Fareed Zakaria on the future of the Middle East
April 22nd, 2011
12:08 PM ET

Fareed Zakaria on the future of the Middle East

A number of you have been asking me on Facebook, Twitter and iReport about my predictions for the Middle East ten years down the line.

I think we’re seeing the beginning of fundamental change in the Middle East. This is the region's 1989.  The big caveat, however, is that the Middle East is not Eastern Europe. So change will not happen on the scale or with the speed and scope that it happened in Europe.

There are going to be much slower transitions.  The line forward is going to be much more meandering. Not all countries will be affected.

The key places to focus on are the non-oil-producing countries like Egypt, Tunisia and, to a certain extent, Jordan and Morocco. Those are the places where there is significant pressure for economic and political reform. There you can't buy off the population easily, which is the typical strategy of the rich oil states.

The Middle East governments have used two methods of control - mass repression and mass bribery. The oil-rich countries use mass bribery. Countries like Syria use mass repression.

I tend to think that the bribery will work better than repression. At the end of the day, Syria is going to have difficulty even though it will probably engage in a pretty brutal crackdown.

Years from now my prediction to you is that all those non-oil-producing states will look significantly different from the way they look now.

I think with the oil-producing states, change will be more evolutionary.  Eventually there will be kinder, gentler monarchies that spread the wealth around more.

The really crucial country is going to be Saudi Arabia. I think Saudi Arabia will make it through this period without massive change. It will be evolutionary change and not revolutionary change.

If I’m wrong about that then all bets are off because Saudi Arabia is the 800-pound gorilla.

In terms of Egypt: I think it will look like Indonesia today.

Ten years ago most people thought Indonesia wouldn't even exist as a country after (President) Suharto fell. People thought that Indonesia was not even a real country - the Dutch had just colonized these 400 different islands.  It was poor. It had the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, extremism and jihadi groups.

But the democratic political system stabilized the country. It provided vents and escape valves for some of these tensions.

There were hiccups along the way. Indonesia is still a pretty complicated place with a lot of corruption, dysfunction and some problems of Islamic extremism. But, by and large, it has been a stable democratic country with economic reform.

I think that’s not a bad model for Egypt and I think if Egypt could get there - which is quite possible - it would be amazing progress for the country. It would be more progress in 10 years than they’ve made in 40 years.

Those are my thoughts. I'd love for you to continue the conversation below, and to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. As always, you can send me video questions through iReport.

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Topics: From Fareed • Islam • Israel • Middle East • Oil

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soundoff (493 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    Zakaria has been realistic in analyzing the world events. Israel is a democracy therefore the chances of upheaval are almost zero People are not oppressed as in a dictatorship and if at all there is any issue then that is dealt in a democratic manner not by overthrowing the regime as is the case with the arab world. Besides, Islam is the religion of the arab world and that will play an important role in unifying them during the crisis period.

    April 26, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
  2. RMJ

    the fact that Zakaria doesn't mention israel is because it is a moot issue. Some of the changes happening in these countries are driven by secular progressive movements and while they might have severe antagonism against Israelis, its not on their top list of issues. Somebody mentioned something along these lines that the people of these nations hate Israel as much as they hate each other along religious lines and this is very true. i worked in Oman and been to the UAE, Egypt, Qatar and SA for over 10 years and even there this was shockingly evident. unless they radically address these problems, they are going no where.
    So i differ with Zakarai and 10 years from now, the status qou will still remain the same.

    April 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  3. Charlie

    My question is, this article assumes the US to be a constant player in the events that unfold. What if the US does not get control of its economy and China, or some other nation becomes the big player in world events? What happens if the US ceases to be a player in world events as all, because of its economic problems?

    On the positive side, what happens if the US and the developed nations find a way to replace oil? how does this change the article above?

    April 28, 2011 at 1:32 am | Reply
  4. Andy

    No peace expected amid growing extremism in the region. After the bombing of Gas Pipeline between Egypt and Israel, and ongoing rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, my simple conclusion is that Jan25 Tahrir protests aimed at aligning Egypt with Iran objectives and extremism. This process started by destroying Mubarak moderate regime, tarnishing image with no evidence. Another strong indicator of shifting to extremism is that one-sided democracy in Egypt, no media reports on Mubarak supporters demos at Maspero TV building area, biggest last Friday, and upcoming one on April 29 tomorrow.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:14 am | Reply
  5. Jim

    No mention of Israel in the article.
    The State of Israel is the number ONE country to watch as I believe that nation will play a key roll in the Middle Easth.
    It is amazing to me that the article did not even mention Israel, like that nation is not part of the Middle East picture.
    Anyway, God will protect Israel from those terror organizations who
    would try to do her harm!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:11 am | Reply
    • Korbin S.

      I completely agree with you Jim. And for those of you that hate me saying this because you know it's true you'll see one day. All of the events that are happening currently in the middle east has been prophesied in the Bible. So if the Bible states that there will be turmoil in the middle east then don't you think that it could be right about other things, such as the comming of Christ. Me personally I'm anxiously waiting that day, because I know that the turmoil in the Middle East is never going to end, because there has been at least something going on for almost twenty years, so I think in ten more years there isn't going to be a change at all. Unless we as a country stop getting ourselves into anymore trouble within other countries and learn how to face our economic problem first. The Middle East has so many different forms of government, and that's their biggest problem. Nobody can go in there and fix the problem with THEIR government because WE are not part of any of THEIR countries. Therefore I believe we stay out, withdraw our troops from Iraq fix our own economical problems first, and then we take care of the people in other countries. In order to help someone out you need to help yourself first. If you're not stable and you help someone else they're not going to be stable either. IT'S COMMON SENSE!

      April 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  6. Neil IK.

    Thank God for Fareed. I am just saying that, because it sound better that "Thank God for Zakaria". The social social cyle move forward in evolutionary and revolutionary ways. No place is the same. PROUT (Progressive Utilization Theory) - now that's the enlightened path!

    April 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  7. Bob Dolan

    Zakaria didn't metion Israel because he is an antisemetic bigot that hopes Israel goes away. Shame on CNN for promoting antisemetism.

    April 29, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
  8. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Here's what I wrote on Fareed Zakarias appeal to readers to discuss why Israeli-Peace is NOT round the corner.

    Specifically by saying "Why Israel-Palestinian peace is NOT imminent" Mr. Zakaria is HERDING the flock (gullible readers!) into thinking ONLY along his line of NOT wanting to talk peace, rather than giving an opportunity for readers to vet their views from both sides!!!!!

    Here's what I wrote & the link:

    Looks like things seem to be falling in place:
    a) FATAH & HAMAS sign peace deal which means that going forward Israel will have to negotiate with a terrorist entity committed to the destruction of Israel & its main proponent America!
    b) Today we hear that Egypt has unilaterally & permanently opened its Rafah checkpost, the only border crossing into Gaza outside of Israeli territory. Clearly a breach of the 2005 international agreement to curb the smuggling of arms/rockets into Gaza.
    c) Islamist supporters like Mr. Zakaria blatantly saying that the Israel-Egyptian peace accord was between two regimes (& NOT its peoples), covertly implying that Egypt while keeping the Sinai can abrogate the deal.
    d) President Obama's known soft corner for the "so-called" Palestinian struggle to the detriment of the safety & security our only true ally in the ME – Israel.
    Looks like everything is falling in place for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood b4 the end of the year!!
    But, thanks to overwhelming support for Israel among the America people, and the widespread distrust of the Muslim agenda in America, Mr. Obama himself is under check after his in-famous Cairo Speech, support for the GZ Victory Mosque, vow to close Gitmo & trail of hard core Islamic radicals in civilian courts etc., on many of which he had to humbly retreat!

    Hopefully American public pressure will also stop Obama him from doing anything remotely encouraging the Palestinians from unilaterally & stupidly declaring statehood!


    April 29, 2011 at 11:32 am | Reply
  9. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    And here's what I wrote on why Mr. Zakaria can't be trusted on any issue dealing with Muslims, which is very relevant to the ME discussions that he is seeking to start (MINUS ISRAEL!).

    Here's what I wrote and the link:


    I have NO questions to ask my former countryman Mr. Fareed Zakaria, SIMPLY B’COZ HE CAN'T BE TRUSTED on anything REMOTELY involving his Muslim faith..........PERIOD!

    Having said that:

    Mr. Zakaria's deep rooted “hatredness” for Israel, dislike of America, Europe, Russia, and in short the entire free world whom he “perceives” to have ganged up against Muslims everywhere, is “just too apparent”, even as he “pretends” to love America! Mr. Zakria's love for America is limited to the opportunities he has had in realizing his dreams, making money, enjoying religious freedoms, overall fairness & magnanimity of Americans, and his ability to influence & be heard by a lot of (gullible?) Americans, while being perched on top of respected media agencies.

    So Mr. Zakaria being highly educated is neither naïve nor stupid as some people think, or fair & reasonable! Likewise Mr. Zakaria should also not be confused for other liberals who espouse true equality/freedoms for all Americans without encouraging mis-use of those very same freedoms with utter lack of sensitivity to other Americans.

    Those are the “precise” reasons (in addition to Hollywood blockbusters), a lot of urban educated Muslims all over the world “swear” they love America (or is it grudgingly envy America?). On the contrary they are firmly rooted in the “Islamic Radical camp” when it comes to nursing the “never ending list” of “worldwide” Muslim grievances which Mr.Zakaria himself links “all the time’ to explain away dissatisfaction of American Muslims!

    The “only CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE” between such “so-called Muslim MODERATES and their JIHADIST brothers/sisters is in that, they don’t support burning of girls’ schools, trashing their women, forcing their women to wear the Burqa, or imposition of Sharia rule (ONLY for business, as it deprives them of any business transaction that generates profits, which is unacceptable under the Sharia!), and may be a few other such reasons.

    Short of these, there is absolutely NO DIFFERENCE between Muslim RADICALS’ & “Muslim MODERATES’ line of thinking on the “Supremacy of Islam”, “Monotheism”, “Injustices” by the west (both real & perceived), adherence to the “Muslim Ummah”. It’s such TRANS-NATIONAL allegiance to their religion and NOT to their homelands that makes a lot of Americans (Europeans, Indians, Israelis, Russians….) rightfully question their “Patriotism” and “trustworthiness” when it comes to national security issues.

    Check out this video from Mr. Imran Khan one of Pakistan’s leading, politicians with a huge support base among the educated, urban, and “so-called Moderate Pakistanis”. A careful review of his message shows that Mr. Khan (and his Pakistani elite) inspite of being modern in his outlook, articulate, western educated, formerly married to a Christian British women etc. is “in reality” no more different from the Islamic radicals he purportedly opposes (just the way Mr. Zakaria does)!

    Having said that I have written extensively in these columns stating my reasons for believing in what many Americans already know of Mr. Zakaria.

    Particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue Mr. Zakaria routinely trashes Israel for oppression against the “so-called” Palestinians while “Never ever” referring to HAMAS' single point agenda of “destroying Israel” and also its main proponent America!


    While there are “far too many” articles by Mr. Zakaria trashing Israel, and America, the following from his CNN-Fareed Zakaria-GPS lays bare “his no-holds barred” approach in supporting Muslim issues in the ME, and his “Crusade” to get Muslim Turkey into the European Union (EU) thereby opening the floodgates for mass Muslim migration into Europe & America (in the garb of building bridges between the west & Islam).

    I invite readers to tell me where I am wrong.


    April 29, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • jtheo

      hamas was created by isreal thru its occupation ,aggression and repression.hamas will disappear by elimination of these factors

      May 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  10. CharlieSeattle

    Don't forget...The current Government of Iran is the result of a popular uprising against the secular/ authoritarian Government lead by the Shah of Iran.

    Libya, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and Egypt can look in the mirror of Iran and see what it will become.

    After the ""armed"" Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas etc. quiets the ""unarmed"" voices of democracy through intimidation and murder all the above states will become radicalized Islamic theocracies.

    Calls to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel have already been announced by the Muslim Brotherhood. That is not a goal of a peaceful democratic movement.

    Google this Thread: Muslim Brotherhood, abrogate the peace treaty with Israel.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  11. Venom Truth

    There is some much to be positive about I didn't want to make a remark because my opinion differs greatly. I do not hold the same faith that many of you share. I believe radical Muslim faith will eventually win out in many if not all of these countries involved in "Arab Spring." Terrible events will follow as the crowds become frenzied and atrocity after atrocity will occur due to radical Muslims perverting the Islam Religion. Israel will be in imminent danger and eventually will be involved in a nuclear catastrophe attributed to, not good Muslims, but radical Muslims as this is their will. The world will be up in arms on how to react (retaliate). The fall of the kings and dictators will end up being the beginning of a new age – Radical Muslim taking over key political/religious positions and inciting their populations towards hate. Curse me, tell me I'm wrong till you're red in the face because I truly hope this won't be the case but nothing has convinced me so far – certainly not words from the political analysts of the world.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  12. Schnapps

    Apart from his intriguing comparison of Egypt's development to the present state of Indonesia, this forecast is pretty run of the mill.

    I get the impression that a little insider information could have developed this forecast.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  13. jay

    The real "gorilla" in the equation is the hate that will not disapate against America no matter how much fundamental change happens there. Our history with them is based on one thing, Israel. As long as we support them as we should, there will be issues. We could pull every ounce of military, and aid, and completely retire from the region, but would continue to face their scorn due to our right support of Israel.

    Those issues didn't matter 40 or 50yrs. ago when we could squash them like a bug if needed, and they knew it. Now, they do not fear that as they should not to be truly free people, but their idea of freedom may be radically different than ours.

    We need to continue to support Israel, a tough little country that stll knows a bit of curb due to US influence. The present administration will pass and in 10 yrs. perhaps another couple of administrations will come and go, while the Arab world sticks with one group or person for decades. Israel left to it's own devices stil holds one card that they fear, the Sampson Option, which as we all know is their deterrent. With out US curb, they might feel cornered and use it some day.

    Already the Isreali ministers are bantering around a strike on Irans facilities again, why?, They know the present administration will do nothing to counter any pressure on them and they frankly appear to no longer trust the US, at least the present administration.

    10 yrs is too short of a time to expunge a recalcitrant and deep set political and religious angle that they will not abandon for any reason. 100 yrs would be too short.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  14. Coriolana

    In a decade, it will probably be a big hole in the ground once they've stopped killing each other because there's no one left to kill.

    June 3, 2011 at 10:56 am | Reply
  15. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    So the future is more religious wars. An oxymoron.

    June 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  16. ANON

    To predict the future we must must first set up scenarios.
    The Egyption scenario: slow progression towards democracy. The stumbling block is Syria.
    The Syrian scenario will continue as it is today at least for the next five years assuming the religious leader will live for another five years.
    Several scenarios for Egypt, Israel, Jordan. If a feasible scenario evolves here it will stabilize the Middle East, though continual disussion will be required over the next ten years to counteract mental drift (the tendency of people to forget their promises and obligations).

    June 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  17. john

    If the Palisiiinians are still living like Rats in a sewer , in 10 years the middle east will be no different than it is today.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:27 am | Reply
  18. Peikovian

    In ten years, if the world is lucky, alternative fuels will collapse the demand for oil. In the Middle East, Jihad will lose its police-state sponsors, and the OPEC nations will become a quiet backwater of madness and cannibalism. The the West, apologists for these regimes will live comfortably in group housing and enjoy the benefits of antipsychotic medication.

    June 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  19. eric calderone

    It is absurd to talk about the mid-east's future without discussing Israel. Israel is the 800 pound gorilla, not Saudi Arabia. If Israel, and its U.S. sugar daddy, persist with their present policies of territorial annexation, economic exploitation, and other forms of interference in Arab societies, then the future for the mid-east, and Israel, is not bright. If Israel amends its ways, withdraws from occupied territories, and makes substantive attempts to settle outstanding issues with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, then perhaps, there will light at the end of the tunnel.

    June 10, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  20. Chris

    The on going war in the middle east between the so called Jews and their neighbours
    is only a distraction from the truth.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  21. Descarado

    Ten years from now, with the exception of Israel, the middle east will still be an Islamic garbage dump.

    June 12, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • craig sanes

      Short and sweet. And I think you might be right.

      June 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  22. craig sanes

    In terms of the political vacuum that has been left in Egypt, I might agree that there are definitely strong parallels that could lead to consideration for Egypt following a like path of Indonesia in post colonial development. However, one must also consider the particular reactions to post regime independance; how Indonesia seperated from Dutch rule as an entirely different cultrure having been greatly influenced by its colonizers, and, a post Mubarak Egypt where social cast witin the same culture dictated the course of revolution.

    Indonesia had re-established itself as its own new nation after dutch rule. And the institutions at the time, much as with India and British rule, did not entirely seperate with their former 'oppressors'. Indeed, it was Dutch influence that permanetly augmented any direction the country would have taken on its. Better to think of the post colonial relationship as an amicable divorce after a brief and only somewhat hostile seperation with terms of alimony and visitation rights. Jakarta has always maintianed economic ties with the west, including Holland.

    Egypt, on the other hand, has just shed itself of its own poison; corruption from within that by that time was less than a legacy of former colonial influence. And further, the fact that the ruling elite profited through direct relations with the west and at the expense of their own places any transitions well on the mantle of ideological reforms rather than national independance. Egypt has just overthrown their Tsar.

    While Indonesia has, relatively speaking, taken the more lethargic road into the proceding eras, Egypt, I believe, will continue to be a growing hotbed of revolutionary zeal, especially when we consider the comparatively more dynamic organization of an oppressed cast that initiated change wholey on their own. I see the country either lining itself up to oust another future despot, or spending several generations resolving its own identity within the region, if not the world. It will not be calm.

    June 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  23. Fernando Urea


    You sound much better when you talk about your own world.This is your call. Look at your own either belly button or tale, and forget about someone else's problems, considering you don't own enough knowledge about them. I am talking about your comments on Brazil Economy, and on calling Corinthians an "small soccer team" in the "small" city of Sao Paulo. Salam wa aleikum!

    July 19, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
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