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BlackSwanEffect's avatar

Why can't we follow the example of the Magna Carta in the Middle East?

Asked by BlackSwanEffect (698points) September 16th, 2015

Current Western policy in the Middle East involves a great deal of regime change. Whether we’re removing Hussein, Gaddhafi, or Assad, it’s all about changing the leaders of the country in question.

However none of these leaders can claim to be any more cruel and ruthless than King John of England. When King John was defeated in the baronial revolt, the barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta, but allowed him to remain as king. This was an important first step towards forming a constitutional monarchy, which later proved to be an extremely effective form of government, and over time most of the functions of the monarchy have passed to the parliament.

Regime change in the Middle East doesn’t appear to work. There isn’t a single example where a country has been decidedly better off for the removal of their dictator. Inevitably a power vacuum follows, leading to bloody sectarian conflict worse than the dictator’s violence. So why don’t the Western powers rather force these dictators to sign a bill of rights, enforced by the threat of regime change? Surely this would preserve the stability of the countries in question, while improving the political landscape for the citizens?

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17 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

You touch on the answer with this question:
_So why don’t the Western powers rather force these dictators to sign a bill of rights, enforced by the threat of regime change? _

How do we force anyone to do anything?

Whose military is going to create the regime change?

And more to the point, especially after the US fuckup in Iraq, who is going to keep the country stable after the regime change?

Winning Iraq was the easy part. What happened after – who was going to lead the country? Was where the bad stuff started to happen. The US (Bush) never planned that part of the end-game, and now we have ISIS.

No country or countries want to get into the middle east mess. And even if they wanted to, it would take a constant – 20+ year commitment of army personnel, funds, etc., in a hostile environment with religious nuts trying to overthrow you.

Your idea, although interesting, is simply not going to work.

janbb's avatar

The Magna Carta was imposed from within by the existing support structure. It gave more rights to the feudal lords than to the average Joes but was seen as the basis for their constitutional monarchy. An analogy might be if the war lords in Afghanistan forced Karzai to sign a charter. We don’t have the heart, the brains or the money to impose constitutional monarchy although theoretically it is a good idea.

I really don’t know what the answer is; democracy doesn’t seem able to be imposed from without. The Middle East seems to either work with stable dictatorships or dissolve into bloodbaths.

stanleybmanly's avatar

WE? If you’re asking “what’s the problem with representative government and the Middle East?”, the answer is simple, obvious, unappreciated and RARELY discussed. The great obstacle to all aspects of modernization including the functioning of government is Islam, a religion well suited and evolved to the realities of tribal existence, but particularly hostile to the requirements of a modern state. And to appreciate the significance of this, just consider the implications to democracy when the concept of separation of mosque and state is a heresy of the greatest magnitude. It is a precept which makes perfect sense in linking the destiny of a ruler’s soul to his behavior toward his subjects, but try to imagine life in the present day United States if the Bible were literally the law, (to the delight of our own fundamentalists)

rojo's avatar

If I recall correctly, the Magna Carta, as imposed on King John, only lasted about three months until he whupped up on the Barons. Then it sat around pretty much unnoticed and unobserved for a few hundred more years until being used as the basis for the Bill of Rights. Over in the Middle East we probably need something with a little more enforcement power behind it.

BlackSwanEffect's avatar

@elbanditoroso The regime change would be carried out by existing methods. Alliances could be forged with local warlords, who could be armed with modern weapons. A bombing campaign could weaken the regime, while international recognition would legitimise the opposition. It doesn’t really matter how, just that they know it can be done. Dictators like Assad want, more than anything, to remain in power. Limiting their powers while leaving them in place would be a preferable alternative to chaos. Surely the threat would be enough, and in most cases there would be no need to follow through?

@janbb This idea grew out of the recognition that attempts to impose democracy have failed dismally. But a gradual devolution of powers could at least pacify the opposition while preserving the stability given by a dictator. The Magna Carta didn’t establish a constitutional monarchy, but it was the first step on the path towards one.

@stanleybmanly I completely agree that Islam is the greatest obstacle to progress. Considering that, would you rather see the dictators remain?

@rojo Correct, but that is a matter of power rather than a conceptual failure. If the barons had had the power to enforce the Magna Carta and defeat King John yet again in the reprisals that followed, surely the same pathway of political modernisation would’ve been followed, just a bit sooner? If such a concept had the appropriate power behind it, would it work?

elbanditoroso's avatar


If recent history (Iraq and Afghanistan) are any predictor of the future, then I think it is unrealistic to expect that international recognition would be forthcoming or persuasive. Depending on regional threats and other factors (oil, internal politics, economic issues) my guess is that a lot of countries would simply stay silent.

I also think that a weakened leader (as you suggest in your reply to me) is by nature in a precarious position (unless he becomes a US puppet, which has its own risks). A weak leader is then subject to overthrow from internal political or other power bases (military, for example), and to a degree from the outside (remember Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990?).

So your assumptions about the ease of a takeover are, I believe, assuming that the leader and the country will stay docile. I don’t buy that scenario.

BlackSwanEffect's avatar

@elbanditoroso All fair points, thanks.

crexifictious's avatar

The Magna Carta is only as good as the people who enforce it. It is a document that one would wish to relate to their own personal feelings of justice.

It is nothing like the Constitution.

BlackSwanEffect's avatar

@crexifictious Please read the whole question. I wouldn’t want to implement the exact document, but use the path to the decentralisation of power used when the document was signed.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It isn’t a question of whether or not I would prefer the dictators or brutal authoritarian governments. These 2 factors define the region for the same reason an alligator or shark’s teeth are defined by their diets. The dictators are in place, because THAT’s WHAT WORKS! Without a heavy hand, the tensions between religious demands and secular necessities assure guaranteed strife and instability. The inherent conflict between Islam and modernity is also responsible for the rampant levels of corruption permeating the region.

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BlackSwanEffect's avatar

@stanleybmanly Very true. Wouldn’t it have been great if certain foreign actors had realised that in 2003 and 2011. We certainly wouldn’t have had so many failed states in the region.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The Russians know the truth. They actually made the mistake of going into Afghanistan, and learned from it.

BlackSwanEffect's avatar

Agreed. They also seem to be the only ones seeing things straight in Syria.

stanleybmanly's avatar

We agree. We in this country make the mistake of thinking the choice is Assad, Isis or democracy. The truth is that even a pretense of what we consider democracy is a preposterous notion for the countries involved. Most of the rebels in Syria share the same delusion.

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