Reform the Only Hope for the Middle East

Despite virtual around-the-clock coverage of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, one important aspect remains poorly understood: the reaction of the 300 million strong "Arab Street." Turn on any Arab television channel, though, and you can't miss the rage and widespread support for Hezbollah and Hamas: streets roiling with protestors, callers to talk programs denouncing Israel and the United States, and clerics defending Hezbollah and calling for holy war.

Five years after 9/11, the West still struggles to understand this rage that pushes Arab masses to view radical groups as heroic forces of resistance. On one extreme, there are those who indict Islam or Arab culture as the culprit. On the other, there are those who blame it on Israeli aggression and U.S. bias towards Israel. Both are equally simplistic explanations of the contemporary Arab mindset, which is due in large part to the way Arab governments have deliberately nurtured this anger towards Israel, and increasingly the United States, for more than five decades.

After being dominated by foreign powers during the first half of the 20th century, the Arab street was buoyed by hopes of "liberation" following the end of World War II. Instead, colonial rule was replaced with oppressive and inefficient national governments. These regimes have failed to secure economic or social progress and denied political liberties. Most damaging, they redirected the desire of their citizens for a restored sense of pride to an external cause: the liberation of Palestine and the defeat of the "Zionist enemy," on which they blamed all the region's woes.

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