The Middle East Looks East – OpEd


By Fawaz H. Alfawaz

Historically, when the British classicist Ian Morris told us in his Social Development that the Middle East is civilization-ally part of the Occident, he was rightly criticized by many academics and pundits.

He talks in terms of thousands of years to measure and assess how civilizations move, change, and take turns.

As one contemplates the current events sweeping the region, and the profoundly different set of issues confronting the Western countries that are markedly different from the Middle Eastern countries, the analogy with countries of the Orient becomes more pertinent.

The three large Middle Eastern countries that have historically been more like nation states are Turkey, Egypt, and Iran. If one is to review their more recent development paths and political tendencies one is left with the following parallel development that is more aptly comparable to the Orient more than the Occident.

Turkey is moving in the direction of South Korea, a modality where economic development is of prime importance in spite of the outpouring of political statements and even positioning in the countdown to a new pecking order of the new Middle East, particularly in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring.

Egypt is seemingly moving in the same direction as Pakistan, where the primacy is for the military in the economic sphere coupled with a semi dysfunctional democratic system. The military perks and share of the national pie will be jealously guarded at the expense of open market economy and clearer lines of authority within society at large. The primacy of the military will be explained by the holy purpose of protecting the national interest.

Iran on the other hand is moving in the direction of North Korea as an ideologically built superstructure that finds itself in a fight for the ghosts of past glories and a present gone bad. The whole marks of this system are a statist economy, if not an outright socialist and self-imposed isolationist political state on the back of foreign misadventures as exemplified by the alleged attempt on the Saudi ambassador.

The bad news are that these countries have had their love-hate relationships with the Occident where they fared differently with the relationship for multiple reasons, among them the choices taken by their elites and the voracity of foreign interventions at times, and maybe a host of factors that are difficult to tabulate let alone assess.

Tentatively, Turkey stands out until it moves to the next level in economic development where climbing the economic and innovation ladder is more complex and demanding. For the other two it is very difficult to be optimistic as they grapple with state failure.

In the recent past many in the Middle East looked to the oriental countries for inspiration if not for emulation. Little do we know that the analogy is starting to ensue almost by default rather than by the conscious desire to emulate the better examples, particularly for Iran and Egypt.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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