The Trouble with Democracy in the Middle East

Once again, things have heated up between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel began bombing Gaza in retaliation against rockets fired into Israeli territory. The rockets continued, and Thursday a Palestinian rocket actually made it all the way to Tel Aviv. That prosperous city hasn’t had to turn the sirens on for over twenty years. As things continue to escalate, Israel has started to mobilize troops, just in case boots on the ground become necessary.

The Israeli government is bombing the Palestinian military in the Gaza strip, targeting Hamas, which some people consider a terror organization. But Hamas also happens to be the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people.

Israel’s in a tough spot. With much of the world sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight, its bombing of targets in Gaza draws intense scrutiny. Though they claim to bomb only military targets, there have been a number of civilian casualties. Israel explains that these casualties should be credited to Hamas because Hamas embeds its military within the civilian population. Israel accuses Hamas of double war crimes, indiscriminately firing at the civilian Israeli population and using the civilian Palestinian population as a human shield. Though the Israeli government may be correct, international opinion will inevitably favor the underdog Palestinians.

This conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians might be more difficult to calm than earlier ones because Israel’s old ally, Egypt, has abandoned it. Last time the rockets and bombs crisscrossed the West Bank, Egypt supported Israel, but this time its sympathies lie with Hamas and the Palestinians.

Thanks to the Arab Spring, Egypt threw off its strong man, Hosni Mubarak, and elected a new government. This new democratic government has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the same movement that spawned Hamas in Gaza. Ever since the latest conflict between Hamas and Israel began, Egypt has signaled that it will stand with the Palestinians. Only time will tell how this shift will affect the conflict’s outcome, but a pro-Palestinian Egypt removes one of the advantages that Israel enjoyed in the past.

It will be interesting to watch this situation develop. This escalation leaves America in a tight spot. Two democracies are currently trying to blow each other up. A third democracy, Egypt, is acting in a manner that could destabilize the status quo, rather than perserve peace. How do we respond when democracy doesn’t bring virtue? What do we do when two democracies want to destroy each other?

Ninety-five years ago, President Woodrow Wilson told congress, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Today it seems that the Middle East must be kept safe from democracy. I don’t envy President Obama; armed conflict in the Middle East is a headache he doesn’t need right now.

One response to “The Trouble with Democracy in the Middle East”

  1. Democracy can’t bring virtue. I don’t believe it was meant to. IIRC, one of the founding fathers claimed that democracy would only work if run by a virtuous people. Plato covered this extensively in The Republic.

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