Friday, September 18, 2015

Middle East – Voting with Their Feet

Toward the end of the Cold War, as people tried to abandon their home and lives in communist East Europe and go west to free market economies, pundits referred to them as voting for communism with their feet.  Communism when compared to Western Europe’s free market economies was just not providing as good a standard of living for even those at the lowest levels of the workforce.  This became more and more evident in the latter half of the previous century.
You’d think that an economy in which no profits were removed by capitalist, workers reaped the rewards of their work, and the government had absolute control to make business decisions would out perform the capital grubbing, worker exploitive, free market economies.  But that was not the case.  By the 1970s, it was obvious to anyone that even a janitor, factory worker, or any common laborer had a higher standard of living in the west than those in the workers’ paradise in the eastern communist countries.
And so they choose to leave and start a new live in the east.  And we are seeing it happen again in the Middle East.  Obviously, people are leaving the Middle East for other reasons than their economic standard of living, but the movement of such masses may be saying the same thing.  Even during the worse of Saddam, Gaddafi, the changes of government and military takeovers in Egypt, or the revolution in Iran, we have not seen such as exodus of Arab speaking people from the Middle East.  Is this the same indicator as it was for the exodus of people from communist East Europe?
Only two types of government seem to work in Arab countries.  Monarchies, set up at the end of WWI and the fall of the old Turkish Empire, such as Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have remained stable and the citizens have prospered.  The other form is military dictatorship – some good, some not so good.
A third relatively new type of government, the religious state or theocracy as in Iran, seems to be working.  They had a change in leadership and there was no mass exodus of people fleeing oppression.  And while Iran is more Persian than Arab, it is deeply involved in whatever is going on in the Middle East.
Egypt seem to be headed toward a religious based state after its first freely elected president and the party of the Muslim Brotherhood began moving the country that way, however, the military took over and Egypt is back to the way it had been before the rising of the “Arab Spring.”  Once again, there was no mass exodus while this was going on.
Of course what is new in the Middle East is the coming of the legendary Sunni-Shia War.  This mythical conflict that has been brewing since the death of the Prophet Mohammed was suppressed by the Ottoman Turks after they took over.  But the Americans’ overthrow of Saddam seems to have brought it on and turned a myth into a fact.  Whether the conflict is with Assad in Syria, against ISIS, uprising in Yemen, or undue Iranian influence in Iraq, the division is usually along Sunni-Shia lines.
The message seems to be choosing one side or the other or you and your family dies.  The other choice is to leave and that’s what we are seeing coming out of the Middle East.