Bring Back the Empire: An Argument For Indigenous Monarchy in the Middle East (Opinion)
The Middle East of today is in a state of turmoil and has been since the early part of the twentieth century. Despite the surplus in oil wealth, many Middle Eastern countries have stagnated. Unemployment in Egypt is at twelve percent, in Iraq it is at sixteen percent and in war-torn Syria it is at fourteen percent. This has led to several unemployed and disgruntled youths being drawn into radical Islamic organizations who give them a sense of purpose and direction. The GDP of Middle Eastern countries is similarly bleak. In 2016, economic growth in the region had slowed to 2.6 %.
The Middle East is also beset by instability and war. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to rage. The Islamic State, falsely claiming to be the Caliphate, has committed atrocities. The Arab Spring did not lead to democracy as many had hoped, but only to a brutal civil war in Syria. The Islamic State has grown weaker and much of their territory has been captured by the Iraqi Army. This may mark the beginning of a new era of peace for Iraq, but the lessons of the past must be applied so that a new threat to peace will not arise.
The Middle East has not always looked like this. The historian Sevket Pamuk records that the eighteenth century was a period of “peace, stability and economic expansion” for the Ottoman Empire. At this time, the Ottoman Empire included most of the Middle East and much of the Balkans.
Even before the great Islamic empires, there were empires in the Middle East that were able to unite diverse peoples beneath a single ruler who was able to provide the peace and stability needed for civilizations to flourish. The Persian Empire united thousands of Middle Eastern peoples and was known for a code of human rights and building roads that allowed for trade across vast distances. Just as it would be beneath the Ottomans several centuries later, a unified empire allowed the Middle Eastern civilizations to reach their full potential.
The Egyptian Empire was not quite as vast as their successors, but it was similarly known for its wealth and artistic brilliance. Visitors to Egypt today still marvel at the ruins of temples and palaces that hint at a once-powerful civilization.
What led to the decline of Middle Eastern prosperity and stability? After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Western powers redrew the map of the Middle East. This divided peoples that had been united for centuries and created new states where none had existed before. Minority groups like the Kurds were cut out completely while Israel, a state that had not existed since ancient times, was planted in the middle of what had become Arab land. It was Western meddling that led to the problems in the Middle East thus the imposition of western cultural norms can not be the solution. Arguably, nationalism or the republican form of government has led to much of the chaos as it became clear they were foreign ideas based upon the shared experiences of an entirely different culture.
While other states in the regions have collapsed, some of those states have remained strong although not entirely healthy. These states have been traditional monarchies such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan. As these states are based upon traditional Middle Eastern values, they have been able to maintain stability. In addition, one of the benefits of monarchy is a sense of stability. A monarch is an impartial figure, usually belonging to no political party. This impartiality is necessary for resolving disputes. This can be particularly important in states with more than one ethnic group.
The historical truth is that the Middle East has only ever functioned as single region and functions best when politically unified, as it was under the Persian or Ottoman empires. If the West would stop meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, at some point a powerful imperial state could emerge in the region. Such a state could unify the Middle East, put an end to ethnic conflicts and given enough time could produce an enlightened ruler who could secure human rights throughout his (or perhaps her) empire in the same way Emperor Joseph II did in the Holy Roman Empire or Cyrus the Great did in Persia.