Unrest in the Arab World
Will the United States be on the right side of history?
The Right Side of History?
The wave of demonstrations, uprisings and revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East has presented the United States with a complex set of diplomatic problems. While a key component of U.S. foreign policy is promoting and supporting democracy, it is vital to U.S. interests that the Middle East remains relatively stable. A truly democratic Arab world is a new concept, and is one that has yet to show its true colors. If the result of the Palestinian Authority legislative elections held in January of 2006 is any indication of what may evolve in the region, the U.S. has plenty of cause for concern. The elections, championed by U.S. President George W. Bush, resulted in an overwhelming victory by Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
The United States is in an awkward position, needing to appear to the world as a supporter of democracy. Yet the U.S. government has backed oppressive rulers in the region for many years. The reasons the U.S. supported Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak are quite clear. A stable, albeit oppressive, regime in Egypt meant more stability for the region. With Mubarak gone, the future of the Middle East remains unclear. Increased instability in the region will cause oil prices to rise further (gasoline prices in the U.S. have shot up 16% in the last 8 weeks), possibly putting the U.S. in another recession. Unstable states would provide a refuge for Islamic terrorists, such as al Qaeda. In a worst-case scenario, anti-Israeli, radical Islamic governments in the region could result in war, conflict that would likely, or perhaps inevitably, involve the United States. President Barack Obama has said on many occasions said that he wants the United States to be on “the right side of history.” Considering the number of ill-fated foreign policy decisions made in recent history (i.e. the escalation of the Vietnam War, supporting Chilean dictator Pinochet, the backing of Afghan rebels - now the Taliban, during the Soviet invasion, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq), will decisions made today regarding the Arab world put the U.S. on the right or wrong side of history?
An Unlikely, Unexpected and Unusual Chain of Events
The series of revolutions that has swept over North Africa and looms over most of the Middle East was unexpected by the Arab world and the West alike, and it started in a most unusual way. In December of 2010, a young, un-licensed produce vendor in a small Tunisian town of was slapped by a policewoman and had his cart confiscated. The incident was hardly extraordinary, yet the chain of events that followed has changed the Arab world forever.
Mohammed Bouazizi had graduated with a degree in computer science, but typical of many young Arabs, even those with an education, he could not find work. So he sold vegetables to help support his seven siblings. The slap in the face was literally one too many, and the young man snapped. He went to the governor’s office and insisted on an appointment. When he was turned away, he threatened to light himself on fire in protest. A short while later, he did. The incident went viral, and with his death less than three weeks later, millions of discontented young Tunisians had a martyr. Like its Arab neighbors, Tunisia has a high percentage of youth population (in Tunisia, 55% of the population is under 25, amongst the highest levels in the region). High food prices have become an increasing problem worldwide, and the Arab world has been hard hit. Tunisians spend approximately 36% of household income on food, in line with Libya, but less than Egypt (48%) and Algeria (53%). Food inflation and high unemployment, combined with a corrupt and gluttonous regime, lead to an increasing level of frustration. The anger, sparked by the Bouazizi incident, erupted into a...
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