Vermillion Rotary Club
Feb. 15, 2011
The Vermillion Rotary Club held its weekly luncheon meeting Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the Neuharth Media Center on the campus of USD. President John Prescott opened the meeting and led us in the invocation and recitation of the Rotary 4-Way Test. Following this was a round of singing, introduction of guests including three Vermillion High School seniors and announcements.
Prescott introduced Dr. Tim Schorn as our speaker for the day. Dr. Schorn is an associate professor of political science and director of International Studies at USD. He received his Ph.D. and law degree from Notre Dame. The title of his presentation was "The Middle East Turmoil and Us".
He began by saying the turmoil was caused by decades of frustration. A possible starting point was the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1980.
The people were tired of the corruption and repression and the appearance of a leader in the person of Ayatollah Khomeini. The combination led to the overthrow of the government. Palestine in 2006 showed similar problems of corruption and incompetence leading to the election of a Hamas-backed government. Another flashpoint was Tunisia this year when the population began to believe that it was possible to overthrow a corrupt dictatorship. The jury is still out about the possibility of a permanent revolution. There is also the overthrow of the Egyptian government these past weeks. These events raise the question whether the rest of the Middle East will follow these examples.
Schorn mentioned the pillars that held these "old" regimes together. The leaders were usually strong men – generals, monarchs or strong families.
They had the backing of the military – usually the army. They all had secret police, sometimes many branches. They established bureaucracies that centralized the government – sometimes for the first time in the country's history. They were also supported by cronies. These were usually family members, military members, and business leaders. They also had external support from other governments including the United States, which saw them as a stabilizing influence in the region.
Populations eventually get tired of corruption and oppression. Many of these countries have very educated people who can't find jobs and young people frustrated by the lack of hope for the future.
Where does it go from here? There are many countries in the Middle East who are experiencing unrest and discontent. One of these is Iran, which is more oppressive than others.
How does it affect us? One area is foreign aid. The people in Egypt, in the opinion of Schorn, are not interested in outside influences or treaties. What will this mean for the Egyptian treaty with Israel? Who will be our friends in the Middle East? Our government will have to recalibrate our approach to the Middle East.
Then there is the problem of oil. It becomes important to have good relations with other countries. It has recently been stated that Saudi Arabia will run out of oil much sooner than predicted.
Schorn stated that people in the Middle East do not understand U.S. policy or what makes it tick. He also stated that he doesn't think the Muslim Brotherhood is not a monolithic organization. Its ideas vary from place to place. He does not think it is as dangerous or as influential as some probably think.