Every night, I sit down to watch the world’s newest TV reality show. Unlike a scripted, well-choreographed, high-priced show, the show I am watching is evolving in real time before our eyes, on the nightly news, “The Bad Boy of the Middle East.” The main difference between a commercial TV reality show and this one is that it’s hard to determine who the winner will be, if there will be a winner at all and, if so, what that winner will get in lieu of the cash prize most shows offer.
Who is the Bad Boy of the Middle East? It’s the one who most successfully discriminates against, brutalizes, and slaughters its own citizens. Let’s take a look at some of our contestants.
Algeria – To put up a buffer against the wave of protests enveloping North African neighbors Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Algeria ended its two-decade-old state of emergency and will try to hold off other protests. Not the worst offender in terms of brutalizing its own citizens, but not a shining light of democracy either. A long shot to win the title, but in changing times, one never knows.
Egypt – The Arab spring was highlighted by the toppling of Egypt’s long time, and less than democratic President Hosni Mubarak. Violence that erupted, then took the summer off, only now to rear its head again with hundreds of thousands protesting in the streets and dozens killed, so far. An Islamist victory will certainly lead to repression, especially among Egypt’s 8 million Christians.
Iran – The bad boy of the bad boys. Their President doesn’t even try to lie about what they want to do to us. They just lie about making the weapons to use to do it. Iran gets extra credit for lying and making outrageous statements, and getting spineless other states to go along with them. They also get extra points for arming a network of like minded terrorists to destabilize Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, just to name a few. Before any Arab spring, the Iranians put down a post election fraud revolt that was starting. Since then, the winds of summer, fall and winter have not reached the sails of Iranians who would like to live with a sense of freedom and democracy. Definitely a front runner from brutalizing their own citizens and threatening the rest of us.
Iraq – Depending on what comes, Iraqis may long for the days that their “only” problem was being tortured by their former president Saddam Hussein. Fighting between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish populations was, and probably always exist. Terrorist attacks by one group to another are common. As soon as the U.S. and other troops exit, Iran is sitting next door waiting to pounce and destabilize further. Whether the Iraqis win or not, one thing that’s almost certain is that Iraqis will surely spill one another’s blood for some time to come.
Jordan – The Hashemite kingdom deserves credit for hanging on. A real democracy it isn’t, but it certainly isn’t one of the most brutal of Arab states. There’s a healthy struggle between an indigenous population that’s largely Palestinian, and a minority represented by the monarchy. The monarchy hasn’t really brutalized the Palestinians since the later challenged the former in 1970. It’s not certain that if a new challenge were to arise that King Abdullah could get away with a new Black September as his father did. Jordan changes governments as a national past time, and with the heat of the Arab spring, has done so again. For the moment, the King is stable. For the moment.
Lebanon – This country gives definition to the word unstable. With a civil war that lasted decades, occupation by Syria, two wars with Israel as a result of the Lebanese firing rockets at Israel and attacking its citizens, murder of their popular Prime Minister, and the destabilizing imposition of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity now occupying seats in their parliament and maintaining their own army within an army, the only thing that makes Lebanon look good today are the horrors taking place next door in Syria. Lebanon is too torn and divided to be The Bad Boy today, but tomorrow is another day.
Libya – The dust hasn’t settled since the revolution that ousted, captured and then killed its maniac dictator, so it’s unclear what will be. Between Qaddafi the father and Qaddafi the son (Seif), the Libyan people have been terrorized and butchered for decades, and Libya also exported its terror. Extra credit for, while doing this, bullying the Brits to release the mastermind of the Lockerbie terrorist attack, while enabling British companies to sign lucrative oil deals with Qaddafi and company.
Morocco – it’s not impossible that the wave of revolutionary fervor sweeping across northern Africa could go as far west as Morocco. But compared to others, Morocco is less at risk, therefore less internal brutalizing of its citizens. What will come of an Islamic party winning the recent elections there and whether it’s a threat to the long term monarchy remains to be seen.
Palestinian Authority – Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the PA is governed by a “recovering” terrorist group, the PLO, and one that hasn’t even realized that there’s a problem in being a terrorist organization, Hamas. The internal strife between the two is severe, despite the whitewash of “unity” they paint periodically for the world to see, and each targets the other’s supporters, leading to murder and terrorizing of the people they claim to represent in a power struggle that has long term implications.
Saudi Arabia – The enlightened, oil rich desert kingdom gives women new rights to go out of their homes and go to university, even allowing one woman to represent the Saudis in the upcoming Olympic Games. Maybe the Saudi people will be appeased by this and the wave of unrest hitting the rest of the world will pass by like a desert storm. Saudis still behead people convicted of certain crimes and chop off hands of criminals. Unless there’s a wave of dissent against the well entrenched monarchy, it’s not likely that the Saudis will be serious contenders.
Syria – Poor Bashar Assad can’t get a break. He wants to unleash the full force of the Syrian military against his people, like the Iranians want him to, and like his father did. But Bashar just can’t fill his father’s big brutal shoes. He’s had more than 3500 people killed this year alone. Even the Arab League suspended and sanctioned Syria. As an assembly of some of the least democratic and most authoritarian countries in the world, their standards are far from western, or enlightened. So when they don’t like what another member is doing and sanction that member, it’s got to be really bad.
Tunisia – Other than angry fruit vendors setting themselves on fire because of a little police brutality, the protest and violence that enveloped Tunisia has largely passed. They set off a chain reaction that’s not stopped, but Tunisia’s issues are mostly self contained and they don’t pose a great threat to their own people or others. A for Assist, but no real great chance at Tunisia winning the Bad Boy title.
Turkey – The Turks might get some sympathy after two serious earthquakes, but the real issue is their on and off cozying/conflicting with Iran and how that plays out domestically. They continue to fight against their own Kurdish population, support terrorist organizations, and have led the charge against neighbor Syria, while absorbing tens of thousands of refugees. But, if they step too far out of the box, or if the Kurds in Iraq are emboldened in the deterioration of their country, it could create a new challenge for Turkey, one which they might just seek advice on repressing the population from the Syrians they are now sanctioning.
Yemen – The country is a vacuum even with its’ hated and brutal dictator who is offering terms to step down that have not been acceptable, all the while breeding a local Al Qaida chapter that’s among the most radical. They may brutalize their own people but as a backwater, like in the movie, most won’t care as “what happens in Yemen stays in Yemen.”
Israel a Contender?
While situated in the Middle East, the only thing that makes Israel a contender is the international media and UN taking things that pale by comparison to the brutality of all the rest of the region and making Israel out to be a monster. The truth is that even the “occupied” Palestinians have a better and freer life than most of their Mid Eastern brethren, and this is depicted by protesters throughout the region saying that they want a democracy like Israel on one hand, while calling for destroying Israel on the other. Also, that Arabs and Jews can protest freely in Israel without fear of government or military reprisals make Israel not even qualified to enter for the title.
If there’s one thing that these conflicts in the Middle East tell us, it's that Israel is not the root of all the problems, that making peace with the Palestinians won’t begin to make the rest of the problems go away, and that when Arabs kill one another, it’s accepted as the norm, (boys will be boys). And when Israel shoots tear gas or rubber bullets at Palestinians, it’s front page news as “proof” that Israel is anti-democratic, apartheid, or the biggest offender of human rights and perpetrator of “war crimes” in the world.
Of course, when these countries and their third world allies stand in judgment, it’s no wonder. Maybe that’s also part of what makes a real Bad Boy the worst, the ability to deflect criticism and blame for their own criminal acts and human rights violations, and point a finger at Israel. 64 years after the world voted to create a Jewish and an Arab state in British occupied Palestine, if the Arabs would accept the formula of two states for two people, as Israel did then and still does, this would be one of the easiest problems to solve in the Middle East.
But based on the ongoing conflicts that are pervasive throughout the region, highlighted by governments discriminating against, repressing, and killing their own citizens almost as an Olympic sport, it’s unlikely that even the long awaited resolution to the challenges Israel faces of being accepted by its neighbors will make any impact on the wider problems. Israel does serve an important role for its neighbors, to be the punching bag to deflect domestic issues. Rather than accept responsibility and accountability for their own behavior, they blame Israel for all their problems and use that to leverage support of the people they abuse in their own countries.
Your vote for who’s going to win the “Bad Boy of the Middle East” title is welcome on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.a.feldstein.