Demand for change crosses all political boundaries

Making sense of the Middle East’s politics may seem like a daunting task but it’s one that should be endeavoured.

Making sense of the Middle East’s politics may seem like a daunting task in the far-flung regions of Canada, but it’s one that should be endeavoured as our realities are more tied than one might think, says a political analyst whose insights are usually found on the BBC, CNN and the New York Times.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of Iran, was brought to Kelowna for a speaking engagement Tuesday by United Israel Appeal Federations of Canada.

Although his aim was to update locals on what’s happening in the Middle East, he explained that there’s a growing distaste for government corruption in all nations, and the protests it’s sparked is wearing away at geo-political boundaries.

The Arab Spring, he said, started in December 2010, and rolled across the region.

Its impact, however, was not just in Arab countries, but in Israel where 450,000 Israelis demonstrated for better economic conditions.

“Now it’s reached the (Occupy) Wall Street movement,” said Javedanfar. “The Arab Spring proved the world is truly flat. It led the way in showing the world that new revolutions don’t need a single leader. You can have a revolution with a collective leadership found on the platform of Facebook and Twitter.”

Not one political expert could have predicted that thousands of protestors would take to the streets to speak out against the conditions that led one Tunisian man to light himself on fire, he said.

Nor could they have predicted the movement would continue for as long as it did.

But continual financial hardships in the Middle East created the conditions for an uprising.

“There has been a lot of dissatisfaction in those countries,” he said.

“For people, they want to have the economic benefits that allow them to house and feed their families.” That simple reality is putting democracy in a backseat to the economy.

Saudi Arabia, for example, had its first municipal elections, due to the Arab Spring.

“This was a major watershed in Saudi politics, but the turnout was extremely low,” he said.

“People just want better economic conditions. It goes to show that president Clinton was right with his 1992 campaign slogan—‘it’s the economy, stupid.’”

And a successful economy, he explained, is reliant on a corruption-free government.

“People see corruption and they think it’s a hindrance to economic growth,” he said, noting that this is the common ground for many countries that are struggling today.

“The reason why Greek people are in the streets is because they have low confidence in the politicians. They’re saying austerity measures are all well and good but we’re the ones who are going to suffer. The politicians are going to do very nicely and continue with corruption.”

To rebuild public faith in government, he said,   corruption should be viewed as serious a charge as holding weapons of mass destruction.

“We need to punish corrupt leaders like we punish the leadership and governments of countries who are illegally producing weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

“Every year the United Nations could list the 20 most corrupt countries and say their leaders cannot travel abroad, cannot land in any airports and cannot have any bank account in any other country.”

That, he said, would offer a deterrent to a behaviour that’s led to more deaths than weapons ever have.