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Keuka College News

The Seasons of the Year in the Middle East

By Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

The seasons of the year have long been used to describe our passage through life, our alternating moods of joy and despair, and the state of affairs in which individuals, nations, and civilizations find themselves.

Somehow we often pass over summer and fall, using spring and winter as metaphors. One of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines says much about winter: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” In the Mel Brooks film and Broadway hit The Producers, “Springtime for Hitler and Germany….” said much about how the Germans applauded the arrival of the man from Austria.

Whoever coined the phrase “Arab Spring” surely had the seasons in mind after the long winter of repression in the Islamic world. Today, each of the states in the Middle East are moving through the seasons. Libya is somewhere between spring and summer. In Egypt, no one can say if spring is still with them and which seasons will be used to describe this ancient land if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power. In Syria, the long winter is still extant under the rule of Dr. Bashar Al-Assid. In this crossroads of the Middle East, where a nation of 22 million appears to be descending into chaos, spring is very far off.

In Iraq, after 10 long years of U.S. involvement, both Washington and Baghdad hope that springtime will finally arrive, but seasonal predictions are conditional. Winter is on the seasonal radar when it comes to Iran, a close ally of Syria, a progenitor of terrorism, the primary supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the implacable enemy of Saudi Arabia and Israel. Since his election as president of Iran, Ahmadinejad has promised to eradicate the “Zionist Enclave,” which the world knows as Israel. Now on the cusp of having atomic weapons and in possession of missiles for their delivery, the winter of our discontent may be at hand.

Recent intelligence reports suggest that Israel is considering removing Iran’s atomic program before it is too late. While it is fair to assume that Israel will not sit idly by if Iran tests its first atomic devise, it is also fair to assume that Israel would not make a major move against Iran without a green light or at least the acquiescence of Washington. In an election year, it seems unlikely this will happen, but on the other hand, a major crisis in the region could work to Obama’s advantage. Saudi Arabia, an implacable foe of Iran and Egypt that does not want to concede to Tehran dominance in the region at its expense, may quietly applaud the dismantling of Iran’s atomic ambitions

The application of the metaphor of the seasons to describe the changes in the Middle East may have been misplaced. We may have to wait a very long time before the seeds of democracy germinate in a region with little or no history of democracy as we know it in the West. The only party that appears to be prepared to assume the reigns of leadership are those with roots in the Islamist tradition. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza are not political parties as we understand the concept. They are movements well-prepared to impose their vision of the future on entire nations. In essence, the Arab Spring may turn into the winter of our discontent. As it is written in an old Arab fable, once the camel got its head inside the tent, the entire structure was turned upside down. Or, as Churchill once said about democracy, it is very much like a British lawn taking years or even centuries to cultivate.


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