The Sick Middle East; Geographic and Cultural Woes Combine in a Region That Defies Improvement

By Pipes, Daniel | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Sick Middle East; Geographic and Cultural Woes Combine in a Region That Defies Improvement


Pipes, Daniel, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Daniel Pipes, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The recent fall of Fallujah to an al Qaeda-linked group provides an unwelcome reminder of the American resources and lives devoted from 2004 to 2007 to control the city - all that effort expended and nothing to show for it. Similarly, outlays of hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize Afghanistan did not stop its reversion to public stoning as a punishment for adultery.

These two examples point to a larger conclusion: Maladies run so deep in the Middle East (minus remarkable Israel) that outside powers cannot remedy them. Here's a fast summary:

Water is running out. A dam going up on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia threatens to substantially cut Egypt's main water supply by devastating amounts for years. Syria and Iraq suffer from water crises because the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are drying up. The narcotic qat plant absorbs so much of Yemen's limited water supplies that Sana'a may be the first modern capital city to be abandoned because of drought. Crazy wheat-growing schemes in Saudi Arabia depleted aquifers.

On the flip side, the poorly constructed Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse, drowning half a million immediately and then leave many more stranded without electricity or food. Sewage runs rampant in Gaza. Many countries suffer from electrical blackouts, especially in the oppressive summer heat that routinely reaches 120 degrees.

People are also running out. After experiencing a huge and disruptive youth bulge, the region's birthrate is collapsing. Iran, for example, has undergone the steepest population decline of any country ever recorded, going from 6.6 births per woman in 1977 to 1.6 births in 2012, thus creating what one analyst calls an apocalyptic panic, fueling government aggression.

Poor schools, repressive governments and archaic social mores ensure abysmal rates of economic growth. Starvation haunts Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Vast reserves of oil and gas have distorted nearly every aspect of life. Miniature medieval-style monarchies such as Qatar become surreal world powers playing at war in Libya and Syria, indifferent to the lives they break, as a vast underclass of oppressed foreign workers toils away and a princess deploys the largest budget for art purchases in human history. The privileged can indulge their cruel impulses, protected by connections and money. Sex tourism flourishes in poor countries such as India.

Efforts at democracy and political participation either wither, as in Egypt, or elevate fanatics, who intelligently disguise their purposes, as in Turkey. Efforts to overthrow greedy tyrants lead either to yet-worse ideological tyrants (as in Iran in 1979) or to anarchy (as in Libya and Yemen). …

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