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July 16, 2006

The Implosion of the Middle East?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

While the Middle East was coming apart at the seams, I was not present. It was as if I was in a parallel universe, one which had defied both time and circumstance. The last few days, I was on vacation in Egypt’s North Coast. I was staying at a resort “village.” I was in Egypt to be sure, but I might as well have been in France, for that’s how remote the tragic events unfolding in Lebanon and Israel seemed.

I will, however, save my discussion of the Egyptian “liberal elite” – and the cloistered universe to which they belong – for another, less consequential day. I know that Lebanon and Israel are on everyone’s minds right now, as they should be. I didn’t think it could get worse, but this region never fails to amaze. It at once defies expectations and shatters them. This is what great tragedies are made of. And they have been in the making for some time now. It is, after all, not as if the region began its implosion today, or yesterday. Away from the glare of an impatient, attention-challenged Western press, the situation here in Egypt has deteriorated markedly the past year. The same can be said for Jordan (and for Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Algeria, and so on).

Five long years have passed. The Bush administration’s record in the Middle East has proven to be a total, colossal failure. You name it, and it has gone wrong. The Arab "spring" is no more. Arab dictators have redoubled their efforts. And of course there's Iraq. The Bush administration’s baffling unwillingness to play a more active role in mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been particularly destructive. There is “constructive instability,” and then there is plain old “instability.” Bush and his wonderful set of foreign policy advisors appear to have a propensity for the latter.

In any case, I am still trying to take everything in and catch up with the "facts" on the ground. I will hopefully have more to say by tomorrow, once everything is sufficiently digested. Today, I will be covering a pro-Palestinian protest at the Doctors' syndicate here in Cairo (“in solidarity with the Lebanese and the Palestinians” according to the Arabist). Abu Aardvark notes that this time around in Jordan, anti-Israel protests are morphing more easily into criticism of regime oppression and the lack of democratic reform. I have never been a big fan of “combining” the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the problem of Arab democracy. There is no necessary link and there is no reason why democratic reform should be held hostage to a peace process which shows little sign of picking up. Which is why I’m interested to see how demonstrators will frame the issue tonight. We’ll see.

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