CUMALİ ÖNAL

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CUMALİ ÖNAL
January 15, 2012, Sunday

Leader wanted for Middle East, now!

Albeit slowly, the era of dictatorships is coming to an end in the Middle East. So far, three dictators have been officially removed from power.

Yemen is waiting for presidential elections, to be held in February, to do the same. It is a matter of time before the leadership of Syria, a country which is critically important in terms of the new political landscape of the region, meets with the popular will and choice of the people.

However, in the countries that experienced popular revolutions, the people are unfortunately disappointed. They expected that, once the dictators had gone, stolen money would be returned, salaries would be raised, nepotism and bribery would end and they would become richer. Based on these expectations, strikes were held in almost every street in Egypt right after the revolution. The people, however, stopped holding strikes when it became apparent that there was in fact no money in the Treasury.

These expectations have not been fulfilled over the last year. On the contrary, these countries have come to the brink of political and economic chaos. The dictatorships, whose continued existence relied on a single man or inner circle, did not permit a strong state infrastructure to emerge in these countries. As a result, they are now suffering from a lack of state apparatus following the collapse of the former regimes.

Therefore, the nations that did witness a revolution are now trying to clean up the mess. In order to do that, a democratic infrastructure should be established immediately. The election process has so far been smooth in Tunisia and Egypt, resulting in Islamic parties winning landslide victories in both countries. It is also likely that similar results will be observed in other countries that have staged or are expecting to stage a revolution. However, these nations will have a number of problems to deal with. The greatest problem facing those countries where the emergence of a democratic culture and tradition has not been allowed is a lack of charismatic leaders.

The affairs of the region have been heavily influenced by the venturous dreams and actions of Gamal Abdel Nasser during the 1950s and 1960s. National economies were affected and dictatorships became commonplace after Nasser. Subsequently, the region entered an era of darkness as a period of lifetime dictatorships began. Anwar Sadat, the third president of Egypt and a dictator, despite his efforts to seem otherwise, failed to achieve his goals.

The war in Afghanistan in 1979, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and the Iraq wars of the 1990s and 2000s have served as excuses for dictators to become even more repressive. The people of the region, who had lost all hope in their own leaders, admired populist leaders like Nasser. Similarly, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who did nothing about the Palestinian issue except use it for his own, political goals, or Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who actually caused the destruction of Lebanon in the war with Israel in 2006, have become heroes for the people in this region. In order for the Middle East to stand up and become more influential in the international arena, the new leaders of these countries need to be different from Nasser, Nasrallah or Ahmadinejad.

Above all, the new leaders should change the nature of discourse on the Palestinian issue, which previous dictators have used as an excuse for further repression. Whenever leaders in the region relied on strong and harsh statements when discussing the Palestinian issue (like Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah, for example), Israel took the opportunity to advance its goals in the international arena. For this reason, the new generation of leaders should act, rather than talk. In this respect, it will be impossible for the Arab world to promote the cause of the Palestinians unless there is a change in the way regional leaders approach the issue.

Secondly, the new leaders should focus on the economy, rather than political rhetoric. The region will not have any real democracy until the economies of countries in the region improve. Turkey could set a good example in this respect, owing its rising image in the global arena and ability to deal with the deep state to its recent economic stability and striking growth rate.

Economies in the Middle East are mainly based on underground resources. There is almost no industrial production or manufacturing. If Qatar attracts a great deal of attention in the international arena, despite its small population, this can be attributed to its vast natural resources. However, there are of course serious doubts about its active diplomatic stance in recent times. The economic statuses of countries with limited natural resources are well below the world average.

Neither the nations that staged a revolution nor the rest in the Middle East have the kind of visionary and charismatic leaders that will attract the attention and support of the people. A leader who respects the values of the nation, is able to plan ahead, avoids extreme and vulgar patriotism and is aware of his own power and strength will be in a position to bring about the necessary changes. The region desperately needs such a leader.

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