I am writing this article from Israel, where I lead a study tour each spring. From this vantage point, the status of the Arab Spring after a year is especially relevant. What is the future for this conflicted region? What is its continued significance for the West?
In this essay I propose to use a tool of analysis known as the “metanarrative.” George Friedman’s Stratfor has popularized this interpretive approach. In geopolitical terms, a “metanarrative” is a nation’s overarching mission. Understanding the metanarratives at work around the world today can help us explain global trends and predict political developments.
For instance, America’s metanarrative was originally to control our continent. Our continued metanarrative is to maintain our sovereign security by defending our status as the world’s only superpower. We spend more on our military than the next 17 nations combined. According to Friedman, we achieved our metarrative purpose in Vietnam by thwarting a regional Communist superpower. We are achieving the same purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan by preventing radical Muslims from threatening our regional superiority.
Viewed through the prism of metanarrative, what is the future for the Arab world and the Middle East? Let’s survey the nations surrounding Israel, beginning to the south with Egypt. Here three metanarratives are in conflict. One is the pharaohic pretensions of the Mubarak regime, perpetuated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. A second is the dream of liberal democracy cherished by Wael Ghonim and the young adults who sparked the Tahrir Square revolution. A third is the Islamist vision of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi loyalists.
Which will succeed? In the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Fouad Ajami speculates that the Brotherhood could control education, social welfare and the judiciary, while the military controls defense, intelligence, relations with Israel, and ties to the U.S. and the West. In this scenario, the aspirations for democratic reform that catalyzed the revolution would be repressed yet again.
On Israel’s immediate east and west lie Palestinian areas controlled by Fatah and Hamas, respectively. Fatah was founded in 1959 by Yasser Arafat. Its current metanarrative is to secure a two-state solution with Israel that would grant the Palestinian people their own sovereignty. Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987. Their metanarrative is to destroy Israel and secure the Holy Land for Palestine.
Since the 2006 elections, Fatah has controlled the West Bank while Hamas governs Gaza. The two announced unified elections for later this year, but Hamas has now postponed such progress. Is another Intafada (“resistance”) coming? Will the status quo prevail? Or will leaders from the two Palestinian parties find a way to achieve solidarity in negotiating with Israel?
To Israel’s north, Hizbullah is more dominant in Lebanon than ever before. Their metanarrative is linked with Iran: force Western forces from the region, “push Israel into the sea,” and establish a base for global Shiite domination. Many in Israel believe that another war with Hizbullah is inevitable.
To Israel’s northeast lies Syria. The Assad regime grows more conflicted and isolated by the day, with no way to predict the future. Will Iran solidify its control of this satellite, or will rebels achieve sovereignty?
We close with Iran, whose metanarrative is to rebuild its Persian Empire. Will her leaders continue their drive for nuclear power and perhaps nuclear weapons? Will Israel and/or America intervene militarily? Will Syria and Hizbullah retaliate against Israel, drawing America into regional war? Will the larger Muslim world become involved?
Such are the questions spawned over the last year by the Arab Spring. From where I am writing, these questions are existentially critical. When I return home, they will be no less significant. The good news is that more Muslims have become Christians in the last 15 years than in the previous 15 centuries. Missionaries in this region tell me that more Jews have turned to Christ as their Messiah in the last 20 years than in the last 20 centuries.
God is on the move in this ancient land. He calls us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), interceding for all who live in this conflicted region. I pray daily for spiritual awakening to spread across the Middle East. Would you join me?