The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

SOCIAL REFORM : FACTOR X
The Search for an Islamic Democracy

by SIR HAMILTON A. R. GIBB


I

THE 'EASTERN QUESTION' of today differs profoundly from the 'Eastern Question' of the nineteenth century. Then, the Concert of Europe, jealous competitors, stood around the death-bed of the irremediably disintegrating Ottoman Empire, disputing its ultimate inheritance. Today the Western Powers seek to promote the stability and cohesion of ten resurgent sovereign states, with a fringe of colonial or semi-colonial fragments, and to find a basis for their integration. Yet repeated eruptions and revolutions show that 'The Question' remains, and even grows in perplexity.

Since these manifestations are usually linked with foreign policy, political issues might seem to be the dominant factors. Political factors are real enough, especially the issues of foreign controls and the State of Israel; yet there is a growing perception that they alone cannot explain the region's volcanic instability. The other factors, in prevailing Western opinion, are economic, and the most urgent question is seen as helping these 'under-developed' countries to build new and efficient economic structures. Certainly the economic factors are crucial -- and in Egypt, at least, frighteningly complex. But the internal causes of unrest can no more be cured by economic gadgets -- even of such size as the High Dam on the Nile or a Jordan Valley Authority -- than by a few clever political adjustments. Economic development may help if integrated with social development; but if it cuts across deep-seated social forces it may even intensify the inner instability.

-3-

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