The ongoing unrest in the Middle East, including the Arab Spring movement, are at the core civil rights movements where the people are fighting to become citizens with certain basic human rights, according to Bloustein professor Hooshang Amirahmadi in his hour-long presentation “The Middle East in Transition: Prospects for Democratic Change and Implications for U.S. Policy” on Monday, November 19.
Amirahmadi’s new book, The Political Economy of Iran Under the Qajars: Society, Politics, Economics and Foreign Relations 1796-1926, discusses how Iran’s modern-day challenges stem from both internal and international factors that occurred in the country’s past. In his presentation, he compared the current, ongoing movements in the Middle East with similar movements in Iran’s past.
Historically, he noted, movements in the Middle East have been driven by three things: repeated foreign domination, domestic dictatorships, and the humiliation of being forcibly “put down” by either foreign or domestic leaders. He explained that much of the Arab world has never been able to develop a sense of independence or nationalism for their own countries because they were servants under a colonial power, or dominated by a domestic dictator.
In developing a foreign policy for the Middle East, the U.S. must understand that the current movements in the Middle East are real and are against foreign domination, said Amirahmadi. Ending hostilities by removing foreign military domination would give the people opportunities for good education, as well as political and economic power to help them succeed. In addition, the U.S. must understand that the Arab world has suffered tremendously under military force and must work to end the hostilities, in particular between the Arabs and Israelis. U.S. must also come to realize that encouraging trade and diplomacy has historically been shown to work toward destabilizing the power of a dictator-controlled nation.
“There is absolutely no country in the world that has ever become democratic in the absence of diplomatic ties with the United States of America. That does not mean that having diplomatic relations with the U.S. makes these countries democratic; what it really suggests is, having diplomatic relations with the U.S. is a necessity condition even if it is not a sufficient condition,” he concluded. “The U.S. has to put forth every effort it can to become a good, neutral peace broker in the Middle East, and also come to understand that isolating dictators by imposing sanctions is not a good idea. As I always say, trade and diplomacy melts dictators. By working with dictators, you destroy their power.”