West should seize the moment in Middle East

By Brian Binley – 07/02/2011
THE HILL (Congress Blog) – 2011 could well be the year that reshapes the future of North Africa and the Middle East forever.

The unrest now spreading across the region reminds us of the fall of Russia’s empire in Eastern Europe. The Middle East is now going through its biggest political upheaval in decades. The era of stagnation is over and calls for democracy, human rights and dignity have spread across an area where dissent is alive but has been massively repressed.

 As Western leaders appear to look on with fear rather than joy, it is clear that one simple message should be noted by western diplomats: The era of appeasing tyrants and trading freedom for stability in the Middle East is over.

Although one must not be naïve in underestimating the economic necessities for the West of a stable Middle East, we cannot and must not shut our eyes to the reality of the situation. Long term stability within the region will only be achieved if we in the West stand alongside the people and their legitimate desire for democracy. This not only coincides with our declared values and principles, but would also provide the stability we require in a region of such economic and political significance.

If we fail to heed the calls of the people, we run the great risk of an Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the region sponsored by the Iranian regime. That fear must not, however, lead us to replacing that which is now threatened by popular uprising with more of the same. We must look instead to the forces demanding democracy and freedom.

Some commentators have attempted to dismiss the influence of Tehran by highlighting the fact that most Muslims in the region are Sunni, a drastic oversimplification of a complicated issue. Exporting Islamic extremism and fundamentalism is a pillar of Iran’s foreign policy and is enshrined in the regime’s constitution. Iran benefits from instability in the region and it has happily supported Sunni groups in Iraq and Afghanistan to cause mass insecurity.

The 1979 revolution in Iran is the best example of an occasion when popular discontent with authoritarian rule was exploited by Islamists. Fundamentalists used the very formula of chaotic political unrest, loathing of existing ruling elite and the absence of a democratic system that now prevails across a swathe of countries.

Such a formula allows the general populous to vent its frustrations while providing the opportunity for a well financed and organised group to grasp control behind their backs. We have seen it before and we must use all the weapons in our diplomatic and economic armory to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Tehran has already made its intentions clear. The regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei only last week called for an Islamic regime to be installed in Egypt and stated, “Today, developments in North Africa, (including) Egypt, Tunisia and some other countries have a special meaning for the Iranian nation…..This is what was always referred to as the Islamic awakening created by the victory of the great revolution of the Iranian nation.”

The words of Khamenei might be described as the tactical posturing of a weakened leader who fears revolution.

In truth, the beginnings of such forms of mass protest began in Tehran over a year ago when anti-government protests shook the Iranian government to the core. Over a year later, the regime still struggles to prevent further unrest through the use of torture and mass execution. These are the actions of a weak regime, fearing for its future. But Iran will be greatly strengthened if other countries are forced along the same path.

Sadly, western leaders stood back and showed little or no support for the Iranian people. As protesters gathered in their hundreds of thousands demanding freedom, there was a deafening silence from the West as protesters were rounded up and slaughtered in the streets. We must learn the lessons history teaches us.

We must never forget that Tehran is the driving force for fundamentalism in the region. We must, therefore, intensify sanctions against that regime to ensure its financial hands are tied. We must also support the Iranian opposition movement and those groups demanding democratic change.
The Obama administration should also remove the Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK) from the list of banned organizations in the USA as the DC Court of Appeal has decreed. This is a Shiite Muslim group dedicated to freedom, democracy and secularism whose hands have been tied in order to placate Tehran’s leaders.

The days of appeasement have passed. Political change across the Middle East is coming. Rather than attempt to appease the region’s tyrants, the U.S. and its allies must stand alongside the people and assist their movement towards democracy. Only then will the aims of the Mullahs’ regime be thwarted. Only then will the support of freedom and democracy prevail. Only then will the conditions for genuine peace and security be created in the Middle East.

Brian Binley is a Member of Parliament from the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party and a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.

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