The Causes of Political Instability in the Middle East: A Constructivist Approach


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If we are to analyze properly regions of the world which are historically religious anomalies, it would seem precarious to apply normative principles across various societies. The Middle East possesses a unique characteristic which makes it vulnerable to instability. That is the underlying logic of this research article. The common trend of analyzing the Middle East has focused largely on variables that neglect this consideration. As a result, most research connects Middle Eastern instability with variables such as regime type, natural resource abundance, (sectarianism, religiosity) or ideological conflict. The aim of this research is to fill the gap in the literature by focusing on foreign interventionism in the Middle East as the most significant variable influencing stability. In the post-9/11 era, the US has become more entangled in the region than ever before (Said 1997). US foreign interventionism has largely taken the shape of coercive democratization efforts in the Middle East, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In Syria, protests for democratic reforms resulted in full fledged war and unprecedented terrorism. In other countries, like Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, where a tradition of democratic pluralism ran deeper, an increasing trend of terrorism is exhibited, particularly after 2003 (START 2015). Drawing from two particular databases, evidence suggests a trend between democratization efforts in the Middle East and increased instability in the form of violent terrorism. I conclude by offering the implications of the findings, in theory and in policy.

Introduction

The tradition of western scholarship has in the realm of international relations been dominated by the schools of rationalism and realism. Where the individual and cost-benefit is the motive of human behavior, the trend of international relations has always been explained through the scope individual self-interest and the pursuits of power and security. But emerging schools of thought have challenged this assumption, such as constructivism, by offering a new outlook on relations betweens states (Wendt).

Theoretical Argument: Hypothesis & Historical Support

This research focuses on a particular region of the world, the Middle East, considered one of the most violent, volatile and unstable. Its goal is to explain the causes of instability through the international relations approach of constructivism, challenging the conventional paradigms of realism and liberalism by emphasizing the importance of “social constructs” to explain variance in cultural values and political institutions across states, by analyzing data on levels of democracy and terrorism in the region.

While some state’s exhibit individualistic cultures, others practice collectivized traditions that preserve age-old customs and traditions embedded within society (Said 1997). The emergence of globalized democracy in the twentieth century limited conventional imperialism, which relied heavily on military capability. In today’s world, where technology and freedom have made information more readily accessible, democratic states are more pressured to conform to order. But instead, the US, leader of the democratic world, has embarked on foreign military adventures under the premise of both preserving and spreading democracy. Because of its successes in the West, it was expected that reluctance to such institutional changes would be absent relative to resistance towards non-democratic interventionism throughout the twentieth century. But despite democracy’s triumph in the 21st century there still remains a specter of arbitrary interventionism which violates the sovereignty of vulnerable nation-states by global hegemonies. I argue that the modern form of this interventionism is the insistence of the US-led West on spreading democracy abroad, in this case, the Middle East.

The purpose is not however to pinpoint democracy as the cause of violence, nor to dismiss authoritarianism as a viable source of instability, but rather to analyze the increase of Western interventionism in the post-Cold War era, despite the demise of the USSR and the so-called communist threat. This tradition of exporting democracy, or neoconservatism, I argue, ignores the constructive distinctions between states (their political culture) and thus leads to conflict. Whether or not democracy is a comparable nemesis to communism in the sense of its imperial capacity isn’t the focus or assertion here then. The Middle East, particularly the Arab World, has been under foreign dominion for ages. Its struggle for sovereignty has resulted in immense grievances, expressed violently, domestically and internationally. I argue that in today’s world, foreign presence in the Middle East has taken the form of democracy.

The main premise of the research rather is to associate destabilization in the Middle East with violations of sovereignty and negligence of the distinctions in political culture between East and West, usually perpetrated by global hegemonies, which in today’s case, would be the United States. Historically, the UK and Russia were much more interventionist, but the twentieth century replaced these two world powers with a unipolar global dynamic led by the US. Since the end of WWII, the Middle East has endured unstable periods of regime change, terrorism and war. The literature on this subject has focused primarily on domestic causes of this instability, pointing often to variables such as the oil-curse, Islamism or authoritarianism, however little to none of the literature focuses on non-domestic actors. This research seeks to fill this gap.

Historically, the Middle East has fallen prey to foreign ideologies like communism. The conflict in Afghanistan in this perspective can thus be seen as a struggle between Arab sovereignty and the imperial nature of communism. Today, there is no USSR and communism has been essentially made irrelevant. Instead, foreign presence in the Middle East is now in the form of democracy, led by the US. The emergence of the neoconservative doctrine, or coercive democracy, has prompted the US to intervene in the internal affairs of nations for the sake of its interests, whether they are to contain ideologies, remove unfriendly leaders or to preserve economic assets. For this reason, many Islamists who regarded the US as an ally in the struggle against communism turned against the US for exhibiting the same behavior as the USSR in Afghanistan, but under a new guise. It was not until the second half the twentieth century, during which the Middle East was divided by european colonialists, Israel was established, and the ensuing wars on terrorism manifested. It was also during this period that the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism emerged and would eventually become a norm (Moghadam 2006). As a result, this research has focused on the linkage between foreign interventionism via democratization in the Middle East and political instability measured by the frequency of terrorist incidents. Through a hybrid method of qualitative anecdotal evidence as well as quantitate data analysis, this research argues that violence in the Middle East, both domestic and exported, is caused mainly by foreign occupation (Pape 2003). The goal is to challenge the idea that democracy is universally applicable, and universally stabilizing, and perhaps more importantly, to establish a link between violations of sovereignty in the Middle East and the heightened level of political instability, in the form of terrorism, in the region altogether. By controlling for the variables of oil, islamism and authoritarians, it aims to dispel the myth that the Middle East is a so-called backwards society with tyrannical leadership across the board – and to suggest the notion that the Middle East is in fact culturally unique, especially due to its history, and that violating its sovereignty on a political and cultural level have destabilized the region.

In this research design, I argue that, though many variables are offered in the literature as potential causes of instability, I focus on the variable of foreign intervention, which has relatively little focus in the literature. In today’s world, international relations can be characterized by the global dominance of liberalism and democracy. In many parts of the world, these institutions are absent, for a variety of reasons. The objective is to demonstrate how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, particularly in non-western societies, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

Research Method

The US has not always been thoroughly involved in Middle Eastern affairs. After WWII this changed (Said 1997). In the post-9/11 world, US foreign policy has focused on the Middle East, particularly challenging authoritarianism. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can be seen as the beginning of this endeavor. This would be followed by regime change in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen; the ongoing war in Syria. My argument is that the significant rise in terrorism is due to these campaigns. More specifically, pressures for regime change through forced-democratization have resulted in instability and the increase of terrorism. Instead of explaining this through power-struggles as per the prevailing schools of thought in international relations, I focus on democratization as a form of neocolonialism, violating both the political sovereignty of Middle Eastern states as well as challenging their norms and institutions which have been historically reluctant to democratization, and foreign interventionism altogether.

The purpose of this research paper is to demonstrate how terrorism has increased rapidly in tandem with the US-led democratization efforts in the Middle East. It seeks to show how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

To demonstrate this, I employ the quantitative method of cross-country analysis, gaging both incidents of terrorism as well as instances of democratic evolution, or democratization, over time in the Middle East, drawing from two databases, the Global Terrorism Database, which measures terrorist trends in each country in the world over time between the periods of 1970 and 2013, and Our World In Data, which covers global democratization trends ranging from 1800 to 2012.

Data Findings

Terrorist incidents in the Middle East were at a steady and constant low from 1970 until 2003, the year of the US invasion of Iraq, the country with the highest terror threat in the Middle East (START 2015). Terrorism increased from about an average of 1000 incidents per year from 1970 until 2002 to 4000 incidents in 2003, and 8000 in 2013 (START 2015). The trend is increasing. Is there a positive relationship between democratization and terrorism in the Middle East, contrary to the conventional arguments in the literature? Democracy in the Middle East is relatively scarce, and where it does exist, it is new. Only Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen are even partially considered democratic. Prior to 1985, this was not the case (Roser 2016). Since its inception, as evidenced by the data, terrorism has reached unprecedented heights in the Middle East (START 2015).

The more democratic countries in the Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region (IEP 2013). Tunisia is an outlier in this case, because its global terrorism index is measures lower than the previously mentioned countries, however other sources suggest that despite its low occurrence, the trend of terrorist threats continuous to increase even in Tunisia, particularly after 2010 (START 2015).

On the contrary, the most autocratic countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iran & the UAE have drastically lower levels of terrorist attacks (IEP 2013). As mentioned previously, the main focus of the research is to reveal how foreign interventionism results in instability in the form of terrorism, and that in today’s world, foreign interventionism largely takes the form of forced democratization and regime change. The data indicates that at the height of democracy in the Middle East, terrorism is most rampant.

Literature Review – Filling the Gap

To explain instability and the rise in terrorism in the Middle East, the literature generally focuses on either natural resource abundance or regime type. There are few regions in the world like the Middle East, imbued with some what a gift and a curse: a unique religious history and the presence of oil (Ross 2001). This has been coined the resource curse. The presence of oil in the Middle East has made it the focal point of global hegemonies competing for power and assets. However oil is not present in some of the most terror-inflicted countries in the Middle East and in the world, such as Israel, Lebanon and Turkey in the Middle East, and Uzbekistan and Pakistan in the broader scope. Equally, terrorist incidents in the Gulf region are significantly lower than North Africa and the Levant (START 2015).

The majority of fighters in Syria are currently Iraqi (Roser 2016). This implies that without US intervention in Iraq, there would be no vacuum of power to form the terrorist-network of ISIS. Furthermore this suggests that sudden overthrowing an authoritarian regime in the Middle East produces dire consequences instead of increasing hopes for democratization.

Another aspect of the literature points to civilizational conflict as the driving source of instability in the Middle East. The premise here is that Islam is at war with competing ideologies and institutional norms. To counter this claim, I argue that, in some of the most homogeneously Islamic societies, there are significantly less cases of instability and terrorism, such as in Malaysia and Indonesia, compared to the frequency of terrorism in the Middle East. In a sense, terrorism is viewed as a response to occupation (Pape 2003). In this case, occupation is viewed as coercive democratization.

The final case in the literature review focuses on authoritarianism as the primary cause of anti-americanism (Bush et al.). But even in countries like Lebanon, where authoritarianism is relatively low, anti-americanism persists, and the terrorist threat is at its highest in the region.

The common denominator missing from the literature is the variable of foreign intervention in its influence on stability in the Middle East. Furthermore, empirical approaches have neglected the relationship between democratization and instability in the Middle East, primarily because of the domination of international relations theory by neorealist schools of thought. This theory presumes that self-interest and materialism rule the world universally. I argue that this presumption has justified modern “imperial overreach” by the US, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the form of coercive democratization. This had led to increased instability in the Middle East, and the rise in terrorism both regionally and globally.

Setbacks in My Approach

As with most research designs, there are setbacks suffered in this approach. Firstly, the lack of empirical data on Middle East politics makes it difficult to test claims. Secondly, the volatility of the region makes it even more challenging to innovate new methods and gather original data. Finally, the Middle East’s unique religious history challenges both the methods and approaches of the prevailing schools within political science, as well as the foreign policy traditions of major power players in global politics, in this case, the United States. The social constructs which distinguish the political cultures of the Middle East, a more collectivized society, from the West, the beacon of liberalism, make it difficult to understand and analyze the causes of violence.

Conclusion

The data gathered demonstrates that even where democracy endures in the Middle East, in the slightest form, it often exhibits extreme cases of political instability in the form of terrorism. Since 2003, terrorist attacks spiked in the Middle East (START 2016). The rise of ISIS has further intensified the terrorist threat in the region and abroad. It is mind boggling then that such an important variable as foreign interventionism, be it in the form of democratization or not, is largely unconsidered in international relations theory, considering the data which reveals a significant increase in terrorism immediately following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 (START 2016). But the neoliberal and neorealist traditions which dominate international relations theory leave little room for discussion of culture and religion, what constructivism calls “social constructs” in explaining the international political dynamic, because it emphasizes self-interest and profit-incentives as universally applicable principles. This assumption is the source of tension between the US and the various political forces in the Middle East. A continued negligence of these differences will likely perpetuate the increasing trend of terrorism in the Middle East, while a recognition of them would result in the opposite – a sort of stability that characterized the Middle East prior to the 2003 War in Iraq.

Bibliography

Bush, S. S., & Jamal, A. A. 2015. Anti‐Americanism, Authoritarian Politics, and Attitudes about Women’s Representation: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Jordan. International Studies Quarterly: 59(1), 34-45.

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Institute for Economics and Peace: Visions for Humanity.

Huntington, S. P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs: 22-49.

Max Roser 2016. Democratisation. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/democratisation/ [Online Resource]

Moghadam, A. 2006. Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to Win. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism: 29(8), 707-729.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). 2015. Global Terrorism Database: http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd

Pape, Robert 2003. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. American Political Science Review. 343-361.

Ross, M. L. 2001. Does Oil Hinder Democracy? World Politics: 53(03), 325-361.

Said, E. 1979. Orientalism. 1978. New York: Vintage.

Wendt, A. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge University Press.

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The Seeds Were Sewn: Democracy & Terror in the Middle East


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Democracy & Terror in The Middle East

Danny Krikorian

Abstract

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influence political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. The overall findings suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel and Iraq exhibit high levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, comes into question here. The presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, ignores the data provided, which is contradictory to the general belief that democracy induces stability and discourages violence. Furthermore, it implies that US foreign policy initiatives aimed at “democratizing” the West are more elusive than perhaps believed.

Introduction

Since the end of World War I, the break-up of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent partitioning of the Middle Eastern territories among world powers, the Arab World has yet to see peace. In fact, an unprecedented century of instability has almost become a de facto part of the Middle Eastern social fabric. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century thus cannot be understood without looking into these types of historical contexts as well as the political realities of today which have led up the current dynamic in the Middle East. It appears, with further research, that the relationship between the forces of colonialism, poverty, autocracy and political violence is rather intimate (Dalacoura 2005).

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influences political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. Since there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, I will use one particular indicator, political freedom. Generally, indexes use variables such as press freedom, political competitiveness and economic liberalization as indicators of political freedom. In this case, the independent variable is political freedom, measured by the Economic Intelligence Unit, based in the UK. The dependent variable is terrorism, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index, gathered by Visions of Humanity which is part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

Conventional wisdom within western scholarly circles would offer the general hypothesis that nations with lower levels of political freedom are likely to experience higher rates of terrorism (Dalacoura 2005). The logic behind this hypothesis is that citizens are likely to resort to violent means of insurrection as a reaction to the government’s repressiveness. The research shows however that because terrorism is actually higher in countries with greater political freedoms, such as Lebanon and Tunisia, other variables might play a role, such as culture, religion, economics and geopolitics. When put to the test, this hypothesis appears weak, as indicated in the following section.

The research is divided into five segments starting with the introduction, which includes background information about the region and its relationship with terrorism and democracy; second is the literature review in which I will analyze the current conversation; followed by a data and methods section which will explain the quantitative measurements used to test the hypothesis; fourth, I will discuss the shortcomings and potential weaknesses of this research design; finally, I will leave readers with a conclusion regarding the future of the region and the overall theoretical and policy implications of this research.

Literature Review – Democracy & Terrorism in the Middle East

The scholarly literature surrounding this particular topic of Middle Eastern stability and the region’s political relationship with the outside world (namely global hegemonies like the United States, European Union, Russia and China) offers two overall explanations for rising tensions in the region as well as conflicts between political actors from the region with the rest of the world.

The first emanates from Samuel Huntington’s (1996) book “Clash of Civilizations” in which the pervading theory explaining the cause of conflict between the West and the Middle East is rooted in a “clash of civilizations”; a certain cultural rift, driven mainly by religious conviction.

The second is more empirically oriented, and attributes underdevelopment in the Middle East to environmental or biological predispositions, rendering the region less viable for growth, stability and peace, therein warranting the need for foreign intervention and “occupational development” (Diamond).

Since the democratic experiments of Iraq and Libya have produced contradictory results, it has encouraged me to contribute a third opinion. This opinion considers factors overlooked by the aforementioned theories, such as colonialism (exploitation by foreign powers), the presence of immense natural resources in the region, and possibly most important, cultural relativism. These factors have perhaps largely contributed to the region’s volatility and vulnerability to greed, corruption and instability.

This research aims to fill a particular void in the scholarly debate surrounding the US-Middle East relationship. Its aim is to answer the question of whether or not the undemocratic structure of political institutions in the Middle East are a primary source of instability, poverty and political violence in the region. It forces analysts to consider external political actors that exploit resources, conflicts and cultural sensitivities in the region to their advantage. This “colonial” tactic often manifests in the autocratic tradition itself, silencing critics, banning opposition, bribing officials and major income disparities between rich and poor (Dalacoura). But global powers are complicit too, in this regard, often double-dealing with the non-democratic tyrants they so adamantly oppose (Kleveman 2003).

Much of the political violence conducted by Islamic fundamentalist groups against Western countries is actually aimed at exposing the complicity of Western governments in propping up dictators to the constituencies of Western countries, where democratic process makes injustice more difficult to cover-up. This practice is known as “propaganda by the deed” (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Further scholarly research suggests that the major grievances of national populations are not religious, they are socio-economic (Rashid 2002). The rise of social media in the 21st century has made it difficult for Western governments to hide their double-dealings (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Fundamentalism is fomenting at a more rapid race than ever in the Middle East, and poverty is worsening (Wilson 1995). Leaders are growing more weary that the effects of the “Arab Spring” might spill-over into their countries. Desperate attempts to alleviate their populations have been pursued. But these seem to only buy time. In this paper, I argue that in order for Western countries to genuinely reduce the threat of political violence, they must end their inconsistency in foreign policy, which has them picking and choosing between autocrats. This could threaten some the West’s most valuable allies, who have a lot of leverage on US politics: Israel & Saudi Arabia (Kleveman 2003).

While the Middle East remains largely impoverished, elites in these two countries, to name a few, enjoy the spoils of a cult-of-personality-owned economy (Yom). The issue of colonialism and autocracy plague the region, but before the West ends its double-standard, instability, poverty and violence will continue to rise, narrowing the window of opportunity for democratic reform and peaceful transition (Dalacoura 2005). This means that autocrats will have to suspend their franchise over the political and economic process; allowing for national competitiveness. I argue that this will increase government authenticity, popular trust and will therein reduce both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as its appeal to those once impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the Middle East. Only then will the so-called threat of “Islamic-Jihad” be distinguished from the genuine popular struggle against injustice and autocracy in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Only then will political violence cease to be more commonplace than the peace enjoyed in the West.

The literature varies on the intimate relationship between the forces of autocracy, poverty, colonialism, and political violence in the Middle East. That colonialism is responsible for income disparity in the region, is a point made by British journalist Patrick Seale in his infamous book on the Assad family’s leadership in Syria. The fomenting of Islamism, largely through the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely blamed on the constant influx of foreign financing to extremism forces in the region. Seale highlights that the Saudi Arabian autocratic monarchy is largely responsible for growth of extremism and political violence in the region (Seale 1990). In his research, Seal also suggests the possibility that a tight-grip on the political and economic fabrics of Syrian society by the Syrian government did nothing to help reduce national mistrust therein encouraging movements of insurgency. Such movements would prove to have dire consequences, with the regime’s bombing of a Muslim Brotherhood anti-government uprising in the city of Hama resulting in the deaths of nearly 20,000 men, women and children (Seale 1990). The majority of extremism in Central Asia, also a predominantly Muslim region, has been tied to the socio-political fabric of Saudi society, which is largely propped up by an extreme brand of Islam: Wahhabism (Kleveman 2003) Considering the closeness with which Saudi Arabia maintains its relationship with the West, it deems Western demands for democratic reform in the region almost hypocritical (Dalacoura 2005).

Samuel Huntington isn’t the only scholar offering the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective. Military-history scholar Caleb Carr also suggests this perspective, that Islam, as a political ideology, is incompatible with components necessary for Western-style democracy. He goes further to justify military campaigns against the Muslim world in order to prevent threats against the democratic order of the world (Carr 2002). In All the Shah’s Men, Steven Kinzer contradicts this view by explaining how constant efforts by western democracies, namely the US and the UK, to infiltrate the national sovereignties of predominantly Islamic nations, usually for the sake of securing economic interests, results in reactionary movements against the West, fueled more often that not by Islamic sensationalism, and eventually “sowing the seeds of Middle Eastern terror”, so to speak. (Kinzer 2008).

Research provided by The Heritage Foundation in their 2015 Index on Economic Freedom indicates high levels of corruption, and low levels of mobility in the economies of Middle Eastern countries. Since research indicates that a vast majority of Islamic fundamentalism is exported from the Gulf region, it leads to ask whether or not the these income disparities between fuel the culture of radicalization, relative to the variable of democracy. “Scores in the Middle East for business freedom — the lack of which, the editors note, helped ignite the “Arab Spring” protests — declined for 11 of the 18 countries in the region (three of which are not graded in the 2015 Index due to ongoing violence and unrest)” (Miller, Terry & Kim 2015). This could suggest that economic inequality plays an equal if not more important role than political institutions in influencing the threat of terrorism.

Data & Methods

To indicate the relationship between terrorism and political freedom, two tables were retrieved from two western Non-governmental Organizations dedicated to analyzing levels of democracy and terrorism. Each table measures the respective variable according to its own scale. Conveniently in this case, both indexes used a scale of 1-10. The Global Terrorism Index provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks countries in their vulnerability to terrorism from 1-10. The Political Freedom Index also measures the independent variable, political freedom, on a  scale from 1-10. Based on the assumption and hypothesis that more political freedom results in less terrorism, the trend should follow a negative linear regression, with a downward slope.  The research indicates that the hypothesis is in fact weak; that democracy is a stabilizing force in the Middle East may be presumptuous. Libya’s GTI score rose from zero to six since the overthrow of Gaddafi. The hypothesis originally suggested that the relationship between democracy and terrorism is negative, that the more democratic a nation, the less terrorism it will exhibit. The data retrieved from the indexes suggests what could be the exact opposite; that democracy enables terrorism in the Middle East, or that it simply does not ensure stability. This blurs the prospects for democracy in the region. It furthermore forces us to consider other variables that might challenge the universalist tendency of democratic theory which is so prevalent in the political conversation today. Variables such as geography, cultural relativism, and religion must be taken into account when determine the forces of conflict and instability within a region. In the appendix I have included an aggregation of the data gathered from the two aforementioned indexes regarding political freedom & terrorism in Middle Eastern countries.

The idea that natural resource endowment is responsible for low levels of democracy is not uncommon (Mehlin, Morne & Torvik 2002). This is known as the resource curse. While Saudi Arabia possesses the world’s largest oil reserves as well as high levels of authoritarianism, relative to its neighbors, the kingdom exhibits low levels of terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace). Furthermore, countries like Syria, Jordan & Egypt possess an insignificant amount of oil relative to Saudi Arabia and the global market at large, yet these three countries exhibit some of the lowest levels of democracy and the highest levels of terrorism in the entire region (Institute for Economics and Peace).

A particular finding that stood out in the research is that, while Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Morocco all exhibit a relatively equal level of political freedom, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of terrorist attacks in each country.

To control for cultural relativity, Indonesia and Turkey, both predominantly Islamic countries with democratic political structures were included in the table. Indonesia perhaps poses the greatest support for the hypothesis, because it exhibits the one of the lowest levels of terrorism among the countries as well as one of the highest levels of political freedom. On the other hand, Turkey, which is enjoys a relatively heathy level of political freedom and democracy, exhibits terrorist attacks at the same rate as Egypt. This challenges the hypothesis.

Weaknesses

The complexity of this research’s subject matter, the Middle East, is perhaps the most noticeable detriment to the strengths of this research. In other words, the influence of a variety of other potential variables, such as cultural relativism and colonialism are difficult to account for, whereas variables such as natural resource endowment may easier to control for. Another weakness of this article is that it focuses only on Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that a lot of religious terrorism comes from other regions of the world, regions that exhibit similar conditions of authoritarianism and natural resource endowment, like Central & Southeast Asia.

All of the Middle Eastern nations are young, having only gained independence within the last century. This makes it difficult to pass long-lasting judgments regarding the prospects of democracy in the region.

Despite the empirical limitations intrinsic in this type of analysis, as well as the absence of empirical research on the subject especially in the Middle East, it furthermore implies the ambiguities of the findings.

Another major weakness of the research is that only 12 of the 22 countries in the Middle East were assessed due to difficulties that arise in retrieving reliable information from a region as contentious as it is.

Conclusion

The original hypothesis, that political freedom reduces violence and stability, is perhaps not absolute. The literature as well as the data provided have together displayed how in some cases, terrorism has in fact increased where democracy has been most prevalent in the Middle East. Furthermore, the inconsistency in the foreign policy of western democracies has made democracy less appealing, and credible to the Middle Eastern community (Dalacoura 2005). There are many questions that can be raised about democracy itself. Why is the United States, the beacon of western democracy, increasingly entangled in the affairs of authoritarian regimes? And how complicit is western negligencee towards the realities of the region in the rise of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Da’esh. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the US has embarked on a dual mission of spreading democracy and containing the threat of Islamic radicalism, but these two initiatives often run counter to one another (Dalacoura 2005). The U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the NATO-led overthrow of Gaddafi, have had dire consequences on the region’s stability. That Libya has transitioned from a GTI score of zero to six since 2006 is telling of the future of the Middle East as it grapples with democracy. The overall research suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Israel & Iraq exhibit the highest levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, is being challenged by these findings. There are many other factors that can be attributed to the volatility of the region and the rise in terrorist activity, such as oil politics, geopolitics, and cultural relativism. Nonetheless, the presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, is premature.

Whether or not democracy is universal is a matter of theory. But what is fact, is that western democracies have preferred cooperation with authoritarianism over democracy where it is deemed convenient (Yom 2011). The opposite is true, that western democracies, namely the United States, will promote extreme pressures for democratic reform where it is convenient. The irony is that in the cases where democracy is encouraged, the United States has managed to maintain a permanent military presence. Furthermore, these regions, like Iraq for example, exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region — in the world for that matter (Institute for Economics and Peace). Perhaps this explains why Middle Eastern attitudes towards democracy have remained negative (Tessler 2002).

Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are on the rise in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Democracy perhaps isn’t the best force against radicalization. This is evidenced by the current instability in Iraq, Syria & Libya. Even Russia has responded to the threat of radicalism by propping up its anti-democratic authoritarian allies in the region, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps this suggests that democracy is culturally relative — that is, not all societies are compatible with democratic institutions. What this means for the future is increased instability and heightened tensions between various forces in the Middle East, in what appears to be the formation of a dichotomy between pro-western and anti-western political factions. It could also increase the overall threats to international security emanating from radical Islamic movements. This could threaten America’s economic interests, and affect the global economy.

If the West wishes to avert this, perhaps it would be best to reserve democracy for itself, instead of trying to desperately spread it abroad. It is as if the West cannot decide for itself what is of greater value; oil or principle. The longer it waits to decide, the greater the threat terrorism may become, to democracy, stability and global peace.

References

Blin, Arnuad & Chaliand, Gerrard. 2007. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.    University of California Press.

Carr, Caleb. 2002. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians : Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Dalacoura, Katerina. 2005. U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International Affairs. Vol. 81. 963-979.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American-Coup & the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey.

Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Martin, Gus. 2003. Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Mehlum, Moene & Torvik. 2002. Institutions & the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal. 1-20.

Miller, Terry & Kim, Anthony. 2015 Index: Economic Freedom Rises Slightly in Middle East/North Africa. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/middle-east-north-africa. (2015).

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Seale, Patrick. 1990. Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press.

Tessler, Mark. 2002. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Comparative Politics, Vol. 34. No. 3. 377-354.

Wilson, Rodney. 1995. Economic Development in the Middle East. Routledge.

Yom, Sean. 2011. Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East. Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford University. 121.

Index References

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Visions of Humanity. Institute for Economics and Peace. Australia.

Political Freedom Index. 2015. Economic Intelligence Unit. The Economist. London.

 

 

Salih, K.O. “Underlying Causes Of Violence In The Middle East.” Digest Of Middle East Studies 1 (2007): 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Vick, Karl, and Rami Nazzal. “Violence Beats Politics As A Third Intifadeh Looms In Israel.” Time 186.17 (2015): 9-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Hirst, David. The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East. Nation Books, 2003.