Middle East muddle

Iranians elected a new president over the weekend who is seen as a reformer. Tunisians are struggling to figure out what role Islam should play in their developing constitution and government. And fighting in Syria continues unabated by the news that the United States will begin to provide small arms to the rebels fighting against the Assad regime.

Certainly, in comparison to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who slammed a fist down on any internal dissent, angered the Western world with his belligerent pronouncements and repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel — President-elect Hassan Rowhani looks like a reformer. He has said he wants to improve relations with the United States, provide more transparency regarding his country’s nuclear energy program and improve the lives of Iranian citizens.

But, in a country still ruled by Muslim ayatollahs, it’s not at all clear how much reform Rowhani will be allowed to push. Additionally, Rowhani made it clear Monday he has no intention of ending or suspending Iran’s nuclear program.

Furthermore, news reports Monday indicated Iran is sending more troops to Syria to fight on behalf of Assad’s regime and against the rebels supported by the United States.

Meanwhile, liberals and conservatives in this country, along with some of the Syrian rebels themselves, crticized President Barack Obama’s decision last week to send small arms to the rebels. It was too little, too late, according to some, or the first stumble down a slippery slope toward greater U.S. involvement in that war-torn country.

Across the Mediterranean, in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Islamic fundamentalists and secular leaders are arguing over how much sharia should play in the constitution now being written. But at least they are fighting politically, and not with guns.

There’s reason for some optimism regarding this troubled region, but always plenty of cause for despair.


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