The Strange Survival of the Arab Autocracies

(Hoover Institution) Fouad Ajami - Five years ago, it felt like the springtime of the Arabs. The Iraqi experiment had survived the assault on it by the jihadists, the media, and the rulers of the neighboring Arab states. A democratic example was putting down roots in the most arid of soil. The Lebanese had come out into the streets of Beirut to demand the end of Syrian rule and tutelage over their country. The Egyptians, too, had wearied of the military regime and wanted done with Hosni Mubarak, an aging autocrat. There was even talk then of a Damascus Spring. The American enthusiasm for democracy in Arab lands had never been strong to begin with, and the Bush administration, in its final two years in office, began to lose faith in its own "freedom agenda." In the Palestinian territories, an election in 2006 went the way of Hamas. It had not been a pretty choice: the gunmen of the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and their politics of banditry and corruption versus the Islamists of Hamas. Palestinian politics had been poisoned by the cult of the gun, and the disillusionment with the entrenched ways of the Palestinian national autocracy had worked to the advantage of Hamas. There was no denying the American disillusionment with what a democratic election had wrought. America's own presidential election of 2008 was a boon for the Arab autocracies. Literally days into his presidency, President Obama extended an olive branch to the powers-that-be in Arab and Islamic lands: America would live with the status quo. The Wilsonianism unleashed on them by George W. Bush would be done and over with. This was nothing less than a reversal of the intellectual galaxy: a conservative American president had preached that Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA, while his liberal successor proclaimed the ascendancy of realpolitik. The writer, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is Professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

2010-12-17 08:42:20

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