International perspectives on the Middle East have been dominated since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 by a reinvigorated debate over the relationship between the region’s internal politics, on the one hand, and its generation of security challenges, on the other hand.
The Hamas victory in Palestinian elections in January 2006 has compounded the salience of such deliberations. This debate has polarised between two competing positions.
At one extreme, pressure for democratic reform in the Middle East has been presented by some as the primary, fail-safe means of enhancing Western security and countering international terrorism.
At the other extreme, sceptics of this new focus on democracy promotion in the Middle East have warned that political liberalisation would at best have negligible impact on the incidence of terrorism, and at worst actually facilitate the further flourishing of violence and anti-Western sentiment.
This paper argues that both these positions are unsatisfactory, and appeals for a more nuanced view that neither reifies nor discounts the potential strategic benefit that would flow from political change in the Middle East.