The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.

In the Palestinian territories, Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is indeed a moderate. But notice that the Israeli government and the West have happily postponed elections in the West Bank year after year — because they know full well who would win. Moderates don’t do well in an atmosphere of despair and war.

Perhaps the biggest stretch of all is the idea that the moderates could win in Syria. It is one thing to believe that moderates can organize well, make their case and get to the polls. But the Bashar al-Assad regime turned its guns on the opposition from the start. In that circumstance, the groups that are going to gain power are those that will fight back with ferocity. Consider the new head of the Western-backed Syrian opposition, Hadi al-Bahra, who urges more support for moderates like him. A successful businessman of decency and sincerity, he left Syria in 1983. How likely is it that people like him can take over from those on the ground who are fighting and dying?