Foreign Interventions in a Violent Search for a Democratic Middle East

Witnessing what has been going on in at least the last 65 years, it is no surprise that the world seems to think that the Middle East is somehow a lost case of prolonged conflicts and political quarrel. It is as if the Middle Eastern nations were on the brink of failing. And they were. While the instabilities might have been triggered by plenty of reasons, one of the most principal and systemic problem many Middle Eastern nations experience is the authoritarian governance as seen in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and many others. Recent events have shown that the Middle Eastern people do not hope for the authoritarian regimes they live under to last forever at all; indicating a quest for democracy through democratization that Francis Fukuyama (Roberts 2008) once said as the ultimate form of human government. This leads well to the question that this paper is trying to address: how have foreign forces intervened the process of democratization and its aftermath in the Middle East?

(Image Source: The Jerusalem Post)

In the wake of the Arab Spring phenomenon—originated in Tunisia with its people pleading for president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to end his authoritarian regime followed by the same case in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria (Hamid 2011)—that has caught international attention, everyone has to refine their assessment towards how democracy and democratization in the Middle East can and may be performed.

What has been happening since January 2011 shall not be seen as merely another case of third-world struggle. It is instead a notably important events that might affect the way people see how important democracy is and how democratization can be both violent and nonviolent, especially in the Middle East. Even the nonconservatives (Hamid 2011) have admitted that the democratization might happen for generations for the Middle East, despite their traditional standing that opposes the notion of democratic revolution.

Understanding the democratization in the Middle East can not be done by studying the patterns of such events elsewhere. While it usually emerges as the aftermath of chronic political failure or failing economics, the Middle East does not necessarily align with this generalization as a whole. While the governments may appear to be authoritarian, the Arab Spring-affected nations have been known for their tendency toward democratic culture, which is more of an impossible mission to accomplish.

The involvement of foreign nations as well have affected democratization in the Middle East. The United States, for instance, has been significantly involved in various acts of “democratization“ for the past decade, even more after the September 11 tragedy occured back in 2001. By 2009, the level of annual US democracy aid in the Middle East was more than the total amount spent between 1991 to 2001 (Hamid 2011).

While the United States prefer to call their assistance as democracy aid, it is not necessarily meant to promote democracy in all the good ways. Their democracy aid has been known as demanding in a way that the nations where they are involved in the democratization process are then left with a new government that seems to be a potential allies for the US in the Middle East, often dubbed as the “puppet government.“

To put it based on the evidence found along the way, democratization in the Middle East can be seen both defensive but managed at the same time. Instead of establishing democracy, the process of democratization—with foreign forces like the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) armies involved—somehow appear to rather prevent democracy from taking control than to legitimize its emergence.

(Image Source: Martin Kramer)

How I came to such manner of thinking might be seen as circumstantial but can be rational at the same time. At the early stage, democratization in the Middle East is initiated by the lower to middle class of the society. At the second stage, the urge of establishing democracy clashes with the reigning authoritarian—if not dictatorial—that wish to keep their power for probably decades or even centuries. At the final stage, how the process went define what the result will be. In some cases, people revolution has prevailed, as seen in Tunisia and Egypt. In other cases, the government managed to contain the revolution and gain even more power than before the idea of democratization was unveiled.

Along the way during these three stages of democratization, several external factors play the role of interference. Foreign interventions are one of the most common extra actors, as seen in the involvement of NATO armies in Libya. But sometimes it happen to be more subtle, through the power of media and propaganda, for once, in a form of embedded journalism or even partial news making, prompting false assumptions to be made by the spectators all around the world.


For foreign forces to interfere in the Middle East democratization has always been explained and elaborated as merely a mission of humanity for democracy and freedom out of concern and the dream to establish a perfect democratic world. But that is not the real case at all. Not even remotely. At least not in all cases.

(Image Source: Norwegian Regjeringen)

The United States, as the power player with a long history of intervention in the Middle East region, may often be seen as a very generous nation with a big concern for the whole world to be freed from any forms of restrictions through democratization. The truth is that by being involved in the process, the United States—sometimes joined by its allies—gain much more power along the way on their involvement. In certain cases, it is even possible for them to be in control of deciding who should be governing and how the newborn democracy in the Middle Eastern nations should be run, thus putting them as an invisible power that simply takes down the authoritarian government to then replace it with a “democracy puppet” while they are the ones that call shot and make decisions for the wounded nations. In other words, democratization in the Middle East can be used by foreign nations—most of which happen to be the United States and/or its allies—as a deception to gain control over the region and possibly over its resources and fortune.■



Hamid, Shadi (2011) The Struggle for Middle East Democracy: Why the Arab Street Finally Revolted. The Cairo Review of Global Affairs [Accessed 10/03/2013].

Roberts, Alasdair S. (2008) Empowerment or Discipline? Two Logics of Governmental Reform. Social Science Research Network [Accessed 22/04/2013].


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