There is a lot of turmoil going on in the Middle East right now and it scares me. First it was Tunisia and now it is Egypt.
Egypt is the most populous Arab country in the Middle East and people there are clamoring to ‘throw the rascals out’. Demonstrations there are reminiscent of what happened in Iran over thirty years ago. They want the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak to end one way or another. They are tired of his oppressive ways. And the current economic crisis has brought the situation to crisis level. Mubarak for his part is doing his best to retain control. He has in the past not been reluctant to physically eliminate his competition. That’s what dictators do.
But there is a fly in his ointment. The United States - ever the Medina Shel Chesed - has said that Egypt must institute reforms if it wants to keep American support – which includes a huge chunk of financial aid. The Obama Administration like previous administrations before him sees injustices being carried out by foreign government s against its people and will not countenance it.
Americans see western style Democracy as a panacea for all that ails the world. That is a very understandable and even admirable position to take – considering the fact that it has worked so well for the United States and many other countries around the world. The problem is that we are talking about the Middle East. That is a part of the world where radical Islam trumps democracy any day of the week.
The last time this happened it changed the world. And not for the better. Then too - a dictator used undemocratic means to suppress his enemies and our President at the time insisted that he institute reforms along the lines of our democracy. Once he started going down that path it led to his downfall and the beginning of an Islamist revolution that is responsible for terrorist bloodshed the likes of which was unheard of until that time.
The country was Iran. The dictator was the Shah. When the Shah of Iran ruled that country, it was a friend of not only the United States, but even of Israel. Israel had an embassy there. El Al had regular flights scheduled to Iran. The Jewish community under the Shah was a thriving one that had centuries old roots. But the freedoms that then President Carter forced the Shah to introduce as a price for continued support was too high. The US intelligence community completely misread that country and no one predicted what would happen next.
Those freedoms led to student protests which ultimately led to the overthrow of the Shah. But instead of a democracy forming, Islamic fundamentalism took root. Ayatollah Khomeini who had been exiled from Iran had been teaching Iranian youth Islamic Fundamentalist doctrines via smuggled cassette tapes. These doctrines preached hatred of the West and all its culture. They preached hatred of Israel. And they preached hatred of the United States because of what they saw as a decadent society but mostly because of their support of Israel.
Ultimately the American embassy was overtaken and all its American employees were taken hostage for well over a year. Meanwhile Khomeini returned to Iran like a conquering religious hero. He was seen by all those Iranian Islamists- mostly young people - as their Gadol HaDor. And was treated with the kind of awe and deference one would expect for an elderly man of God who preached nothing but the purity of his religion.
There were many citizens in Iran that were not interested in their new Islamism and were quite happy with how things were under the Shah. There was a failed attempt at democracy during this period but that didn’t last long. The country Iranians once knew was gone. And they there was nothing they could do about it. The result is what we have today - the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It has been over thirty years since we tried to impose democracy on a country that wasn’t ready for it. This is a regime that has absolutely no interest in compromise. They are true believers. They love death more than we love life. They are all willing to die for their cause –celebrating every suicide bomber as a Martyr for Allah. Islamic Fundamentalist mothers express great joy when their children blow themselves up in suicide bombings.
If there is a terrorist anywhere in the world today, chances are he was trained by Iran or one of their surrogates - any number of fundamentalist Islamist groups that have sprung up in the last 30 years as a direct result of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaida, and many other groups like them are a direct result of the Iranian revolution of 30 years ago.
The idea of guaranteed and immediate great reward in the afterlife creates an enemy almost impossible to defeat. There are no rules of engagement. There is no playing fair. There is only doing Allah’s will as defined by their Gadol HaDor – the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors. Their mandate is to accomplish their goals by any means necessary.
Why is there no counter revolution by the many that remain unhappy with their government in Iran? Because nothing motivates like religious fervor. The regime will do whatever it takes to crush opposition to it. That is exactly what they did a couple of years ago when it was tried.
All of this ultimately this spawned the group and the man responsible for the events of 9/11. Which in turn has spawned two wars and countless deaths.
That is what misplaced good intentions can do. President Carter had nothing but good intentions with Iran. For him it was all about notions of freedom and democracy. But instead of succeeding in spreading those two noble goals he is – in my view - almost single handedly responsible for the world in which we live today.
Now imagine if another very large country goes that route today. Egypt now has diplomatic relations with Israel and a peace treaty with them that has lasted for over 30 years. One can call it a cold peace. But peace it is. In fact there has not been any war between Israel and the Arabs ever since. But Israel is no safer today than it was then. All because of the Islamic Fundamentalism that took root in Iran over 30 years ago.
The United States is pressuring Mubarak to ease up on his people in favor of a more open and democratic country. I believe it is a huge mistake that could have the same type of impact on Egypt that Carter’s pressure had on Iran. If the largest Arab country becomes the next Islamic fundamentalist regime - there would be little stopping it from going to war with Israel. And the Egypt of today is not the Egypt of 1967. The soldiers of Egypt will become soldiers of Islam ready to die for their religion like no other soldier anywhere. Every single one of them a potential suicide bomber. The threat of Israel’s nuclear option will not deter them.
I’m sure that the Obama administration sees this ‘cry for reform’ in Egypt as a cry from the grass roots for freedom. I’m also pretty sure he relies on his intelligence community to tell him what the protests are all about and what the goals of the protesters are. I’m equally sure that many of those protesters actually do it out of desire for freedom. But how many of those protesters are fundamentalists ready to take over given the chance?
They are the most motivated and determined group there. And they will do whatever it takes to succeed. I fear that fundamentalists have the numbers there to succeed despite what the intelligence community thinks. They have been wrong before. Most notably and seriously with their assessment of Iran 30 years ago. We cannot afford another Iran. One Iran has wrought enough damage upon the world. If I were the President, I would be thinking very hard about the consequences of a call for Egypt to allow more democracy there.
If President Obama succeeds in forcing reform and that ends up ousting Mubarak we may not like his replacement and what follows. And Obama’s legacy may very well be the same as Carter’s if not worse. A lot worse.