Bangalore International Centre had arranged a Talk on “Beyond the Arab Democratic Wave: The Future of the Middle East” by Prof. Mohammed Ayoob, Professor, Michigan State University, on Wednesday, 17th August, 2011 at 6:30 pm. The Event was moderated by Mr. A.P. Venkateswaran, IFS (Retd), Former Foreign Secretary, Govt. of India.
In a lucid and exposition of the upsurge which is taking place in the Middle East, Prof. Ayoob highlighted the strategic importance of the area, which he preferred to call West Asia and North African region, with a huge concentration of energy resources. Apart from the natural interest of the Western powers to control or influence the sources of petroleum products and natural gas, there is the historical and strategic need to support and strengthen Israel against its Arab neighbors. The West Asian countries, barring Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordon, Lebanon and Morocco (i.e. those who are friendly to USA), have also been consistently suspicious of the real intentions and designs of the erstwhile Western imperialistic powers and USA and have refused to alter their stance even after the collapse of USSR, which was historically the alternative power bloc.
Therefore, the upsurge against authoritarian and autocratic regimes in West Asia have not necessarily led to a pro-western wave, even though the Western powers have lent strong support to what they consider to be democratic upsurges which should inevitably lead to a Western model of democracy. It is undoubtedly true that there has been a democracy-deficit in most of the countries where most of the upsurges have taken place. However, in almost all the places the authoritarian regimes have fallen due to the overwhelming support extended to the movements by the armed forces which continue to wield all power, both political and economic. As a result, the change in regime has not really transferred power to democratic forces. Another interesting development has been the emerging religio-political power-centres in several countries where the nationalistic interests and coalition compulsions have led to moderation of extreme points of view. According to Prof. Ayoob, the two leading players in West Asia would be Iran and Turkey who would influence the pattern and direction of political development in many countries. The turmoil in the Arab World is being keenly watched in the Western countries who are interested in having effective counterpoints against Iran. Prof. Ayoob’s prognosis was that sooner or later Ankara and Tehran would get closer to each other and provide a regional secutiry cover which other West Asian countries are looking at. His advice to India’s policy-makers: get closer to Iran and Turkey.
The interactive session in which Prof. Ayoob responded to several incisive questions brought our clearly his depth of knowledge and understanding of the region. Truly, an enlightening evening for all those who attended the talk.