Monday, December 04, 2006

Another foreign policy disaster: Islamists win in Bahrain

Every time you think things just can't get worse in the Middle East, they do. Every time you think that American foreign policy in the region can't get more diasastrous, another news headline jumps out at you. And every time there's an election in the Middle East--from the ascendency of Hamas in Palestine to Ahmadinejad in Iran--it seems like it's just more and more hardliners every time. And it turns out that moderates in each country blame--guess who?--the United States of Bush for making their electoral lives impossible.

Today, the news comes from Bahrain, where hardline Islamist Sunnis defeated slightly less Islamist Shi'ites, and rose to power at the expense of women and moderates, who were seen as being too American:

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Islamic hardliners dominated the Sunni supporters of Bahrain's government who defeated an opposition led by the kingdom's majority Shiites in parliamentary elections, according to official results broadcast Sunday on state television.

The election Saturday for the lower house of parliament reinforced sectarian divisions between Shiites and Sunnis and witnessed a deepening Islamic conservatism in the U.S. ally, considered among the most liberal of Gulf Arab states.

The voting gave a sweeping victory to hard-liners from both of Islam's chief branches who bulldozed challenges by progressive candidates and women. Twelve of the 22 pro-government winners were hardliners.

Now, the article attempts to claim that the elections were progress for Shi'ites and for moderates, but the facts speak for themselves. And who would've thunk it? A comparatively liberal Middle Eastern state trending AWAY from progress and toward reactionary Islamism. Increased sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shi'a. Seems to be a regional trend for some reason. What could possibly be the matter? Well, political scientists who follow the region seem to have the answer:

Ali Fakhro, a political scientist and former government minister, said the liberals were hurt by an ideological association with the United States. The Bush administration's deep unpopularity in the Gulf has strengthened the religious right, he said.

There is a delicious irony in the fact that Bush and the Republicans who have allied themselves so strongly with our own country's religious right and who have done everything in their power to turn "liberal" into a dirty word, now find themselves on the other side of an election result where even they admit that the "good guys" are liberals and the "bad guys" the religious right. And even more delicious irony in the fact that they're corrupt, exploitative and evangelical foreign policy doomed their own religious right in this country, while propelling the Islamist religious right to power all across the Middle East.

But Fakhro doesn't stop there:

"This is part of the reason the Islamists are heading for control of Bahrain's parliament," Fakhro said before the official results were announced. "The Americans say they are encouraging democratic politicians in the region, but the truth is they are harming them."

There's not really much to add to that. The words speak for themselves, don't they?

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be an election dominated by the religious right if there weren't allegations of fraud to throw in the mix:

Officials reported high turnout on Saturday. But the campaign and election were marred by widespread allegations of fraud, and the government did not allow international observers to monitor the vote.

Not, of course, that the United States can really say anything about that, because our own elections have been so laughably fradulent or fraud-enabled that we have no moral high ground to criticize others.


In sum, then, here's what we have:

1) Sunnis and Shi'ites angry with each other.

2) Islamist victories in elections in a comparatively liberal country.

3) Moderates blame the United States for causing their losses.

4) Sham and fraudulent elections about which we can do nothing, because we have no moral high ground on the issue.

I'd say we're winning hearts and minds. I can't wait for what the future will bring in Bush's newly recreated Middle East.


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