Winds of Change
Positive Developments Across the Middle East

18 February 2005

Political Status and Security Outlook For Key Middle Eastern States

___ TOTotalitarian
2 Iran
3 Iraq
4 Israel
5 Kuwait
6 Lebanon
7 Libya
8 Pakistan
9 Palestinian Authority
10 Saudi Arabia
11 Syria

Winds of Change in the Middle EastSince 11th September 2001, many have predicted that the foreign policy decisions of the United States of America and its allies would lead to chaos and a worsening security outlook for the Middle East. However, the outlook in the Middle East has improved markedly in the past three and a half years. Most countries in the Middle East are becoming more liberal at the same time as they clamp down on terrorist activities.

The political transformation of a region, especially one as complex as the Middle East, takes time. However, at this early stage a definite positive trend is emerging. This positive trend takes a number of forms.

Democratisation In Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority, democratic elections have taken place for the first time. It has been said that democracies don't go to war with democracies. Rather than attacking their neighbours, repressing their citizens or sheltering terrorists, it seems more probable that the political class in each of these countries will be busy competing for ways to improve the physical and economic security of their people.

PacifismMany Middle Eastern states have recently improved their foreign policies, taking steps to improve the security of their global neighbours. In some cases, this has involved a definite change in the government's foreign policy (Libya, Iraq, Pakistan) while transnational terrorist movements have found it harder to operate in many states (such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Territories).

Improved SecurityAs a consequence of the more friendly foreign policy of the new Palestinian and Iraq regimes, neighbouring states (Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) are enjoying marked improvements in their respective security outlooks. This trend should gather momentum as the sources of tension unravel.

Barriers to reformThe two most important barriers to these reforms are Syria and Iran, which are unwilling to undergo really significant internal reforms and have actively sponsored terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. While the Iranian and Syrian people were able to watch Iraqi election advertisements on satellite television, their governments took increasing measures to shore up their respective apparatus of repression and take more belligerant stances towards their neighbours and the international community. Iran even has a nuclear programme that is almost certainly aimed at the production of nuclear weapons.

While the situation with both Iran and Syria is a cause for concern, it is to be expected. Both countries have a history of sponsorship of regional and global terrorism and hostility to the West. The current situation has therefore declined from a base that was already very low. American and her allies, however, have substantially improved their manoeuvrability in the region, and can bring diplomatic and military force to bear if necessary. That these totalitarian regimes feel threatened by the march of reform and democracy in the region is not a bad thing.

The road ahead in the Middle East is, as always, fraught with difficulty. However, now more than ever, the barriers to reform are coming down and there is real cause for hope. A brief summary of developments in eleven key Middle Eastern states follows.

1. AfghanistanNascent Democracy
Afghanistan is recovering from over two decades of turmoil that included communist and Taliban repression and brutal civil war.
Late 2001: An American-led international coalition toppled the Taliban and attacked al-Qaeda, destroying much infrastructure and killing or scattering many of its core personnel.

Afghanistan's first ever democratic elections were held on 9th October 2004.

2. IranTotalitarian Islamic Radical Theocracy
Despite widespread internal dissent, Iran's theocrats have tightened the reins of power in recent years. Iran has worked closely with Syria and non-state terrorist groups and is probably working on a nuclear weapons programme.

3. Iraq Nascent Democracy
The totalitarian Ba'ath socialist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was overthrown by an American-led international coalition in March 2003 and an interim government established. The country's first ever democratic elections were held on 18th February 2005. Elements of the former regime have been working in tandem with transnational Islamic terrorist groups in an attempt to prevent the establishment of a stable, democratic Iraq.

4. IsraelDemocracy
Israel has remained a prosperous democracy despite years of terrorist attacks targetted at its citizens. Under international criticism for constructing a concrete security barrier President Ariel Sharon received little praise for his generous, unilateral decision to withdraw all Israeli settlements from Gaza, which it occupied during the 1967 'Six Day War'. With the defeat of the intifada (Palestinian uprising) and the election of a more conciliatory Palestinian President (Mahmoud Abbas), Israel's security seems likly to improve substantially.

5. KuwaitAuthoritarian Monarchy
By participating in Coalition of the Willing, Kuwait helped rid itself of its number one security risk, the Ba'athist dictatorship. Kuwait still faces a significant internal threat from al-Qaeda and allied groups.

6. LebanonOccupied. Democracy possible
While possessing many of the precursors of a vibrant, democratic state (such as opposition media), Lebanon labours under a corrupting Syrian military occupation and puppet authoritarian government. February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut led to increasing pressure on Syria to end occupation.

7. LibyaAutocratic State
Dictator Muammar Gaddafi has renounced his country's unconventional weapons and support for terrorism, apologised for the Locherbie bombing and improved diplomatic relations with countries such as Britain and America. Although Libya seems likely to remain an authoritarian state, Gaddafi's shift makes the world a significantly safer place.

8. PakistanDictatorship
Since September 2001, the regime of Pervez Musharaf has become far friendlier to the West and has cracked down on many extragovernmental, Islamist terrorist and guerrilla groups it had previously supported or tolerated. This has led to attempts on Musharaf's life. Pakistan has checked the proliferation of its nuclear technology and experimented with Provincial elections, however these elections led to victories for Islamist coalitions in two of the four Pakistani provinces, North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

9. Palestinian AuthorityNascent democracy
Following death of recalcitrant leader Yasser Arafat, new leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) won unprecedented democratic elections on 9th January 2005. His markedly more conciliatory approach leads to the declaration of a ceasefire (hudna) by Hamas and a level of Israel-Palestinian Arab dialogue not seen for years.

10. Saudi ArabiaAuthoritarian Monarchy with Radical Islamic overtones
Under Crown Prince Abdullah (effective ruler during King Fahd's illness), Saudi Arabia is showing some signs of modest liberalisation, such as municipal elections that have been repeatedly delayed and will involve only male voters. After the announcement in May 2003 that almost all US troops would withdraw by August (Iraq no longer being a threat to Saudi Arabia), a terrorist campaign ensued in an apparent attempt to foment civil war. This has driven the Saudi authorities to take more serious action against 'the deviant group' (al-Qaeda).

11. SyriaBaathist Totalitarianism - secular dictatorship
The sole remaining Ba'athist dictatorship after Saddam Hussein was deposed, Syria has worked to infiltrate terrorists into Iraq in collaboration with its ally, Iran. After the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Syrian has come under pressure to end its occupation of Lebanon.

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