Op-Ed: Solving the Middle East’s Problems

This article is a must read if you want to understand the sources of all the problems in the Middle East.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena.

IsraelNationalNews (Sep 13) — The world keeps asking itself why the Arab Spring was such a dismal failure, trying to get to the source of the region’s problems. The answer to this question is complex, because it includes different factors that influenced events at different periods and in different ways.

Still, one can say with certainty that the main source of all the troubles is the cornerstone of Middle Eastern culture, tribal loyalties, once necessary for survival in a vast dry and arid desert area spanning the Sahara in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Sinai Desert, and also the deserts of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. In the desert man must be part of a tribe in order to protect his water sources from other tribes who are also in need of water. That fact turns the “other” into an enemy, a threatening figure who is against “us” because he is not one of “us.”

It is always “us” and “them”, our group against all the others. every man loyal to his tribe to the death, to its customs and traditions and not to a state or the state’s laws and institutions. It is called “tribalism” and the Arab world still lives under the influence of this way of life.

The second problem, spawned by tribalism, is violence. Middle Eastern culture says that since the other is an enemy, he may try to kill me as soon as he gets near enough to take my water sources, so I have to get him before he gets me.

It follows that the first reaction to any problem that arises in the Middle East is violence, violence aimed to kill.

The third problem evolving from the ancient tribal culture is the Middle Eastern concept of honor. No Muslim will accept humiliation, and he who is humiliated will seek revenge against those who caused him shame – and that revenge means murder. A person is willing to murder members of his own household, his sister and even his mother, if they have brought shame upon him by acting too freely. Honor takes first place in relations between politicians and nations, is sometimes more important that development, economics and health.

The fourth problem, also a result of tribalism, is corruption. Appointing relatives to positions in a regime – nepotism – is considered a serious problem in the West, and there are laws, rules and bureaucratic procedures that are supposed to prevent its occurrence. In Middle Eastern culture, nepotism is the name of the game, both in the political and public spheres, because anyone in power has a basic distrust of anyone from another group. A leader will appoint his family, or members of another family with whom he has a pact of loyalty, to the positions under his patronage and if the relations between the families deteriorate, he will either fire them or make sure they resign..

The fifth problem is economic corruption.  A government official feels beholden financially to his family and tribe, not to the state and certainly not to other population groups in the country, so he allocates funds for investment in infrastructure in the area his tribe resides in or areas filled with his supporters. He does not allocate funds to groups that did not support him. As far as he is concerned, they can go to hell – or Europe – as they wish.

The sixth problem is the existence of a large number of ethnic groups in the Middle East: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Berbers, Jews, Arameans, Persians, and more. Often the groups live in a state of ongoing friction, their relations marked by hostility rather than tranquillity. As a rule, they do not intermarry, and each group fiercely guards its dialect, customs and traditions. Each group delineates itself by defining its enemies. That is the source of the violence between the Arabs and the Kurds, the Turks and the Kurds, the Arabs and the Berbers – and let’s face it, the Arabs and everyone else.

The seventh problem is religion. Islam is the main religion of the Middle East, and Islamist extremists see members of other religions who live in their proximity as infidels deserving of death. This is the cause of the horrific violence of Islamists against Christians, Yazidis, Jews, Alawites, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Mandeans, Shabakists, Druze and atheists.

The eighth problem is the internecine sectarian conflict within Islam. In the middle of the seventh century, Islam split into two parts, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Their struggle is really about wresting control over Islam, but over time the struggle has assumed a religious cast with each side making use of Allah, the Qur’an, the Hadiths (Oral Law), Sharia, history and theology for its own ends, so that Sunni Islam is now quite different from Shia islam. There is a case for claiming that, similarities notwithstanding, they are two distinct religions. The two groups have  spent the centuries since the split massacring one another, with millions sacrificed  in this endless struggle, not a few during the 1980s war between Shiite Iran and Iraq, headed by a Sunni, Saddam Hussein.

The ninth problem is the prevailing culture. Schematically, the Middle East’s population is made up of three cultural groups: the desert-dwellers, or Bedouin, the falakhim – farmers who live in villages – and the urban population dwelling in cities. These groups differ in many ways from one another and each is prone to stereotyping the others to the point where there is no way to get around their mutual preconceptions. The falakh hates the Bedouin for stealing the agricultural produce he reaps by the sweat of his brow. The Bedouin considers the falakhs and city dwellers inferior to him for giving up the original Arab desert way of life and becoming weak and lily-livered in mind and body. The city dwellers consider the Bedouin primitive desert people. Marriages between the groups are rare.

The tenth problem can be laid at the door of British, French and Italian colonialism. These powers drew borders that suited their interests but had no bearing on the sociological zones of the Middle East. This is how countries were formed with populations of all kinds of ethnic groups, tribes, religions and sects who had never had any connection with one another and certainly never saw themselves as members of the same nation. Although Syria has existed for decades (that verb should be in past tense) there was no national Syrian consciousness uniting its citizens. They remained Arabs, Kurds, Turkmans, Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Shia, Sunni, et al. Iraq also did not succeed in creating an Iraqi people despite great efforts expended on the part of the regime, and its citizens defined themselves as Kurds, Sunni, Christians, Yazidi, etc. The colonialists actually created what their citizens considered illegitimate countries foreign entities forced upon them by Christian European strangers who understood absolutely nothing about the Middle East.

The eleventh problem is the modern Arab regime. In each Arab country a minority group has gained control of the entire country and preserves its power by using a “mighty hand and an outstretched arm”, a drawn sword – and subterranean torture chambers.The Alawite minority in Syria, the Qaddafi tribe in Libya and the Hashemites of Jordan are all examples of small groups that control others with little legitimacy, if any.

The twelfth problem is Israel, a small country that was established as a result of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WWI and the end of British colonialism, two world developments that made it possible for the Jews to return to the historical land of their birth after two thousand years of exile.

In general, Arabs and Muslims do not recognize the right of the Jewish people to its land, do not recognize Judaism as a living religion, and view the Jews as a collection of communities belonging to whatever country they are in and not as a people. The very existence of the state of Israel infuriates them, no matter what its size.

The rulers of the modern Arab states, with both ruler and state lacking legitimacy, were in dire need of an external enemy that would enable them to silence internal opposition and unite the people as one under their fraudulent flag. Israel was a unifying factor, an external enemy that served as the scapegoat upon which the masses could vent their rage. That is what is behind the constant hostility of the Arab media regarding Israel, and three generations of Arabs have been raised on this propaganda machine aimed solely at Israel. Their approach to Jews and Israelis is a direct consequence of this inciteful propaganda.

The thirteenth problem is oil. This important resource turned the Arab companies in the gulf to societies that sell a commodity, do not work, purchase but do not create, societies whose every possession stems not from ability, studying or work, but from what others – the Americans and the Europeans – found under their earth.  The biggest effort the men of the Gulf have to expend is the walk to the bank to deposit their checks. Easy money created a materialistic, hedonist society, busy with itself and with having fun, buying luxury cars, houses that strike you blind, designer clothing, watches that cost millions and designer jewellery, showing off in the media and buying every gadget that reaches the stores. Just opposite their palatial homes are tens of millions of Egyptians and other Arabs living in abject poverty, in unplanned neighborhoods, filled with the ignorant, unemployed and despairing poor. The gap between the wealth of the Gulf and the poverty in the Arab street is mind-boggling.

The fourteenth problem is the West’s meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, not in order to solve the region’s problems, but in order to promote its own interests. Oil, gas, arms sales, development contracts, purchases and  trade, all are intended to take advantage of the natural resources of the Middle East and of the cheap labor it offers in order to advance western economies. The countries of the West, the USSR and today’s Russia and China, protected and still protect non-legitimate Arab rulers, keeping them dependent on the West and the economic agreements signed with them.

Anyone who signs any kind of contract with an Arab ruler knows full well that this contract will be carried out at the price of the people who live – if you can call it living – under a cruel regime, but that doesn’t stop the money hungry Western countries. Since when did moral considerations ever move them?

The fifteenth problem is the existence of  al Jazeera, the Jihad website and network run by a terror state, Qatar. From the first day it hit the air in November 1996, al Jazeera spends its time unrestrainedly inciting against dictators, Israel, against the West and against the Western culture slowly finding its way into the airspace of Islamic countries.

Al Jazeera’s stated objective is to destroy the modern Arab state and hand over the rule to the Muslim Brotherhood. This mixed salad of messages is wrapped in attractive clichés such as “opinon and other opinion” and is covered with a mask of openness and video editing. This channel brought the angry people out into the streets at the end of 2010 and all through 2011, setting the Arab world ablaze, but it does not know how to put out the fire. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social networks played an instrumental role that helped the public organize demonstrations, but the motivation came from al Jazeera‘s incitement.

The seething mass of problems that plague the Middle East have destroyed the region’s’ social, economic, political and normative infrastructure, leading to the waves of emigration to Europe that we are now witnessing. During the twentieth century, Europe tried to solve the myriad cultural problems that beset the Middle East by creating the Modern Arab State, cloning the Nation-State it had invented and that suited Europe’s cultural needs. The European-style Modern Arab State is a colossal failure, because the Arab population has a Middle Eastern culture, with problems that Europe knows nothing about – tribalism on the one hand, and violence, extremism and a lack of national consciousness on the other.

A striking example of an egregiously mistaken belief held by the West is the naïve and unfounded faith that democracy can flourish in the Middle East. Western democracy is based on a social order stemming from European culture: the belief in equality for all religions and ethnic groups, women’s liberation, minority rights and freedom of expression and thought. Add to that the right to choose alternative lifestyles, along with freedom of religion and from religion, a ban on violence and free elections and you have a list that is almost totally foreign to the Middle East. Most of these freedoms are opposed to the spirit of Islam or to tribal culture, but Middle Eastern societies hold “free” elections to create  the impression that they have become democracies, although they have not adopted any of the other characteristics of a democracy. Elections are an easily adopted mechanism, but the other elements of democracy are substantive and are therefore difficult, or impossible, to embed in the Middle East.

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