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By Fareed Zakaria
Over the last decade, the United States helped organize Iraq's “moderates” – the Shiite-dominated government – gave them tens of billions of dollars in aid and supplied and trained their army. But, it turned out, the moderates weren't that moderate and they turned authoritarian and sectarian. Sunni opposition movements grew and jihadi opposition groups, like ISIS, gained tacit or active support from the population.
This is a familiar pattern throughout the region.
For decades now, American foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” Great, the only problem is there are actually very few moderates. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is, “carrying the Islamic world back to the dark ages,” says Turkey’s 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.
The best example is Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively but refused. Then, without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt's old dictatorship rose up and now bans and jails the Brotherhood and other opposition forces.
All this leads to an underground and violent opposition.
Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column
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