(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/08/Mohammed-Morsi-008.gif)The Muslim Middle East has three types of governments: Military, Tribal and Ideological. A military government is formed when senior officers take power. A tribal government is based around a group of prominent families. An ideological government is based around a party, whether secular or Islamist. All these governments are tyrannies; though they may occasionally hold elections, they never open up the system. The elections serve as a means for passing from one tyranny to the next.
While these types of governments are different in some ways, they are not exclusive. Most overlap in a number of ways.
Military and ideological governments will become tribal as a few officers, leaders or Ayatollahs use their control of the economy to enrich themselves and their families. That is what happened in Egypt and in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood differs from Mubarak in any number of political ways, but, on a personal level its leaders share his goal of enriching their families.
Whether a new government starts out as Islamist, Fascist or Socialist; these facades inevitably revert to the tribal. That is the fate of all governments in the Muslim Middle East, which do not evolve, but devolve.
Every Muslim leader, beginning with Mohammed, borrowed ideas brought in from outside to form a new system that became identical with the old. Mohammed borrowed from Judaism and Christianity to create the religious structure for yet another tribal government, controlled by his father-in-law. In the 20th Century the Muslim Middle East borrowed from the British Empire, France, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the USSR and the United States, to create hybrid systems that were either overthrown or which devolved into tribalism with an ideological facade. Like Mohammed, the bright new ideology ends up with a bunch of relatives in charge of the loot.
Muslim countries are forever at war with themselves. Military governments fear popular protests organized by ideological movements to seize power. And the ideological governments fear military coups. Tribal governments fear everyone and cripple their own military and bribe their own people to avoid being overthrown by officers or ideologues.
Every government is only a few bad months away from losing power, and so every government implements a regime of secret police and prisons. No sooner do the revolutionaries step out of prison to usher in a new era than the same thugs are rehired to torture enemies of the new regime.
The victors of the Arab Spring know that another few bad months could toss them out of power as easily as the bad months put them into power. Like every other regime in the Muslim Middle East, their main priority is staying in power by making it impossible for others to do to them what they did to their predecessors. That leads to a cycle of repression, broken by temporary liberalization as alliances with the opposition are explored and then abandoned, because the opposition cannot be trusted not to seize power for themselves.
Everyone in the region is playing rock-paper-scissors, all the time which leads to total regional paranoia and conspiracy theories. Everyone distrusts everyone else by necessity and keeps trying to guess how many fingers their rivals will put out while defending against their own weaknesses by preemptively attacking everyone else.
Military governments persecute ideologues. Ideologues imprison top officers. Tribals seek out military protectors– and then undermine them by backing their ideological enemies so as to stay in control of the relationship.
That is what happened to us and the Saudis, who, along with the other Gulfies, depend on our protection, but undermine us by supporting terrorism and Islamization to gain the upper hand. Paradoxically, the more that the Saudis need us, the more they undermine us, much as any feral population that is dependent on the charitable welfare of the majority lashes out against that majority to the exact degree that it is dependent on it.
The borders of Muslim nations are artificial and fluid. The Muslim Middle East is not purely nomadic, but it is nomadic enough that large families stretch out across different nations and their tribal allegiances stretch with them. The Palestinians are a fraud, but so are the Jordanians, and to a lesser degree, the Egyptians and the Syrians. Every nation is an artificial entity ruled over by powerful families or old soldiers who are keeping the whole thing together with guns and bribes, not to mention imported bread and circuses.
The British treated the region as a grab-bag of clans, and backed any powerful family willing to throw in with them. That is how the Hashemite kings and the Arab-Israeli wars came to be. Unlike the Brits, the United States was not interested in an empire, just in oil rights, which is how we got in bed with one of the most powerful families in the region, who became far more powerful thanks to their association with us. And who repaid us by trying to conquer us in their own way.
At some point we forgot that the Saudis, the King of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and most of our so-called allies are just powerful families with territorial claims based on that power. And even slightly more civilized countries such as Egypt aren’t really any better; the invaders who overran them just absorbed more culture and civilization from their conquests and their proximity to more civilized parts of the world.
The only place that the Muslim Middle East ever goes is backward. The great achievement of the Arab Spring was to hand over power in Egypt to Mohammed Morsi, a man who not only carries the same name as a 7th Century warlord, but whose party is based on restoring Egypt to the values of that 7th Century warlord as a cure for the damaging modernism of civilization. And those values are tribal power, ownership of women and repression of outsiders.
Since all Middle Eastern Muslim power structures devolve to the tribal, personal power is the only power that matters. And personal power is a zero-sum game. No one can trust anyone else, because the only rule that counts is that the one with the most toys wins. That instability has led to a great deal of tyranny and misery, but it has also made it difficult for Islamic power to extend itself all that far.
Personal power is limited to a single tyrant and his feudal underlings. A highly effective conqueror can push his borders outward, but the whole thing inevitably collapses into broken emirates and then into backwardness and decay. The conquest may impose Islam on a population, but that just dooms the people under the yoke of the Koran to be less competent, less innovative and more backward than their neighbors.
A Muslim conqueror may begin by raiding infidels for plunder and glory, but usually ends by turning on his rivals in a conflict that creates deep fractures and divisions, some of which like Sunni and Shiite, last to this day. Despite all the professions of faith, the Jihad devolves into tribal power, and Muslim kills Muslim for a chance at the golden throne.
In the desert, nothing really changes. One day turns into another. The footprints of the past are buried by the next sandstorm, and tomorrow’s traveler arrives to marvel that his feet were the first to mark a path that lies buried just beneath his feet.
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