2005 March 31 Thursday
Middle Eastern Democracies Will Be Anti-American and Anti-Israeli

Egyptian democracy activist Jihan Shabaan speaks for many when she predicts a democratically elected government in Egypt will be more anti-American and anti-Israeli than the current dictatorship.

"If things really change here, America's illusions that its interests in the region would be advanced by democracy will be laid bare,'' she says. "A real democratic government in Egypt would be strongly against the US occupation of Iraq and regional US policies, particularly over Palestine. We are strongly against US influence."

Despite apparently genuine sentiment, Kifaya organizers say there's also practical reasons to make the distance from the US clear. The government has tried to paint democracy activists as foreign puppets in the past, alleging they take foreign money. "The regime are the ones taking American money. But they always accuse us of having foreign money whenever there are calls for democracy," says Shabaan.

Attitudes like Shabaan's point to a frequently overlooked disconnect. America's conviction that its rhetoric will help secure its interests in the region often clash with the anti-US leanings of many of the Arab world's democracy activists, who generally belong either to Islamist parties or to left-leaning, anti-US groups.

"We want a transformation against America and all its projects in the region,'' says Abdel Halim Qandeel, an editor at the anti-regime Al Arabi newspaper and one of Kifaya's key activists. "There's a historical irony here. We have two kinds of resistance in the region - armed resistance as in Iraq and Palestine, and political resistance in the Arab capitals ... and all of the opposition movements are staunchly anti-imperialist, whether Islamists" or secular nationalists.

Paranoid delusional conspiracy theory: A secret cabal of American capitalists, frustrated by its attempts to get the United States to adopt a more isolationist and neutral stance in the Middle East, helped engineer the rise of the neocons in order to bring about a democratic revolution the Middle East that will force the United States to withdraw from the region. In this interpretation the neocons are just foolish tools whose ideological blindness is being used to undermine their beloved Israel. Keep in mind that noone that competent is behind the scenes pulling strings in America's interest.

The nightmare scenario for Israel would be the rise of even more anti-Israeli Arab governments that are more powerful because they enjoy greater popular legitimacy as a consequence of being democratically elected. If some of those popularly elected anti-Israeli governments are openly Islamist then all the worse for Israel.

Gotta be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.

Also see my previous post "Will Democracy Make Middle East Governments More Anti-American?"

Update: Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, Cairo University Political Science Professor, is on C-SPAN at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at the moment talking about US influence in the region. He said that when the US ambassador gave $6 million to some Egyptian NGO(s) (forget if he said a single NGO or a group of them) this made those NGOs very unpopular in Egypt. Al-Sayyid says Bush should turn to someone other than Natan Sharansky for expertise on democracy in the reigon. He says if the US government does not want to consult Arab academics there are many American academics who know the region better than Mr. Sharansky.

Al-Sayyid makes a great point about Sharansky in my view. Sharansky belongs to a faction in Israel that appears to offer two options: A) The Palestinians act so good that there is no reason to withdraw settlements from the territories or B) The Palestinians act so bad that they deserve to have settlements placed among them and to eventually be forced out of the territories.

Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment sees a relegitimation of the nation-state happening in Arab countries. Political claims are not just pan-Arab or pan-Islamic. Claims in Egypt are made about local conditions there. He sees the same happening in Lebanon with demands about what happens within Lebanon's borders.

Hamzawy also sees the emergence of broad popular alliances for democratization. Hamzawy says that in the 1980s and 1990s Mubarak made a number of concessions for the operation of opposition political parties. He sees the legitimization of the political space as creating the conditions for more pragmatism and less emphasis on anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli attitudes as the main issues.

Hamzawy sees the potential for ethnic religious conflicts in Bahrain (an excluded Shiite majority), Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia (a Shiite minority in that case). Of course such conflicts can become civil wars as Lebanon has shown.

Al-Sayyid and Hamzawy wonder whether the changes in Egypt are cosmetic. Will the changes build momentum that will eventually bring elections for the President? Greater allowance of political participation by opposition parties might eventually lead to elections in which the opposition will be allowed to participate. Al-Sayyid says Mubarak says Muslim Brothers (aka Muslim Brotherhood) will be allowed to participate through existing parties but will not be allowed to form their own party.

Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment jokingly suggests the United States should embrace the Muslim Brothers in order to give them the kiss of death. Make the Islamists unpopular by giving them US support. I wonder if that would work. Probably not.

Al-Sayyid thinks the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists have fairly good chances of winning elections if fully free elections were held. So Al-Sayyid doubts that external actors such as the United States would be successful in convincing Arab governments to allow the Islamists to participate in elections.

A human rights activist in the audience worried in a queston that the Islamists would violate human rights - especially women's rights - if they came to power through elections. Al-Sayyid thinks that some Islamists such as the Muslim Brothers are more in favor of women's rights than other Islamists. But if women are allowed to vote will they vote in the Muslim Brothers? Will their fathers and husbands tell them to vote for Islamists?

An Arab journalist pointed out that the terms "liberalization" and "democratization" do not even translate into Arabic. There are no Arab words that mean these things. Direct translation results in words that Arabs simply do not understand. Al-Sayyad and Hamzawy says these terms have to be explained when they are used.

Al-Sayyid thinks tensions in Lebanon including attacks on Christian areas may eventually lead to conditions similar to those which existing before the civil war in 1975. He also doubts that there is a relegitimization of the nation-state in Iraq because the Kurds are resisting it and as a reaction some southern Iraqis are supporting autonomy for southern Iraq as well.

Al-Sayyid thinks that part of the lack of legitimization of the Jordanian, Egyptian, and Tunisian regimes is due to their diplomatic relationships with Israel. Well, if Arab government legitimacy is not compatible with peace with Israel then factions competing to be democratically elected are going to advocate for severing of relations with Israel or more demands placed on Israel.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 March 31 02:49 PM  Civilizations Clash Of

crush41 said at March 31, 2005 3:26 PM:

The Arab Legions have been gnashing teeth at Israel since the very day of the nation's inception. Every time open conflict arises, Israel whoops ass and takes more territory. Maybe that's what this is all about... Israeli expansionism!

Tom said at March 31, 2005 5:18 PM:

I'll take a soft anti-American democracy with the support of it's people over a pro-American dictatorship any day. The dictatorship will breed anti-Americanism in the people (The friend of my enemy is my enemy). The democratic state will slowly become less anti-American.

GUYK said at March 31, 2005 5:18 PM:

Crush41 : A friend in Israel put it best for me a couple of years ago. He said that all it took for peace was for the Arabs to lay down their guns. All it takes for suicide is for the Israelis to lay down their guns. Regardless of Arab politics my money is still on the Israelis!

gcochran said at March 31, 2005 5:55 PM:

Every country on Earth is becoming more anti-American. Turkey, for example. It used to be an ally: but it's hard for it to remain one when the big majority of the population hates and fears the United States. Right now, the best-selling book in Turkey, a book eagerly read in high places, is about a war with the United States.

Someone explain to me how we're better off because of this. We have a incompetehnt puppet regime in Iraq that's costing us ~70 billion a year, so weak it couldn't put out a campfire. Come on, tell me how!

While they're at it, would someone explain how we know, or even why we think for a minute, that democracy is the cure for Arab terrorism, when the most dictatorial Arab regimes are the ones that produced the fewest terrorists?

crush41 said at March 31, 2005 6:01 PM:

why we think for a minute, that democracy is the cure for Arab terrorism, when the most dictatorial Arab regimes are the ones that produced the fewest terrorists?

Silly me, I thought Saudi Arabia was worse than Turkey.

Invisible Scientist said at March 31, 2005 9:28 PM:

The main reason for the tension between the United States and the rest of the
world, seems to be the enormous trade deficit which is accumulating in the
coffers of many countries. More than 40 % of the US treasury bonds and treasury bills
are owned by foreigners. More than 5 % of the US GDP is being lost every year as
trade deficit. This gives foreigners economic control of the United States, and as a
result, the United States is forced to attempt to maintain some kind of political
influence in the world, by various means, and these "means" make the United States
unpopular abroad.

PacRim Jim said at March 31, 2005 10:17 PM:

It matters not whether Middle Eastern democracies are pro-American. The important thing is that democracies are much less likely to go to war with each other. I can't speak for America as a whole, but I have enough friends already.

gcochran9 said at March 31, 2005 10:28 PM:

The real dictatorships were Syria and Iraq. Worth knowing.

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2005 10:57 PM:


Saudi Arabia does not have a ruthless dictator with all the power concentrated into his hands. It has power spread out over a large family. It does not operate as draconian a system of suppression of dissent as, for example, Saddam operated. Also, as compared to Saddam's Iraq the Saudis have a larger private sector separate from industries controlled by government officials.

For women Saudi Arabia is no fun at all. Also, they have their moral police running around enforcing all sorts of rules. But all that stuff has a religious motive. But do not let that confuse you. The government does not operate along Stalinist lines.

Similarly, Jordan's King is on the benign side as Middle Eastern rulers go. He exercises less control over Jordanians than, say, the Assad regime does over Syrians.

gcochran said at March 31, 2005 11:49 PM:

No country in the Middle East has attacked us. A nut group, mostly Saudis, none of them Iraqis or Syrians or Iranians, attacked us and caused great harm - which was magnified by bad luck, since they never had any idea those towers were goling to fall. We thoroughly smashed that nut group and the regime that housed them in Afghanistan - and then we had to invade and occupy Iraq, which had nothing to do with it. At vast expensse, and alienating essentially the entire world in the process. Now that the professed WMD reasons turn out to be utter horseshit, as was obvious to defense tech types all along, we imagine new reasons: currently turning Iraq into a shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East. But that's unlikely to work, and it wouldn't do us any material good if it did. Democracy wasn't the problem - and to be blunt about it, Arab/Islamic terrorism is probably about the tenth most important strategic problem that the US faces in any event. I would guess that the Admninistration agrees with me on that point, since they give only lip service to any kind of real homeland defense. Check it out: they do nothing. Judge them by their fruits. Bush feels perfectly comfortable appointing a mamzer like Bernie Kerik, whose main qualification was being Guliani's old chauffeur. We sent him to Iraq to 'reform the police' and he skedaddled, pronto: that ought to have been enough to utterly sink him, not even counting the fact that he was a bigamist, an adulterer, mobbed up, a stock manipulator, and a thief. Didn't matter: it's not a real job anyhow. It's just there to amuse the rubes.

Stuka said at April 1, 2005 6:42 AM:

GCochran wrote: "We have a incompetent puppet regime in Iraq that's costing us ~70 billion a year..."

We have an incompetent puppet regime right here in the US that costs us even more.

Daveg said at April 1, 2005 7:50 AM:

Some will point out that Israel is the only middle eastern country to have attacked the US. They attacked us when they tried to sink the USS Liberty in the six day war. The apparent motive was to pull us into the conflict.

Israel says it was a case of mistaken identity, but a recent peice by the BBC puts a lot of doubt to that claim.

And if you think Israel would not be up to that task see Haaretz. Nice to know these crimnals now have their honor back.

It is true that Arabs are some of the worst organized fighters in history, but they reproduce well, which these days is looking like enough to win the war, even if you loose all the battles.

GUYK said at April 1, 2005 9:02 AM:

I give about as much credibility to BBC as I do CBS! They have been caught with their pants down with their lies too many times.

I find it hard to believe that Israel would have attacked a US ship for any reason other than mistaken identity. The Israelis simply cound not then nor now afford to antagonize their most reliable ally.

There does appear to be a militant minority in Israel that would take over the mid-east if allowed to do so. However, from what I hear from Israeli friends the majority wants peace-but not at any cost.

The only thing that the mullahs have going for them is to keep the Arab populations stirred up against Israel. A democracy, even a tyrany by the majority democracy, might become a secular government in the future that will put a lid on the mullahs. It is the mullahs that are calling for the faithful in Turkey to rally to the mullah's cause. However, Turkey's military has a tendacy to clamp down on the mullahs from time to time and insure a secular government stays in power. I don't worry much about the Turks. First they are not Arabic and second they are not to crazy about Arabs.

gcochran said at April 1, 2005 10:25 AM:

In 1967 we weren't giving military aid to Israel: that started in 1969. As for the Liberty, nobody high up on our side thought it an accident, not in the military, the NSA, or the State Department. it involved repeated attacks against a well-marked, distinctive ship. On the other hand, I've never heard any plausible Israeli motive. They sure weren't trying to get us in the war - in fact, a direct Pesidential order is the only reason the Sixth Fleet didn't execute a counterstrike against Israel.

For perspective, look at history, look at examples of a similar prolonged attack against a neutral ship in good visibility. I've never been able to find one. Submarines have attacked neutral ships by accident, usually at night but they didn't have a good view of the target and never spent hours whacking it to death.

Daveg said at April 1, 2005 11:05 AM:

If Israel sank the ship quickly the US would not have known is was the Israeli's that attacked. I personally think it would have worked.

We were convinced to attack Iraq on a couple of bogus documents.

Regarding the BBC, you can say that about virtually any news source. You think FOX is more accurate? The NYT? The BBC is better than most in my opinion.

I wish Israel all the luck in the world. They have 200-400 nukes so I believe they are well positioned to be around for many centuries to come.

What I don't like is their apparently fifty year effort to continue to get the US involved in their matters via trickery, political influence and any other tactic they can come up with.

GuyK said at April 1, 2005 4:20 PM:

gcochran: I think that you will find on research that the USA gave covert military support to Israel from the beginning in 1948 and of course many individual Americans gave finacial support to the Israelis prior to that. The USA supported Israel to counter the USSR suppost of the UAR. Ironic that neither exist anymore, huh?

GuyK said at April 1, 2005 4:29 PM:

The American news media is at best one sided and damn sure not objective in reporting. That's why I ger most of my news from blogs when I really want to know whats going on with a particular issue. The majority of blog sites do not claim to be objective and of course most push an agenda. But by reading a variety of blogs both liberal left and conservative right I hope to get enough to seperate the facts from the BS. Hard to do that getting news from the national media. Too damn many Dan Rather types. It is sad that BBC is that way now. There was a time that I trusted BBC to report the facts and not spin them. There were many years when I was out of country BBC and the military broadcasting system were the only news I could get. Anyone who spent time overseas during the sixties and seventies with the military will remember the military broadcasting system and its censoring of news.

Richard said at April 2, 2005 7:38 AM:

"The Arab Legions have been gnashing teeth at Israel since the very day of the nation's inception. Every time open conflict arises, Israel whoops ass and takes more territory. Maybe that's what this is all about... Israeli expansionism!"

Israel wins the battles. The war is ongoing and Israel suffers some setbacks (Lebanon). Many countries have been the stronger in the beginning and ended up done for. Israelis have a lot to brag about as to their prowess, but if they are ever going to win, They have to come up with a strategy that stops the war, and I don't mean peace treaties.

The wall, if intelligently done, not the land grab they are pushing now, might work.

Unfortunately, the only jews who seem to be having kids are the ultra orthodox. So far, as regards the territories, moderation does not seem to be part of their weltanshaung.

Coming up with a sound strategy before America won't or can't bankroll her is imperative for Israel.

Jim said at April 5, 2005 6:44 PM:

i think that the closest analogy to israel is apertheid south africa.... prosperous, western-like democracy for those born of the right parents. it makes little difference whether race or religion is used to discriminate. when the injustices of this are rectified, the hatred towards israel and their foolish benefactor, the u.s. will subside in the arab world. the arab world was for many centuries one of the most open cultures to other religions (i.e. jews and christians, if not their own women) and it will be so again. we are still living through the repurcussions of the jewish holocaust in europe and the subsequent zionist movement that made a lot of europeans move to the middle east and displace a lot of arabs through war and conquest. i hope that the tension is resolved peacefully before the scary demographics overwhelm the issue.

Rob said at April 5, 2005 9:15 PM:

when the injustices of this are rectified, the hatred towards israel and their foolish benefactor, the u.s. will subside in the arab world.

Your using the example of the wonderful behavoir of blacks following the end of aparteid, right?

Jim said at April 6, 2005 8:41 AM:

it'll take a lot longer than a single generation, but yeah, that is a much improved situation than prior to apartheid.... or would you argue that apartheid is preferable?

Bob Badour said at April 6, 2005 8:30 PM:


As an atheist, I am less enthused about any alleged Islamic ecumenism.

As for apartheid/post-apartheid, I find both appalling. Have you considered whether the causes of extreme violence in South Africa have causes other than politics?

Richard said at April 7, 2005 4:49 AM:

"it'll take a lot longer than a single generation, but yeah, that is a much improved situation than prior to apartheid.... or would you argue that apartheid is preferable?"

If the Zimbabwe situation is any guide, one might expect that in ten years, in a secret ballot, the average black, given a choice between the ANC and the ancien regime would be sorely tempted to say apartheid is.............

M.robinson said at July 22, 2005 7:01 AM:

Some individuals assume the arabs are anti jewish, if this had been the case then you would not have had the large concentrations of jewish communities living in muslim countries. In the muslim countries jews had been allowed to live and worship openly for over a thousand years(compare this with christian attitude towards jews, pogroms, inquisitions, holocaust etc). I see hatred being marred between Zionism and Judiasm. People see (arab and non-arabs) Zionism as a racist policy, whereas judiasm is a religion not an ideology.

Now there are those who equate Zionism with judiaism, which is totally misleading(done deliberately) because there are zionists who are not Jewish in their belief. There are white supremacists, some who are athiests and some who profess to being christian, i.e one religious and one irreligious yet both accepting an idoelogy which is based on hatred of others based on race.Zionism is a racist ideology, but is not being accepted as such because in the print media, a lot of owners and editors are zionist themselves, and such lambast anyone (who accuses zionism of being a racist policy against the palestinians)as anti semitic.

Israel is strong today because of their backers(USA and Europe) but the question arises for how long?.

Israel is a state because of European and christian guilt, and the premise that they have a right to the land because it says so in the 'bible', now if you took this claim to a STRICT SECULAR court, then it would immediately be thrown out for lack of evidence of ownership, and as such the palestinians would still be in their own lands.

Randall Parker said at July 22, 2005 10:12 AM:


The biggest reason Israel is strong is that Ashkenazi Jews are a lot smarter than Arabs. So Israel has a very high per capita income and lots of technology.

Are religions better than ideologies? This is what you seem to imply. If so, by what value?

I think each religion and ideology has to be judged by what beliefs and values it promotes. Some religions are worse than others. Some ideologies are worse than others. Marxism is a terrible ideology. Islam is a terrible religion - far worse than Judaism.

M.Robinson said at July 27, 2005 7:03 AM:

The US taxpayers give on average in excess of $3billion dollars a year in aid to israel, this does not include loan agreements taken by Israel with a third party. the loan repayment is guaranteed by the US taxpayer, i.e if the Israeli government is unable to pay back the loan(to default) then the tab is picked up by the US taxpayer.
The amount donated by US to Israel is approx $95 billion dollars(excluding covert moneys transferred under different agreements).

So your idea that the Israeli economy is flourishing, is far from the truth. Look at the inflation rates in israel compared to say, britain or australia.

Israel is given very favourable trading terms (compared to its neighbours) by the US and the EU, which are not given to any other nation in the middle east.

Randall Parker said at July 27, 2005 8:46 AM:


The $3 billion per year in US aid amounts to only 3% of the total Israeli economy. Yes, it is flourishing. It has a much higher per capita income than its Arab neighbors and this is not due to US aid.

We do not give $95 billion per year. Again, to look at it realistically you have to look at it in percentage terms.

Mischief240 said at August 6, 2005 2:09 PM:

Mr. Randall Parker in which world are you living? Have you ever noticed the GDP of Saudi Arabia it is almost $480billion have you also noticed the kind of speed at which the GCC country are progressing! Compare to them Israel looks like a begger that run by the aid money of the US government! Arabs are fast developing and Israel will surely need reviewing its policy with her neighbouring countries in order to live in harmony. Even UAE is far beeter than Israel. With Dubai being the finanacial capital of the Middle East! Dubai also has the costliest hotel on Earth Burj-Al Arab. Dubai also getting the tallest building on earth Burj Dubai! Just have visit of the country I stay the UAE and all your talks regarding the development of Israel will change to mewing!

Randall Parker said at August 6, 2005 2:52 PM:


But per capita GDP is lower in the Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia is doing well because of high oil prices and yet still lags per capita (i.e. per person). Once the Ghawar oil field production starts declining Saudi Arabia's economy will decline in absolute terms. Ditto for other states that get most of their money from oil.

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