Thursday, November 03, 2011

A War on Iran and Where to for the Arab World?

Let's face it, rumours about a war on Iran have been so frequent since 2006 that I've almost started ignoring them. This year things feel a little bit different. The region is being transformed into something different and nobody can say what that will be exactly. At the same time, the old fault lines between the United States and Iran are still active. This is a little bit like having a sword fight on a burning ship, the fighting will be fierce, damaging and both sides might end up getting destroyed in the process. I find myself remembering what the region looked like in 2001. Back then Saddam Hussein was still running Iraq and an invasion seemed as far-fetched and unlikely as an invasion of Iran today seems. Of course Iran is far stronger than Iraq ever was, but that doesn't mean that they are invincible. It just means that the mess a war with Iran would create would be enormous and very, very costly.

So in ten years the Middle East has seen the fall of four dictators, the rise of Iran as a regional power, and the invasion of an Arab country. Syria had a young and relatively inexperienced president who was yet to prove his mettle, and - most depressingly - so many people were yet to lose their lives in the instability that would envelope the region. There is one theme that has remained constant throughout this very turbulent time, should a  foreign 'conspiracy' be a sufficient excuse for domestic repression and a complete lack of political freedoms? In 2003 that question seemed so clear, political freedoms were a small price to pay for resisting foreign domination. Today only the most ardent supporters of dictatorship would accept the slowly-slowly approach to reform that Arab dictators have promised their people. I'm still of the mind that foreign interference is a major problem for many Middle Eastern countries, but I see this more like a body with a weak immune system and therefore it is more susceptible to infection. And the political problems we face are just one aspect of all this, the world is experiencing the largest economic recession in history, the challenges of life in the modern world are enough to make even proper countries struggle, so the effects of the recession on the Arab world must be catastrophic by now. There are so many challenges, so many peaks to climb, but at least some people have started the journey after decades of dictatorship.

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