The Middle East in Motion

BERLIN – Great speeches are all too often underestimated as being mere words. In fact, they can have powerful consequences. This is obviously the case with President Barack Obama’s recent address to the Muslim world in Cairo, because – mere coincidence or excellent timing? – things in the Middle East have been in flux ever since.

Since Obama’s Cairo speech, there have been elections in Lebanon where, surprisingly, the alliance of pro-Western parties scored a clear victory against Hezbollah and its allies. Also noteworthy in that election is that the losing side immediately accepted defeat and that Syria is now obviously serious about building a new rapport with Lebanon.

Iran’s recent “election” saw blatant manipulation in favor of the incumbent president incite a democratic mass uprising. One is astonished by the fact that Iran’s government did not opt for transparency immediately, by promptly and comprehensively providing the facts about the voting, facts that it alone possesses. After all, if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has genuinely won by a margin of 2:1, there is nothing to fear. What is happening, however, is precisely the opposite, and for this there is only one explanation: the election was rigged.

The election fraud in Iran has caused a mass movement in the country’s cities, which – this much is clear even now – will fundamentally change the country. Indeed, either the regime will resort to brute force to suppress the protests, thus abandoning any pretense of democratic legitimacy in favor of de facto military dictatorship, or it will find it impossible to beat the subversive genie of democracy back into its bottle, and Iran will increasingly open up and reform itself. In the case of violent suppression, the West will find it a lot harder to hold talks with Iran over its nuclear program, because the regime will be able to rely for its survival solely on isolation and confrontation with the outside world. Moreover, talks with the regime would give rise to substantial legitimacy problems in the West.