Autocracy and the Decline of the Arabs

[Wall Street Journal] While the Iranians have gone out into the streets to contest the writ of the theocrats, in contrast, little has stirred in Arab politics of late. The Arabs have the demography - 360 million people - and the wealth to balance Iran's power. But they have taken a pass in the hope that America - or Israel, for that matter - would shatter the Iranian bid for hegemony. The simple truth is that the Arab world has terrible rulers and worse oppositionists. There are autocrats on one side and theocrats on the other. A timid and fragile middle class is caught in the middle between regimes it abhors and Islamists it fears. George W. Bush's freedom agenda broke with a long history and insisted that the Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA. A despotism in Baghdad was toppled, a Syrian regime that had all but erased its border with Lebanon was pushed out of its smaller neighbor, bringing an end to three decades of brutal occupation. True, Mr. Bush's wager on elections in the Palestinian territories rebounded to the benefit of Hamas. But the verdict of that election was a statement on the malignancies of Palestinian politics. It was no fault of American diplomacy that the Palestinians, who needed to break with a history of maximalist demands, gave in yet again to radical temptations. The writer is a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

2009-08-07 06:00:00

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