Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Turmoil in the Middle East: A Good Thing or Not?

The turmoil in the Middle East is interesting, even entertaining.  From one Muslim country to another, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain to Iran, people are taking to the streets to denounce their dictators and demand new leadership.

The existing regimes have fought back and killed some of the demonstrators.  It's nasty over there.  However, the question remains:  what do the demonstrators really want?  Do they want more sharia law?  More mullahs micromanaging their personal lives to conform them more closely to Islam?  Or do they want "democracy," free elections and greater personal liberty?  It's really hard to say.

My personal gut feeling is that the people are greatly annoyed by the poor economy, the lack of jobs and the price of housing, food and other living essentials.  No doubt, it is annoying to see gold-plated dictators enjoying fantastic wealth while common citizens go without basic essentials.

These countries do not enjoy a liberal (liberal in the good sense) tradition, but a very illiberal one; so the people do not have a mental model of the society they seek.  They want change, but are not clear on what that change will entail.  It is likely that fanatical Muslim organizations will take advantage of the turmoil to fill the vacuum left by the fleeing dictators.  The end result will likely be less freedom, not more.  But we can always hope.

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