Why US, Europe need more coordinated approach to Middle East, Muslim world
In the Middle East, everything is connected. It's hard to you solve a problem in one country without solving a similar problem in the country next door.Skip to next paragraph
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That's why the futures of Iran, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories are so important to consider.
The people of Iran, Turkey and the Palestinian territories are at different stages of democracy. Each faces different challenges in becoming a full democracy. These three strategic Muslim nations and areas can either fall back into full autocracy or move forward toward a more open, mature government. And make no mistake: whatever change happens to one is likely to be echoed in surrounding countries.
Iran's political regime seems unlikely to change soon, now that the price of oil is so high. The state runs lucrative business projects and keeps opponents from participating. But young Iranians, two-thirds of the population, are educated and are likely to grab power from a theocratic government that is spiritual on the surface, but materialistic underneath.
Ashin Molavi speculates in the November 2004 issue of "Foreign Affairs," that "Given the long-term facts of Iran's demography, dramatic changes are inevitable at some point in the not too distant future, despite the present public apathy." He also adds that the current regime maintains 'legitimacy' through bribery and coopting of local politicians with oil money.
Iran is key to any spread of democracy in the Middle East because it commands respect in the region. Iran's current president and the previous parliament were elected in a free electoral process. But the makeup of the present parliament has been heavily influenced by the religious authorities, who, under an Islamic constitution, wield enormous power.
Observers note that the overwhelming majority of Iranians desire political modernity. Realizing the potential for political change, France, Germany, and Britain have patiently established rapport with Iran. The Europeans anticipate the time when the theocracy will go bankrupt morally and politically. Partnership with Europe is likely to infuse Iranian society with ideological change, such as equality for women and cultural freedoms.
What may be missing for a peaceful revolution to occur is a charismatic leader who would galvanize the people to inist on reform. A peaceful revolution that will discredit the ruling mullahs in Iran would have tremendous regional impact. It would be a demonstration of positive evolution in Islamic democracy.
To succeed, the new regime would have to be culturally sensitive to Iranian traditional values, but not literal, robotic, or fanatic. Even today, Iran has strong influence on Iraq through the Shiite community. Iran also influences Syria, Lebanon, and some Gulf emirates with Shiite minorities.
Turkey's record on democracy is deeper than Iran's.
Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey in the early decades of the 20th century, changed the basic fabric of society by prodding it toward modernity. As a result, a century later, Turkey's government is freely elected. Although the leading party won the election on an Islamic platform, the ruling regime is moderate, sensible, and aspires to join the European Union.