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10-08-2015, 23:01

POLITICS IN THE CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE EAST

To many seasoned observers, U.S. plans in Iraq seem unrealistic, since democratic values are not deeply rooted in the region. Feudal rulers remain in power, notably on the Arabian peninsula. The kings of Saudi Arabia, for example, continue to rule by traditional precepts and, citing the distinctive character of Muslim political institutions, have been reluctant to establish representative political institutions. As a general rule, these rulers maintain and even enforce the strict observance of traditional customs. Religious police in Saudi Arabia are responsible for enforcing the Muslim dress code, maintaining the prohibition against alcohol, and making sure offices close during the time for prayer. In other societies, traditional authority has been replaced by charismatic one-party rule or military dictatorships. Nasser’s regime in Egypt is a good example of a single-party state where the leader won political power by the force of his presence or personality. The Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq are other examples. Although their personal characteristics and images differ, all have sought to take advantage of their popular appeal. In other instances, charismatic rule has given way to modernizing bureaucratic regimes. Examples include the governments of Syria, Yemen, Turkey, and Egypt since Nasser, where Anwar al-Sadat and his successor, Hosni Mubarak, have avoided dramatic personal appeal in favor of a regime focused on performance. Sometimes the authoritarian character of the regimes has been modified by some democratic tendencies, especially in Turkey, where free elections and the sharing of power have become more prevalent in recent years. A few Arab nations, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan, have even engaged in limited forms of democratic experimentation. In Syria, the death of longtime President Hafez al- Assad in 2000 led to a referendum that elevated his son Bashar al-Assad to the office. The new president indicated that he would not seek to continue the personality cult that had arisen during the reign of his father but warned that he would not encourage political reforms that might threaten the domination of the country’s oneparty political system. Noting that he would tolerate only “positive criticism” of government policies, he declared that “we have to have our own democracy to match our history and culture, arising from the needs of our people and our reality.”2 Only in Israel are democratic institutions firmly established. The Israeli system suffers from the proliferation of minor parties, some of which are able to dictate policy because their support is essential to keeping a government in power. In recent years, divisions between religious conservatives and secular elements within the Jewish community have become increasingly sharp, resulting in bitter disagreements over social policy and the negotiating process with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the government generally reflects the popular will, and power is transferred by peaceful and constitutional means.

 

 

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