This chapter focuses on the internal challenges to stability in individual countries in the region from North Africa through Iran. For discussion of Arab-Israeli issues, see the chapter on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. For discussion of potential areas of conflict between Persian Gulf states, see the chapter on the Persian Gulf.
Many regimes in the Middle East and North Africa region will face troubled times owing to looming succession/transition-of-power crises and economic shortfalls resulting from flat revenues, burgeoning populations, and overspending. At the same time, they are confronting perhaps their most serious challenge yet from radicalized Muslims who are demanding political reform, greater economic justice, an end to foreign influence, and shelter from change. Most of the regimes are not yet at imminent risk of overthrow or of having to concede or share power with new parties or interest groups. Similarly, U.S. interests in the region are probably not at risk in the short term. However, the strategies of regional governments for coping with their Islamist and other critics could present problems for U.S. policies in the longer term, if the region's pro-U.S. ruling families lose their grip on power, economic conditions worsen, and opposition elements become better organized.
Although often perceived as chronically unstable and troubled, the governments of the Middle East have shown a remarkable stability and resiliency for several decades. Several heads of state in power in 1996 had been in power since the 1960s or earlier. Jordan's King Hussein has ruled since 1952, King Hassan of Morocco since 1961, and Oman's Sultan Qaboos since 1970, Syria's President Assad since 1971, Iraq's President Hussein since 1968. Sudan's government was toppled by a military coup in 1989, Qatar's by a family spat in 1995. But in the last 20 years, only Iran has experienced a revolution. Elections have regularly replaced governments in Israel, assassination has triggered political successions in Egypt and Israel, and ill health has forced the peaceful replacement of rulers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In most of these changes, the ruler was replaced but the system of government and, most often, the party remained in power.
The region experienced several major and minor wars--the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1956, 1967, and 1973; Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982; the rout of the Palestinians from Jordan in 1970; the eight-year-long war between Iran and Iraq; and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. None of these events toppled governments. In 1995, five years after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and four years after the first Oslo accord granted self-determination to the Palestinians, the region looked much the same as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the rulers first took power.
Islamist Trends in Middle East States (from Morocco to Eastern Border of Iran)
For many in the Middle East and North Africa--confused by the demands of change, uncertain of what the future may bring, and frustrated by military defeat--Islamic revivalism is providing both explanation and vindication. Islamic activists demanding reform are becoming increasingly vocal and influential forces in the region. It is not the religion that has suddenly become radical. Rather, a small but growing number of Muslims have become radicalized, have a political agenda, and claim to see in Islam justifications for their actions.
Islamic revivalism has been a recurring theme in Islamic history and politics. The current wave of reformers, like their eight-eenth- and nineteenth-century predecessors, demand an end to rule by corrupt, un-Islamic rulers, and a return to the purity of early Islam. Modern radicalized Islamists are motivated by several other factors:
In most countries of the Middle East and North Africa region, Islamic activists are becoming more outspoken in demanding government reform and more insistent that communities conform to Islamic standards of morality and politics. Activist Islam has two basic forms: a more moderate, nonviolent, accommodationist side that opts to work within the political system; and a more militant, extremist side that believes that the system must be destroyed and seeks confrontation with the regime through violence and terror. In Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, and Yemen, Islamic activists are trying to work within the political mainstream to shape the institutions of civil society, introduce Islamic law, and monitor government actions. Examples of more militant Islamist radicals, who believe terrorism and violence are their only recourse, include the Islamic Salvation Front and other extremist factions in Algeria, al-Gama`at al-Islamiyah and al-Jihad in Egypt, and elements of Hizballah in Lebanon. But the differences between the two kinds of Islamic activists are primarily tactical, not strategic.
Radical Islamist groups are not monolithic. Their agendas and actions are shaped by local events and situations, not by any impending clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington and other scholars have warned. Several trends are becoming increasingly evident:
Even if the region's radical Islamists accept peace with Israel, they will not accede to any resolution of the Jerusalem issue that leaves the city in Israeli hands. Some Arab Muslim governments--such as Saudi Arabia--have already said they cannot accept a final settlement without Jerusalem, while Islamic radicals could use their governments' failure to defend Islamic interests in Jerusalem to challenge the domestic credibility, legitimacy, and popularity of those regimes. The Islamists would accuse the regimes of following a U.S. diktat rather than serving Islamic interests, language intended to rouse popular passions against the rulers.
Over the next few years, radical Islamist groups could face growing internal strains caused by leadership rivalries, disagreements over tactics to be used in challenging or cooperating with the regime, reliance on foreign supporters, and response to the prospect of an end to state-sponsored opposition to Israel. Leaders of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front--most of whom are in prison or exile--have little control or influence over the militant elements fighting the civil war in Algeria or over the more moderate Islamists with whom the regime is willing to hold talks. Factions within Hizballah or the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in Egypt and Jordan could grow increasingly frustrated over the slow pace of reform or the lack of progress gained from twenty years of good behavior. The disagreements could also be more cosmetic than real, intended to divert attention away from clandestine operations.
Most governments are trying to rival the Islamists' popularity by adopting some of their political and humanitarian programs. Such good works include support for beleaguered Muslims in Bosnia, Kashmir, and Central Asia, and patronage of local religious institutions. As of 1996, money for arms and clinics is freely given, King Hassan built the largest mosque in the world in Rabat; King Hussein has sold personal assets to renovate the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem; Saddam Hussein has been lavishly refurbishing Shi'ah Muslim shrines in Karbala that his forces destroyed while suppressing the rebellion of 1991, and so forth. Few radical Islamists are won over by these charitable works or appearances of piety, and there is little impact on U.S. policy.
Most radicalized Islamists demand the elimination of U.S. influence and presence from the region. The demand is loudest in the case of Saudi Arabia, where opponents of the Al Saud criticize them for allowing foreign, non-Muslim forces on Arabian soil to protect the Muslim heartland. Though regimes may look for assurances of U.S. protection and presence as they perceive a growing threat against their rule from domestic forces, they may also separate themselves publicly from U.S. initiatives. They could refuse requests for expanded pre-positioning of military equipment and billeting of personnel, and deny greater access to military facilities or move U.S. forces to isolated areas to render them invisible. It is unlikely that they would refuse to participate in joint training exercises, but they are likely to become increasingly reluctant partners in burden sharing, i.e., paying the costs of U.S. deployment in the region.
In Iraq, U.S. Marines construct a refugee camp to house Kurdish refugees fleeting from a post-war Iraq.
The governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia apply draconian tactics in dealing with potential and real Islamist opponents. Those suspected of membership in or having sympathies for Islamist movements--be they moderate or militant--are watched closely, isolated from society by denial of jobs and housing, arrested, interrogated, tried in military courts rather than civilian ones, and condemned to exile, prison, or death. Police shoot-outs with terrorists often do not discriminate between the presumed innocent and the guilty. Violations of human rights and civil liberties are common, and U.S. protests are viewed by most governments as interference in their internal affairs.
Several pro-U.S. governments that allow elections, parliaments, and transparency in government are finding that unrestrained democracy can work against their self-interest. Algeria, which allowed elections and lost, is the example given by governments elsewhere trying to avoid the same mistake. Other tactics include banning political parties based on religious lines in most countries; canceling elections in Algeria; changing voting procedures and gerrymandering electoral districts with Islamist representatives in Jordan; arresting Muslim Brotherhood leaders before elections in Egypt, and changing elective municipal offices to appointive offices to avoid Islamists winning office, again in Egypt. The regimes see these actions as internal matters and assume they will have U.S. support because of shared security interests and treaty commitments. Islamists regard the U.S. government as hypocritical in not supporting their quest for traditional, basic American values of democracy, equality, and the application of constitutional safeguards. The United States asserts its right to meet with whomever it pleases but shies away from contacts with dissidents that might seriously disrupt relations with regimes that support U.S. policies.
Population Trends in Select Middle Eastern States
Source: World Population Growth and Aging, (University of Chicago Press, 1990) and World Population Projections (The World Bank, 1994).
In most Middle Eastern countries, the issue is not so much who will succeed--that has been determined by family or party consensus and in many countries follows long-established tribal traditions--but how successful the new leader will be in maintaining stability, deflecting Islamist critics, and balancing the interests of friends and foes. Succession does not always pass from father to son but it almost always reflects a delicate balance of family, sectarian, and military-civilian interests. There are two standard methods of succession: royal blood lines and republican sheikhs.
In most Middle Eastern societies, succession follows family lines. Traditionally, family councils determine through consensus who will rule. In Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, the designated successor, or crown prince, is a son or brother who, in general, supports the king's policies but lacks the charisma and popularity the king has enjoyed in the decades he has ruled. Jordan's King Hussein and Morocco's King Hassan have been able to balance various interest groups to maintain power, but their successors are perceived as weak and possibly unable to wield the strong hand necessary to keep oppositionists in line. The two kings have an additional and rare claim to political legitimacy that tends to disarm their political rivals--they are descended from the family of the Prophet Muhammad.
Military and party coups have determined succession in several Arab states, including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. To consolidate their rule, these leaders have portrayed themselves as presidents for life elected by mass votes (98 percent for Assad in a December 1991 referendum, 99.6 percent for Saddam in a 1995 election). Even Egypt, which has an elected parliament, turned out a 90 percent vote for President Mubarak. The leaders also cloak themselves in traditional forms of legitimacy--as nationalist figures, symbols of their country's religious and historic past, leaders of secular and Muslim causes, and defenders of the beleaguered Palestinians. Saddam Hussein, for example, portrays himself as a republican sheikh--as an elected president and a traditional tribal leader--as well as a descendant of the Prophet, an army general, and, after the occupation of Kuwait, as a hero of the Palestinian and Islamic causes.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Middle East region (from North Africa on east through Iran) performed as well or better than any other region of the world in income growth per capita, equality of income distribution, improvements in life expectancy, primary-school attendance, and literacy rates. These successes reflected high oil prices, small populations, and a less competitive world market. Many states could provide generous safety nets for their citizens.
Ethnic Map of the Middle East
Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa-be they oil rich or oil poor-face unprecedented austerity measures because of overspending, corruption, high birth and lowered death rates, and subsidies most governments can ill afford. In the late 1990s, economic downsizing will have a significant impact on countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, where pursuit of wealth has been the primary preoccupation and the current generation has known only privilege and economic security. The impact will hit even harder in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, which have large populations, mounting debt, and little or no resource base. In those countries, government is no longer able to be the employer and provider of last resort, foreign-aid packages are shrinking; and the oil-rich Arab states are reluctant to hire the nationals of these states or subsidize their fragile economies.
No government in the Middle East and North Africa is likely to be overthrown by radicalized Islamists within the next three to ten years, but all will have to deal with challenges to their rule from Islamist political opponents. Only one, Algeria, is at risk of civil war, but Bahrain, Egypt, and Turkey are all at increased risk of violence and demands for political reform from outspoken, radical Islamist factions. Jerusalem could prove the catalyst for violence by Muslims against their governments and against U.S. interests. The following provides an overview of flashpoints in the region.
Islamic radicals and the military-controlled government have been on a collision course since the government canceled the second round of elections in early 1992. The first round in December 1991 had been called by then president Chadli Bendjedid as an experiment in multiparty democracy. It culminated in a landslide victory for the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The military then forced Bendjedid to resign, canceled the results of the December election, and formed a five-man collective presidency to govern in Bendjedid's place. The cancellation--provoked out of fear of a second Islamist victory--triggered escalating violence in which Islamic radicals began targeting foreign workers as well as women, intellectuals, and government bureaucrats. The government declared a state of emergency in February 1992 that enhanced the powers of the security forces and in 1994 appointed Liamine Zeroual president. In more than four years of virtual civil war, more than fifty thousand civilians, militants, and military personnel have been killed. Neither the government nor the radical Islamists has been able to attract broad support among the Algerian population or deal a knockout blow to the other.
The Algerian military's goal is to eliminate the Islamic radicals, introduce economic reform, and use dialogue with tame Islamists to marginalize the FIS and other opposition parties. Zeroual was elected president in elections held in November 1995, in what the government described as a large turnout. This enhanced the government's legitimacy and reinforced the generals' commitment to eradicating the insurgents. Zeroual also offered to open dialogue with some Islamists--not the FIS--but there will probably be no concessions to the Islamists to broker peace, and the violence probably will continue. The larger than anticipated turn-out in the election, the militants' inability to disrupt it, and the opposition's failure to sway the voters almost certainly has strengthened the government's hand. While the United States has few assets in Algeria, U.S. facilities have been attacked twice and U.S. citizens are at risk from renewed terrorist attacks. U.S. forces could be in danger in assisting evacuation of U.S. and other foreign nationals from Algeria should the conflict widen.
Home to one of the oldest cultures in the Middle East, Bahrain is also one of the first to become oil-poor and one of the few to face open, hostile political confrontation with an increasingly radicalized and vociferous opposition. Bahrain's woes are those of the region in microcosm. A small, resource-poor country, Bahrain lives primarily on declining revenues from an oil refinery, Saudi largesse, and service industries. Its ailing but tolerant ruler, Amir Isa, has enjoyed widespread support from the Sunni and Shi'ah communities in the thirty-five years he has ruled. Isa governs in consultation with family members--particularly his brother, Prime Minister Khalifa, his son and designated successor, Crown Prince Hamad, and a small Cabinet, which has Sunni and Shi'ah representation. Political parties are prohibited, and Islamic law is a source rather than the source of law. Bahrain permits the consumption of alcohol and a relaxed style of Western dress not tolerated in neighboring Saudi Arabia; it also allows Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and Bahai communities to practice their religion openly.
Poor by Persian Gulf standards, Bahrain has an economy many countries would envy. Per capita GDP in 1994 was $7,500 a year, GNP was $4.1 billion, and average life expectancy is about seventy years. The official unemployment rate is 15 percent, but the rate probably approaches 30 percent in Shi'ah villages. Bahrain's Shi'ahs generally hold lower-paying jobs and are the last hired, first fired. The annual population growth rate is 2.8 percent, low for the region, but the rate is higher among Shi'ah families than Sunnis, and new job creation cannot keep pace with new job seekers entering the market.
Manama is under increasing pressure from radical Islamists seeking an end to years of economic and political discrimination. The Islamists come mostly from the tiny country's Shi'ah community, nearly 70 percent of the population. Joined by Sunni activists, these Islamists demand jobs, government accountability, and a return to the short-lived national assembly convened in 1973 and closed two years later because of its allegedly disruptive behavior and Saudi pressure. One anti-regime Islamist faction--the Bahrain Freedom Movement--claims loyalty to the Amir but wants reforms and the opportunity to work within the system; another faction--the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain--was responsible for an aborted coup attempt in 1981 and is depicted by observers as more militant and revolutionary; its leaders are in exile in Iran or London.
Troubles began after the end of the Gulf War. In 1992, three hundred prominent Bahrainis, including Sunni and Shi'ah clerics, signed a petition calling for the restoration of the constitution and parliamentary rule. The government responded by creating a new appointive, consultative council of thirty members, half Sunni and half Shi'ah. A second petition two years later called for political reform and the return of political exiles. Since 1994, there has been recurrent unrest, including street demonstrations, bombings of luxury hotels used by foreigners, and arson fires. In January 1996, the government arrested a prominent Shi'ah cleric and several hundred supporters for allegedly plotting to destabilize the regime.
Manama's reaction to its troubles has been to blame Iran and to arrest, deport, and imprison oppositionists; in one case, an opponent was executed for killing a policeman. These activities serve only to arouse more anger and anti-regime demonstrations. Isa's death and Hamad's succession could fuel renewed unrest among Bahrain's activists, for many Shi'ahs view the prince with suspicion, seeing him as anti-reform and anti-Shi'ah.
Bahrain is homeport to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, with between five and six hundred military and civilian personnel on shore and extensive facilities for military and civilian use. U.S. interests have not been directly threatened by terrorist attack yet, but hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners have been bombed and U.S. personnel could become targets for Islamist extremists determined to drive a wedge between the government and its most visible backer.
Radical Islam is the most serious political challenge facing President Husni Mubarak, but even if he were assassinated by Islamist militants, as was Anwar Sadat, radical Islamists are unlikely to displace the government. Egypt's problems are long term and systemic: leaders tainted with charges of corruption and unhappy with Egypt's diminished leadership role in the region, bureaucratic inertia that inhibits the emergence of new leaders and immobilizes any efforts to reform, an uncertain succession, an unemployment rate of above 20 percent (mostly among the young), and massive debt and inflation. The public sector produces more than half of the country's GDP, and the government traditionally has been the largest employer, guaranteeing until recently free education, housing, and medical care. The military's primary function is employment and production. Egypt has repeatedly failed to implement reforms promised to the International Monetary Fund, primarily because it fears a recurrence of the 1978 bread riots if it tries to eliminate a basic, popular subsidy.
Kurdish refugees struggle to survive in camp sites along the Turkey-Iraq border, 1991.
Cairo has declared war on its Islamists, be they the more pacific Muslim Brotherhood or the avowedly terrorist Gama`at. The government makes no distinction between the two and claims that all Islamists are in league with the Gama`at and Jihad groups and support terrorism. Egypt bans political parties based on religion and, prior to elections held in early 1996, conducted security sweeps and arrests of Brotherhood leaders, including prominent politicians, to neutralize their influence. There is probably little risk to U.S. military interests in Egypt although Cairo may be less willing to support U.S. policy interests. Mubarak's efforts to reassert a leadership role following the election of the Likud government in Israel in May were intended to boost his regime's Islamic legitimacy as well as its pan Arab credentials. In June, Cairo hosted the first Pan Arab summit since 1990 to try to create a common Arab strategy to deal with the Netanyahu government's opposition to continuing the peace process.
For the first time since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk seized power in the 1920s, Turkey in 1996 was ruled by a religious party acting in coalition with a secular political faction. Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, secularized government and politics by declaring a republic, separating the religious institution from government, and banning many vestiges of Islamicized rule, including the Arabic alphabet, the chadour for women, and the fez for men. The 1996 coalition raised key questions for the old-style nationalists in the government and the military, who have traditionally looked West for their models, and Islamist supporters of the new government, who call for Turkey to look East to a more Islamicized network of diplomatic and economic relationships.
The change came relatively peacefully, following several elections in which the Islamist Refah (welfare) Party won larger margins of the vote and key mayoralty elections, and after repeated failed attempts by secular political leaders to form a government. In the summer of 1996, after six months of political paralysis, a coalition government led by Refah Party leader Necmettin Erbakan and former Prime Minister and True Path Party head Tansu Ciller received a vote of confidence from the parliament in Ankara. The long delay in the successful formation of a government was due not just to efforts to exclude the Islamists but was also in large part due to deeply-rooted rivalries among the two larger conservative secular political parties--Motherland and the True Path--and personal animosities between party leaders. Refah Party leader Erbakan served in two previous governments in the 1970s, a period of instability and upheaval in Turkey. The governments were usually led by left-leaning regimes which created the conditions leading up to a coup by the Turkish military in 1980. The Turkish military, one of the most daunting and respected institutions in the country, is regarded by its leaders and much of the public as the guardian of Ataturk's brand of secularism. Turkey's generals have not hesitated to move forcefully in a crisis that they believe threatens the nation's security interests, but they are aware of accusations in the West and inside Turkey where they have been too willing to intervene in domestic politics.
1996 Turkish elections.
Besides the question of the role of Islam in political life, the other major issue facing Turkey is the treatment of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Ankara has been battling an insurgency movement, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), for many years. Not all of Turkey's Kurdish population supports the PKK, but sympathy for the plight of the Kurds has increased abroad because of Turkish repression and polarized public opinion at home. Because of the ongoing Kurdish insurgency, in 1996 much of southeastern Turkey remained under martial law imposed after the 1980 military coup.
These changes in Turkey's internal politics have raised questions about its stability and fueled an already heated debate over whether Turkey should be allowed to join the European Union (EU) as a full member. Many Turkey-watchers in Europe and in the EU have concluded that the growing pro-Refah vote and the continuing aggressive actions of the Turkish military in the country's southeast (where the Kurdish population and the PKK is concentrated) signal a return to Ottoman-like policies of imperial control and repression which characterized Turkish geopolitics for several hundred years.
The fragility of the Turkish political system comes at the same time Turkey is making its transition from Cold War ally of the West to New World Order buffer state and when political transition in Central Asia is raising new opportunities to expand Turkish national influence. The convergence poses a unique set of problems for the United States which depends on Turkish cooperation to monitor northern Iraq and not to upset Russia. The potential for conflict at this key geopolitical crossroads--where three continents meet and several countries' national interests clash--is high and could indirectly affect U.S. strategic interests in the region.
U.S.-Turkish relations have been strained over the years by several other crises which have drawn congressional ire and made it difficult for the U.S. to unconditionally support Ankara. These controversial actions include the 1974 invasion of Cyprus and occupation of the northern part of the island by 30,000 Turkish troops, discussed in the chapter on Europe; the rising crescendo of protest against Turkish human rights abuses; and a stubborn refusal by Turkish politicians to address the Kurdish issue except by military means.
The Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat faces continuing challenges from radical Islamists. Hamas, which is dedicated to creating an Islamic state in all of original Palestine, has strong support from disgruntled elements in the Palestinian community, although its support in 1996 was much lower than in the period before the signing of the Oslo accords. The degree to which this support expands depends on the perception of immediate dividends from the peace process, such as economic prosperity, movement toward Palestinian statehood, and withdrawal of Israeli security forces. Bleak economic prospects, lack of education and job skills, the failure of secular leaders to improve living conditions, and a perceived loss of dignity as a result of an oppressive political situation--conditions that have bred radicalized Islam in other countries--accelerate the rate of drift.
The Dome of the Rock Mosque and Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.
As discussed in the chapter on terrorism, Hamas has an ability to disrupt the peace process. It claimed responsibility for many of the acts of terrorism which rocked Israel in early 1996, contributing to the June 1996 electoral defeat of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres by the more hardline Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
A particular stumbling block on the road to peace could be the fate of Jerusalem. The Palestinian objections are based primarily on nationalism, rather than religion: they claim Jerusalem as their capital. However, suspicions are strong among the Palestinian community that Israel seeks to undermine Islamic control over the holiest place, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (from which they believe Mohammed ascended to heaven) and to Jews as the Temple Mount (the site of the two temples described in the Bible). Such suspicions can lead to explosive violence, as seen in September 1996 when an Israeli action near the Haram (the opening of a door out of a tunnel) was the spark that ignited smoldering anger into violence that killed more than 50 people in three days of riots.
Furthermore, some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia take an intense religious interest in the issue of Jerusalem. Many devout Muslims, as well as radical Islamists, believe that no one has the right to barter away Muslim rights to the holy city nor to accept non-Muslim rule over it. Jerusalem's sacredness for Muslims--its Arabic name, Al Quds, means Holy--makes it a political issue for Muslims of all nationalities. When an arson fire hit Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque in 1969, Muslim countries responded by founding the forty-seven member Islamic Conference Organization (ICO). Jordan's King Hussein, whose forebears ruled over Mecca and Medina, sees as a matter of personal prestige and political legitimacy his long-standing guardianship of Jerusalem's Muslim holy spots.
The years from 1996 to 2005 are likely to be a critical period for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. All have burgeoning populations and growth rates which will threaten to eliminate the modest economic growth gains of many countries. Most will have static economies tied to a flat oil market or shrinking expatriate remittances. Some governments will confront troubling problems of succession. Perhaps the most important and potentially destabilizing factor will be radicalized or politicized Islam--the use of religion by disgruntled Muslims as vocabulary and ideology to frame an agenda for political action. Islamic activism, either in its moderate accommodationist for which seeks to work within the system, or in its more extreme, militant version which uses terror and violence, will likely remain the primary voice of political opposition in the region in this period.
As noted in the chapter on the Persian Gulf, U.S. interests in the Middle East are defined as securing unimpeded access to a relatively cheap and dependable source of energy, primarily oil, and maintaining open and safe lines of communication, mainly sea lanes, the Suez Canal, and the Straits of Hormuz.
The U.S. is in a highly competitive race with European and Asian countries for increased access to lucrative local markets for expanded trade and business investment opportunities and arms sales. Russia is part of this equation although not with the same competitive or ideological edge as the Soviet Union could muster during the Cold War. Moscow has been supplanted by other suppliers eager to do business in weapons, nuclear energy, and other dual purpose industrial technologies. The stakes are high, with Russia, China and other countries offering cheap arms packages and European governments bidding for sales of advanced technology, arms sales, and the training and support packages that enrich long after the equipment is delivered.
As noted in the chapter on the Arab-Israeli situation, support for an end to the state of war between the Arab states and Israel and for successful conclusion of the peace negotiations has been high on the agendas of the U.S. presidents for decades.
The U.S. has an interest in isolating regional governments which support international terrorism, threaten regional stability, and pursue destabilizing weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. objective is to force these governments to modify their unacceptable behavior or, absent that, to weaken their ability to cause mischief.
U.S. strategies toward the Middle East are expressed in a number of policies, including those that support the peace process, advocate democracy and human rights, and seek to enforce international sanctions. These policies include trade sanctions on states supporting international terrorism (Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen); sanctions on Libya because of the Pan Am flight 103 air crash and its refusal to comply with UN resolutions; and dual containment of Iraq and Iran to prevent both from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or participating in international trade unless they foreswear specified actions.
The United States does not have a specific policy on Islam or Islamic activists as apolitical force. Senior administration officials have issued statements over the past several years that the United States respects Islam as one of the world's major religions but deplores extremists who used the religion as a cover to justify acts of violence against their governments and the United States. In countries where the central government is at virtual war with internal Islamist opponents--Algeria for example--the United States has discreetly raised the issue of broadening popular participation and has maintained its right to meet with nonviolent Islamist politicians.
The challenges that the coming decade poses for regional regimes--economic downturns, transitions to new political leaders, and social critics wary of internal as well as external threats--will raise potentially disturbing questions for U.S. policymakers. Some of the issues will be especially difficult for those concerned with the possibility of renewed aggression from Iraq or Iran and involved in helping the regional states develop their own strategic defense. Urging purchase of expensive weapons and seeking donations to fund a wide range of U.S. interests at the same time regimes are taking measures to cutback expenditures on the domestic economy (including popular subsidies) overwhelms the regimes. It also raises questions among their domestic opponents of the regime's ability to provide for the well-being of the country. The U.S. is looking at ways to improve communications with both the regions' rulers and ruled, to emphasize the temporary nature of troop deployment, and to coordinate its military needs with competing civilian demands on local governments and local populations' tolerance for U.S. influence and protection.
Also at issue for the U.S. is the size of force structure, prepositioning of equipment, purchase, of U.S. arms packages, number and size of joint military exercises, and responsibility sharing. High-visibility joint exercises and the appearance of a U.S. presence play an important role for the U.S. military in deterring external aggression. But, increasingly, this high U.S. footprint makes U.S. forces and facilities a terrorist's target of opportunity and raises the pressure on regimes not to cooperate with U.S. policy objectives in the region. Furthermore, the problems for U.S. forces could grow if regimes in the Middle East handle badly the threats to their legitimacy and authority from Islamist movements. The risks come not just from terrorists determined to raise the stakes in challenging their governments. It will also come increasingly from politicians committed to an Islamist agenda which calls for the elimination of foreign forces and the redefinition of national security interests to forge alignments with Islamic, not Western, governments.
It is difficult to envisage circumstances under which substantial U.S. forces would be used to respond to the internal problems of troubled Middle East and North African states. Perhaps a few U.S. forces might be involved in monitoring an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, though even that seems unlikely. In each country, large-scale U.S. military involvement in response to domestic political turmoil would be counterproductive; it would inflame nationalist opposition, driving secular nationalists to unite with radical religious extremists. In countries where U.S. forces are present to defend against external aggression, the U.S. will seek to keep its military isolated from domestic political problems. The most likely roles for the U.S. military in the troubled Middle East states is in non-combatant evacuations and possibly limited peacekeeping operations.