Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Middle East - Changing Of The Guard

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
And we that fight for our fair father Christ,
Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old
To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
No tribute will we pay:' so those great lords
Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome." (Tennyson, Idylls Of The King)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, has gone to his virgins and olive trees in Paradise (Jan 15, 2006). He was the 13th ruler of a 265-year old dynasty, and was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

A number of Middle Eastern states have experienced changes of leadership in recent memory - from the Emir of Dubai's death to the passing of the King of Saudi Arabia. The King of Bahrain passed away in a tragic car accident in January. Yasser Arafat fired his last shot in 2004, and Ariel Sharon's hovers between life and death. Saddam counts sheep in a cell somewhere. Lebanon experienced the Cedar Revolution last year. Iran's Ahmadinejad came to power last June, and his Islamic populism disconcerts global security watchers.

The level of simultaneous flux in one region, and that too, one critical to global security and energy, is interesting, to say the least. Apart from Egypt under President Mubarak, the Assad regime in Syria, and Qatar under Sheik Al-Thani, most other states in the region seem to be experiencing a change of leadership. One would hope that such change might lead to paradigm shifts, especially given the Westernization of the Young Turks, to borrow a not-inappropriate cliche.

As a matter of fact, excluding the over-confident Persian theocracy, most of the Middle Eastern states are experiencing an increased degree of openness and newthink, to a measure rarely experienced by their citizens. Media sources are providing greater transparency and some governments recognizing their role as custodians of an evanescent wealth. The Islamicists are in the decided minority in every country in the region, despite Western perceptions. Covert and overt support of the chimera-like madrasas by various governments in the region continues, but as illustrated by the recent Foreign Policy article (link unavailable), most madrasas are in fact conducive to learning and slowly opening to change, thanks in part, to the flush of funds from the same regimes.

The death-knell for the International Islamic Front (IIF) can only come if their recruiting grounds in these countries are blocked, and their regimes de-fund their protection rackets. Jihadis find recruitment easy currently because of the malaise of alienation in their host countries. With a new guard, one can hope this may be in the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, one can only hope.

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