By Sharmine Narwani
Almost three years after the Arab Spring began its region-wide sweep – ostensibly in search of democratic change – scant attention has been paid to one of its most dangerous consequences: the fraying of borders.
Weapons, militias, foreign Special Forces, smugglers, gangs and crooks now regularly traverse borders from the Levant to the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf. And these territorial infractions across Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and other states will inhibit prospects for “democracy” more than any single development in the region.
The logic? Very simply, this: If you don’t have territorial integrity, you don’t have a “state.” If you don’t have a state, you cannot build institutions. If you don’t have institutions, you will never have representative government.
The foreign geniuses who thought they could invade and “regime-change” their way to “democracy” with first Iraq and Afghanistan, then Libya and Syria, forgot the foundational elements of a nation-state – namely, sovereignty and territorial integrity. When you cross a border uninvited and undermine a central government, you rip at the seams of the state itself.
And so we call them “failed states” sometimes, pretending that these entities still retain some semblance of statehood for which parliaments and constitutions and armies can legitimately be assembled.
I chuckle at the attempts of Lebanese politicians to cobble together a new government while gunmen traipse across their borders, unimpeded, just a few miles away. I roll my eyes at the “elected” and “selected” Syrian external opposition – disembodied pashas who don’t have a square-inch of land to call their own. And I cringe when “experts” reference democratic underpinnings in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq, where central authority is as evasive as border security.
“But you have no state,” I want to say. (more…)