Wednesday, January 1, 2014

MIdeast Man of the Year: Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. By Ariel Ben Solomon.

Person of the Year in Regional Affairs: Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. By Ariel Ben Solomon. Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2013.

Ben Solomon:

Nasser’s pan-Arabism mesmerized the Arab masses, and Egypt’s union with Syria, forming the United Arab Republic from 1958 until 1961, was a result of such forces. Pan-Arabists argued that the mandate system imposed by Britain and France after World War I had divided the Arab nation, and they demanded that it be rejoined.
However, as Fouad Ajami wrote in his famous “The End of Pan-Arabism,” it took the dramatic loss to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War to bring about its dissolution. The ideology had crumbled under the weight of reality, where military men, religious ideologues, tribes and ethnic factions jockeyed for power in the security state.
Sisi seemed to recognize this in a 2006 paper titled “Democracy in the Middle East,” which he wrote while studying at the US Army War College.
In it he argues that “existing conflict and tension needs to be resolved before democracy can be more fully accepted by the people of the area.” He goes on to note that the challenge today is similar to that faced at the beginning of Islam: uniting “these tribal and ethnic factions.”
“On the surface, many of the autocratic leaders claim that they are in favor of democratic ideals and forms of government, but they are leery of relinquishing control to the voting public of their regimes,” writes Sisi, echoing perhaps his own thoughts and his reluctance to cede power.
He then justifies a strong dictatorial ruler.
“There are some valid reasons for this. First, many countries are not organized in a manner to support a democratic form of government. More importantly, there are security concerns both internal and external to the countries.”
He also refers to Iraq as a “benchmark for testing democracy in the Middle East.”
Going into 2014, it is overwhelmingly clear to many observers, and to Sisi himself, that democratic state-building by the US failed in Iraq as sectarian tensions proved too difficult to bridge. If he is following his own advice, the Egyptian ruler likely sees the Iraqi example as a good reason for resistance to American pressure, a strong crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and establishment of a secure military-backed regime.
“Is transitioning to democracy in the best interest of [the] United states, or is it in the interest of the Middle Eastern countries?” he writes in the paper, adding that the emergence of democracy is not likely if it “is perceived as a move by the United States to further her own self-interest.”