President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East on Thursday shows, if anything, that he is still a leftist who has yet to be mugged by Middle Eastern reality.
While Obama accurately listed the symptoms of the ailment crippling Middle Eastern development, such as bribery, tribalism, religious sectarianism, lack of basic economic and political rights, and citizens simply not having enough to eat, his analysis did not touch on the sickness itself, namely, Arab religious and cultural backwardness. As a result, the cures Obama put forward to assist the Arab countries’ transformation to rights-respecting, democratic states, without addressing the roots of the societal illnesses, are doomed to failure.
“We will continue to make good on the commitments I made in Cairo – to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand changes in education; to foster cooperation in science and technology; and combat disease,” Obama confidently remarked. “Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use technology to connect with – and listen to – the voices of the people.”
But Arab misery does not lie in a lack of entrepreneurs, science and technology cooperation or medical facilities, but rather in the inability of a crippled culture to meet the demands of the modern world. And since Arab countries cannot meet these demands, they are destined to experience, except possibly for the few oil-rich states, more political instability, poverty and hunger.
Egypt, the heart of the Arab world and one of two countries Obama cited in his speech (the other being Tunisia), where the American effort “to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy” will begin, is dangerously unstable. To begin with, it is estimated that 35 percent of all Egyptians and 45 percent of women are illiterate among a population of 80 million, the Arab world’s most populous state.
The inequality of women, the abolition of which is a precondition to any society’s progress, is deeply embedded in Egypt’s culture. An indicator of this strong, cultural backwardness regarding women’s status is that ninety-six percent of married Egyptian women have been subjected to female genital mutilation. And Egyptian mothers believe they are being progressive when they have a doctor perform the painful, dehumanizing procedure on their daughters rather than an untrained local. The columnist Spengler (a literary pseudonym) questions the doctors who carry out a shocking 75 percent of all FGM acts in the Nile nation:
“What does this say about the character of the country’s middle class?” writes Spengler, who also criticized Western news outlets for not reporting on this during Egypt’s recent political troubles.
Economically, the Arab countries’ problems are almost insurmountable. Obama’s speech pointed out 400 million Arabs export goods equal in value to those of one European country, Switzerland. Even more troubling, Arab countries do not have the corporations that can provide their numerous unemployed young people with jobs, leaving them to act as an unstable and dangerous force.
“The private sector in the Muslim countries has… languished and lags behind others in the emerging markets,” writes Ali A. Alawi in his book The Crisis Of Islamic Civilization. “Very few Muslim companies in the Muslim world have the weight to compete seriously or to bring innovations into the global markets. Of the twenty largest corporations in the Muslim world, seventeen are oil and gas companies, in most cases state-owned.”
Alawi goes even further when he states that Islamic civilization is a dying civilization, which has not created much of importance in centuries. And Alawi states there is no returning to greatness, since Muslims have distanced themselves so much from their great past’s Islamic roots. Overall, Alawi maintains, “The Muslim innovative capacity has degraded in a fundamental sense.”
So it is questionable whether the innovation and creativity Obama needs to launch the Arab countries in the new, positive direction of modernity even exists, which would cause all reform plans to be stillborn. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian opposition leader, blames the backward, learning-by-rote education system for the Arab world now being a “collection of failed states who add nothing to humanity or science.” But unlike Alawi, ElBaradei believes democracy will change this.
The lack of strong economies has also left the Middle East, especially Egypt, currently facing a grave danger to social stability in the form of a food crisis. Rising food prices have driven millions of Arabs into destitution where many now eat only once a day, if that. With food prices expected to rise even higher this year and foreign currency-poor Arab governments, like Egypt’s, unable to buy food on the international markets, mass starvation in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries is a distinct possibility, making regional reform difficult, if not impossible.
But it is in the area of religious tolerance where Obama’s hopes for reforming the Middle East will shatter decisively. While Obama said he will work to see “that all faiths are respected and that bridges are built among them” and Coptic Christians “have the right to worship freely in Cairo,” he pathetically failed to call for religious equality and to insist on an end to state-regulated anti-Christian religious discrimination.
Here’s the harsh reality staring us in the face and that Obama is blinding himself to: A poll taken last year indicated a majority of Egyptians believe in sharia law punishments, while 95 percent said “it’s good Islam plays a large role in politics.” The fact that a majority of those polled also believed in democracy indicates Egypt is on the road to becoming a democratically-elected Islamic state, where Western reforms will not be welcome.
And Egyptians may soon get their desired Islamic government. The Muslim Brotherhood announced recently it has formed a political party, which is expected to win Egypt’s next election. Extremists like the Brotherhood feel a need to Islamicize everything and believe the Koran contains all the answers. Such a poisonous political culture will maintain Egypt’s discriminatory, two-tier citizenship status, Muslim and non-Muslim, and keep the country a prisoner of rigid extremist doctrines.
Such a development will prevent Egypt from developing a positive and rich cultural, spiritual and economically-advanced society, since equality of all people is essential to a country’s prosperity and well-being. By electing an Islamist government, Egyptians will also prove, contrary to Obama’s wishful thinking, that they do no want to embrace modernity.
But the situation is even more serious than that. In Arab countries where extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood come to power, an environment of fanaticism will be created. Violence, as Egypt saw recently in the Coptic church burnings in Cairo, will become the order of the day.
It is Obama’s stunning non-recognition of this deeply embedded, Muslim extremist drive to destroy those who are different that also emerged in his speech when he called for Israel to return to its 1967 borders. This statement once again confirmed his credentials as a leftist ideologue who believes Israel is to blame for those who work to exterminate it. And despite his “assurances” of Israel’s security, the 1967 borders would be indefensible. This leads one to understand that it is not the Arab world that so much needs reforming as the destructive world outlook of an American president.