Egypt and Syria moving forward

After a week’s break from blogging for Chanukah/Christmas, it’s time to return to the world’s events. I hope everyone is having a great holiday.

Or so it seems in the Christian world. Aside from the unresolved fiscal cliff, most economic news in the U.S. is good — housing sales and prices are up, economic growth was strong in the last quarter, unemployment seems to have stabilized at lower levels. In Europe, the year looks set to end with the Euro still intact, Greece still juggling its debt with help from the EU, and improvements in Spain, Italy, and Ireland. Could all this unravel? Of course. But for the holiday season, it seems the worry meter has been turned back at least for a while.

But in the Middle East, things are clearly much worse. In Egypt, a widely unpopular new Islamist-leaning constitution has been voted in by a minority of voters (turnout in the referendum was distressingly light). President Morsi, however he may seem to back track and move toward compliance with law, has already demonstrated his willingness to seize power and dispense with restrictions when it suits him. It is unlikely he will be able to recover the confidence of secular and Christian Egyptians. Given the vastly increased factionalization in the country, the odds favor a continued slide away from democracy toward authoritarian or one-party rule.

In Syria, this morning saw the continued crumbling of the Assad regime, with the defection of the chief of Assad’s military police. Insurgents control much of the countryside are are making incursions into the capital. Assad is striking back with increased viciousness (although the threat of him using chemical weapons seems to have abated). It seems only a matter of time before Russia withdraws support, leaving only Iran backing the regime. Unfortunately, during the months and months in which Western powers have done little but mutter words of encouragement, the rebel militias have consolidated their own local power and jihadist groups have gained weapons and a stronger role. The killings have exacerbated sectarian tensions and triggered vendettas, so that restoring peace once Assad leaves will not be easy. Rather, it seems that Syria will take months or years to settle down even after Assad departs. Unless the world stirs itself to send an international peacekeeping force soon, a bloodbath of score-settling could follow the further breakdown of order next year.

Things look more hopeful in Tunisia and Libya, where slow progress toward rule of law and democracy continues. But in Israel, any hopes for a renewal of the peace process has receded, as the recent rocket attacks and change in UN status for Palestine have motivated conservatives in Israel to act to forestall any progress. Instead, they seem determined to keep Palestine divided and weak and subservient, even if that means the rule of Jews over far more numerous Muslims in Palestine continues to sap the ideals and soul of the Jewish state.

Even in Turkey, recently seen as a success story for democracy and economic growth in a large Islamic state, there are reasons for concern. The personal power of Prime Minister Erdogan continues to increase, as former partners and rivals seem to lose influence. Anxieties among secular Turks over the imposition of Islamic practices is growing, leading to increased factionalization that is worrying for democracy. Self-censorship among potential critics of the government may stymie finding solutions to economic problems and stifle innovation.

2013 lies ahead — those of us still seeking peace and prosperity in the world still have lots of work to do

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About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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