Western policy, knowing that such policies would end the generous U.S. aid to Egypt.  And, MB leaders are aware that a militant anti-Israel policy might lead the region toward war – the consequences of which would be a decline in foreign investments and increased poverty.  It is more than likely, however, that Egypt under MB influence would downgrade its relations with Israel, including the closure of the embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv.

In Bahrain, a desperately poor Shiite majority has had to endure a Sunni-Muslim royal family and bureaucracy.  In Algeria, the demonstrations were ostensibly about unemployment, with tensions primarily between the northern-urban elites and the southern desert nomadic and semi-nomadic Bedouins.

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