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September 13, 2011, Tuesday

Flow of history and the new Middle Eastern order

It appears that the year 2011 will be etched into world history as a watershed of equal or even greater importance than the years 1979 and 1989. Recalling the developments that occurred in and around 1979, when the strategic conditions of the bipolar Cold War era were at their peak, I can safely assert that the Middle East, as the arena for the rough and tumble between the Western and Eastern blocs, suffered from serious chaos and confusion at that time.

In 1977, Pakistan saw a coup that reinforced the pro-American group in this strategic country. The US managed to pull Pakistan to its own side with no strings attached, but in 1979, it suffered from an unexpected defeat in Iran, where the people led by Grand Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the pro-Israeli and pro-American shah's regime and established a theocratic revolutionary regime hostile to these countries.

While the initial repercussions of the Iranian revolution were being felt, Iran's new enemy Israel and former Soviet ally Egypt on March 26, 1979 signed, with the US as facilitator, the Camp David agreement, which came to be seen as one of the most important pillars of the new order in the Middle East. The Soviets' response to this move was harsh, as they invaded Afghanistan, a country located on the eastern end of the Middle East that has long borders with Iran and Pakistan, in December.

As an effective response to revolution-exporting Iran and the Soviet expansion, the US gave the green light for a military coup in Turkey on Sept. 12, 1980, just as it had three years before in Pakistan. In other words, as a measure for protecting Western interests from Communists and Islamists, the democratically elected governments in Pakistan and Turkey were overthrown and these countries were left to the mercy of unlawful coup generals. This order continued for a long time with small cosmetic changes.

Many countries and regions quickly adapted to the world order established after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Communist bloc, but the Middle East was isolated from these winds of democratic change. The distorted regional order created in the antidemocratic conditions of the Cold War era remained untouched in the Middle East while the rest of the world was trying to replace the Cold War era system with organizations required by the new world order starting in 1989.

The West was trumpeting democratic values and liberalism based on a free-market economy all across the globe, but it was quite happy with the lack of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Middle East. Western powers even stood against all popular democratic moves in the region, fearing that a transition to democracy would inevitably unfetter religious people. The incidents of 1990 in Algeria and Tunisia and what happened in Turkey in 1997 strongly support our case. The hegemons of the unipolar new world order played a critical role in maintaining the Cold War order in the Middle East, while the rest of the world enjoyed the liberating climate of the post-Cold War era.

Starting in 2002, Turkey struggled to get rid of the straitjacket that was forced on it during the Cold War era and reinforced with the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, while, in the current year, the people of the Middle East and North Africa revolted, demanding democracy and freedoms, extending their struggle across a vast stretch of land and destroying the despotic regimes in the region one-by-one.

Clearly, it is the Cold War order that is being annihilated alongside these despotic regimes. An archaic order that has been kept alive just to ensure the security of Israel and offer immunity to its illegitimate occupations and deeds is now collapsing with great noise. It is not just the Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad regimes that are falling. It is the entire Western-made Middle Eastern order that is tumbling down. The Camp David order that only sought to reinforce the security of Israel at all costs is waning.

Clearly, those who are concerned about this collapse can do little about it. If you do not have a realistic plan for completely eliminating the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine and many more countries, you have every reason to wait for these peoples' demands for democracy and freedom to establish their own orders in their respective countries before erecting the pillars of the new regional order in the Middle East. It is for this reason that the truly wise regimes should act according to the Zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times, and refrain from resisting this tremendous change and the flow of history.

Neither Assad nor any other dictator will be able to hold on much longer in the face of this great trend of change that recently ousted Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ben Ali. Israel will also be swept up in these winds of transformation if it fails to fathom the process reshaping the Arab World and keeps its anachronistic stance. What Israel should do in the face of this historic turning point is to not stand as an obstacle to the fulfillment of regional peoples' demands and expectations concerning democracy and freedoms.

Given the traditional Jewish brilliance and widely acclaimed Israeli strategic genius, one expects Israel to make its national interests compatible with the expectations of peoples in the region. Otherwise, it will become a greater challenge for the Tel Aviv administration to find support in averting tensions similar to the one recently experienced at its embassy building in Cairo. Zeitgeist and the flow of history will have no mercy to spare on those who try to swim upstream. If they stubbornly go against this flow, they may triumph in fleeting victories in the short run, but they will be violently driven toward catastrophic and greater defeats.

In this perspective, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's historic visits to Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, are regarded as an important step suited to the spirit of the times and the flow of history. The formation of a new order in the Middle East replacing illegitimate dictators with popular democracies is imminent and Erdoğan's tour should be seen as a bold step by a leader who has internalized this reality. We are going through a period of transition during which those who make their plans fully aware of the current situation in a Middle East constantly being shaped by new developments will win and those who persistently turn a blind eye and deaf ear to them will lose.

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