British Scholars See Democracy as Answer to Middle East Crises

By Alexander MacLeod, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1990 | Go to article overview

British Scholars See Democracy as Answer to Middle East Crises


Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IRAQ'S seizure of Kuwait is part of a larger, potentially much more dangerous Middle East challenge that the West will ignore at its peril: the need to replace autocracy with democratic institutions.

That is the view of William Gutteridge, executive director of the London-based Institute for the Study of Conflict. Professor Gutteridge is one of several British authorities on regional security who believe the latest Gulf emergency has exposed the West's failure to tackle the causes of political instability in a region that accounts for two-thirds of world oil reserves.

"We have been too ready to place our faith in regimes which do not rule with the active consent of their own people," Gutteridge says. "Also, we have been too slow to spot the early rise of dictators, such as Saddam Hussein, who are not in the least interested in democracy and, by their methods, turn the Middle East into a dangerous and unpredictable place."

As a result, every time there is a crisis, the West was unprepared for it, Gutteridge says.

His view that a "democratic deficit" in Gulf countries undermines their capacity to withstand political shocks and puts Western interests at risk is supported by Amir Taheri, Iranian-born author of "The Cauldron," a highly regarded recent study of Middle East politics.

According to Mr. Taheri, Saddam Hussein's violent annexation of Kuwait is a reminder of the haphazard way in which the Western powers redrew the political map of the Middle East before and after World War II: "What we have in the Gulf are states which are not yet nations, led by rulers made so rich by oil revenues that they see no need for the consent of the governed.

A few years ago nobody could have claimed that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait - were capable of becoming democratic, "but now they all have their own Western-educated middle classes. That means there is a credible basis on which to build democracy," Taheri says. …

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