August 14th, 2014
11:06 PM ET

The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

By Fareed Zakaria

For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.

The Middle East has been trapped for decades between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups — between Hosni Mubarak and al-Qaeda — leaving little space in between. The dictators try to shut down all opposition movements, and the ones that survive are vengeful, religious and violent. There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Middle East

soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. Ferhat Balkan

    I'll tell you what gets my goat, you have these Sarah Palin Tea Party goers in the Middle East becoming part of the ISIS. Then reeking havac all over the place. This has to stop! HANG EM ALL!

    August 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
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      August 19, 2014 at 4:28 am | Reply
  2. banasy@

    I agree with you Ferhat. But maybe the guillotine would be more appropriate.

    August 16, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  3. George Patton

    Guillotine? I soooo agree with you banasy my dear.

    August 16, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  4. Joseph McCarthy

    I soooo agree. Youtube it afterwards. It is an excellent deterent by the way.

    August 16, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  5. chri§§y

    That is sooooo NOT ME @ 10:22! And not banasy nor Ferhat either! He doesnt have "goats to be gotten"!

    August 16, 2014 at 11:40 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Don't feel bad, chrissy. This jerk does this to all of us. Like I said before, he thinks he's funny.

      August 17, 2014 at 11:59 am | Reply
  6. Larry

    Fareed, I have always liked your articles, your deep understanding and analysis of issues. It is true that Moderate Muslims form only a tiny minority, whereas the majority of Muslims support and finance terrorism. Because of the strong support from the majority of Muslims, there are terrorists anywhere Muslims go. That is why there are so many Muslim terrorist organizations like ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, and Al Shabab.

    August 17, 2014 at 12:04 am | Reply
    • Jamilah

      The majority of Muslims are not terrorists! They are citizens of every country of the world and are by far peaceful law-abiding individuals not unlike the majority of other people in those same countries. All we hear about is the news of outrage, fighting and terrorism related to some Muslims in some countries. There are more than 1.6B Muslims in the world. There are and have been terrorists of other faiths in other parts of the world throughout the ages of time. Some thought they were fighting for their way of life and others appear to have been sheer crazy and bent on revenge. Some of those same kinds of terrorist exist today– and they are not all Muslims.

      August 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  7. chri§§y

    Lol i dont @ Joseph! Ive been dealing with his king of crap routine for a very long time as im sure you know! ;)

    August 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  8. Allan Kinsman©

    Our error in thinking was to have followed nineteenth century thinking. Among a few is the use of gasoline over alcohol or stored electricity. We have sent billions of dollars to a people who see things in a particular way. The corporate and political giants of thinking thought this through. Too bad our selections of those serving in Congress cannot find one which understands resistence to new ideas. Human beings may bore themselves to death with a lack of reason.

    August 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  9. Fareed is right

    Arab people, by their nature, aren't very moderate.

    August 18, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  10. kinger

    Right on ,and soon you will see,a new Human Rights Centre announced by ISIS,one of the strongest laughs in the Arab world...

    August 27, 2014 at 9:20 am | Reply
  11. Philip

    Slay them [invading infidels/American troops] wherever you find them commands the Koran. Deal "harshly" with fellow Muslims who side with invaders of holy lands. They are "Renegades" says the Koran.
    Love and pray for your enemies says the bible. Not go half way around the world and shoot them. Have INTENSE love for fellow Christians, says the bible. Bring them back in the faith, not deal harshly with them.
    If everyone obeyed their holy books, there would be no war. No invasions and occupations of foreign nations by US who are 85% Christian. Or at least make that claim.

    August 31, 2014 at 7:56 am | Reply
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