Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Place your bets

It's interesting to contrast the always amusing Religious Policeman with this recent post by Michael Young (sadly Lee Smith has not written for Slate in ages). The Policeman, a Saudi native, now lives in London and says
Let me see if I've got this right. You see, I live in a country where everything is based on the Koran, it's ruled more by Imams and Religious Policemen than by the nominal "King"; to see what that means in practice, just keep on reading this blog to find out. To the south is Yemen, where the standard fashion accessory is the AK47, and it makes the Wild West look like the Regency Tea Rooms in Bath, England. To the east is a collection of minor Sheikdoms that are relatively liberal, but too small to have any influence. Further east we've got Pakistan that is only prevented from becoming an Islamic Republic by the will-power of its lonely President, and Afghanistan, say no more. To the north-east we've got Iran, with a new super-conservative-Muslim President who's going to make his own nuclear weapon, which he'll no doubt call "Allah's Bomb".
By contrast, Young points out
On Monday, Iraq agreed on a draft constitution dividing the country's regions along sectarian and ethnic lines. While there is a chance it will be amended, it seems almost certain that federalism will be enshrined in the final document. If this is confirmed, many Middle Eastern states with similarly multicommunal or multiethnic social structures will recoil in horror. Having long suffocated their own parochial tendencies through authoritarianism, they must now consider what the new reality in Iraq means for them.

Boxed in by ideological absolutes, the Arab world has developed few practical means, other than repression, to address its divisions. As primary loyalties have gained the upper hand, Iraq's impact on the region can only grow. Even Lebanon, which alone in the Middle East adopted a weak state structure to favor the religious communities, will not be spared turbulence, as Sunnis and Shiites compete over the post-Syrian order. Nor will Syria, where a minority Alawite regime rules over a Sunni majority and over disgruntled Kurds who look longingly toward their brethren in Iraq. Nor will Saudi Arabia, where minority Shiites, concentrated in the oil-rich eastern province near the Iraqi border, remain second-class citizens; nor will Bahrain, where a Sunni regime controls a discontented Shiite majority

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