With the rise of Islamist organizations, repressive regimes, and civil conflicts which threaten regional stability, the promise of the Arab Spring of 2011 quickly devolved into an Arab winter. In an expansive article in The Economist, the threat to the Middle East is discussed in appropriately grave terms; Syria and Iraq are in flames while Jordan looms as the next domino to potentially fall. Libya and Yemen, where Islamic terror networks operate with impunity, are labeled “failed states.” Those Middle Eastern nations that are not in danger of imminent collapse are either absolute monarchies or counties which merely maintain the false edifice of democracy.
There is one country, however, which shines as a beacon of freedom for the region. It’s commitment to the rule of law and the maintenance of the basic standards of human dignity serve as an example to its neighbors. No, not Israel, silly. Tiny Tunisia is The Economist’s shining city on the Arab hill.
In fairness, the article, datelined Cairo, which accompanies this deeply misleading graphic is far more informative and measured than the visual representation above. That should come as a surprise to no one; if Vox dot com has taught us anything, it is that one simple graphic will never be able to impart “everything you need to know.”
While the author has a case to make for Tunisia’s shift toward Western democratic standards in the wake of the self-immolation of a native fruit vendor who inadvertently sparked the Arab World’s great but failed awakening, there is less of a case to make for Lebanon as a more democratic nation than neighboring Israel.
While representatives of the government in Beirut often pledge their devotion to secularism, that country has also been a safe haven for fighters allied with Iran and Syria for years. And, while ISIS in Iraq is receiving much of the media’s attention, the Syrian civil war long ago expanded into the Lebanese theater.
Syrian Army officials fighting alongside Hezbollah have been unable to dislodge Islamic radicals hiding out in Lebanon’s near lawless Qalamoun region near the Bekaa Valley.
“[W]ith the Lebanese Army keeping an eye on the outskirts of Arsal, Hezbollah has been monitoring the rugged mountain paths favored by rebels using drones and picking off fighters with ambushes and landmines,” the Lebanon Daily Star reported on Tuesday. “The opposition has launched its own series of attacks in an attempt to regain control over Rankoush.”
The expert added that these fighters would continue battling the Syrian army in Qalamoun and could also coordinate attacks inside Lebanon in an attempt to strike Hezbollah at home.
The prospect of yet another Levant nation falling to ISIS puts the lie to the notion that Lebanon is a model for popular democracy in the Middle East. Though it is not clear that the author intended to even make that case; Israel is barely mentioned in his piece and, when it is, it is only discussed in the context of the fracturing of the Palestinian Authority in the noncontiguous Gaza and West Bank territories.
Maybe The Economist just has a particularly fanatical graphics designer.