Hope gives way to despair in the Middle East

Hope gives way to despair in the Middle East

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In politics, as in life, initial euphoria is often followed by an enormous let down. So all the hopes that began last December when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself ablaze, triggering rioting and the eventual overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have fallen now to repression, stalemate, and even regression. The hopes and aspirations for democracy which overflowed Tahrir Square in Cairo and filled so many people — especially the young — with a feeling of positive change is gradually grinding down, with one repressive government replacing another, elections notwithstanding. This new government in all probability will evolve into another authoritative regime headed by either the military or the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Bahrain, a revolution spurred on by the Shi’ite majority against the Saudi-backed Sunni regime is dormant. Yemen appears lodged in the status quo. Assad’s military continues to murder its own people in Syria as the regime struggles in a vain hope to survive, while probably spending most of its time figuring out to where it should make its inevitable “getaway.”

Only Libya appears on the verge of dramatic change, but even there it is too early to determine the direction of the new government. What is known about Libya is that it is an abundantly oil-rich country with many suitors eager to make it happy.

As the Arab Spring has fallen apart — or at best run out of steam — much of the frustration in the Arab street appears once again to be directed against Israel. The rioting at the Israeli embassy in Cairo showed an Egyptian government unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of preventing anti-Israel sentiment from exploding. (It took a middle of the night telephone call from President Obama to persuade Egyptian leaders they needed to send in their own rescue team to extract the Israeli diplomats.)

Assad has continued to rain vengeance on his own people who have been pressing for social, economic, and political reform. The world community fiddled for weeks as hundreds of Syrians were gunned down in the streets until they finally agreed to impose sanctions, which have been ineffectual. And yet while the world calmly deliberates over and even tolerates Assad’s murderous crackdown, the United Nations is about to be used as a sounding board for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribes.

Turkey is clearly vying for leadership of the Muslim world in the Eastern Mediterranean. To reinforce this, it is showing it can be as bold and brazen in its conduct with Israel as any of its Muslim brothers. This, despite the fact that Turkey has benefitted for over 30 years from a dynamic and mutually beneficial economic and military relationship with Israel.

As if this were not pathetic enough, not since 1975’s “Zionism is Racism” vote has there been so much antipathy toward the State of Israel within the UN. While not analogous to that earlier vote, deliberations over the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood once again demonstrates the levels of hostility toward Israel among the world’s “diplomats.”

While the statehood vote will eventually be blocked by the Security Council, one can be assured the vitriol and anti-Semitic rhetoric against Israel will be mind-boggling. Sadly, much of this might have been avoided if the Netanyahu government had pursued other strategies over the past few months. Nevertheless, nothing can justify or rationalize what Israel is now being asked to endure.

America and the West are overwhelmed with economic issues that limit the attention they can pay to the problems percolating in the Middle East. The forces for democratic change and reform know that, and are frustrated as ever. China and Russia do not care about America’s problems except as it affects their own interests. So what began as a rosy Arab Spring looks destined to evolve into a bitter winter of discontent.

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