Following the withdrawal of traditional colonial powers from the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, the US came up with the theory of “filling the void” to confront the Communist advance dreaming of a foothold in warm regions.
This theory was the brainchild of former US President Dwight Eisenhower, who assumed office in 1953. His policy was based on using military force in any cases deemed necessary to protect Middle Eastern states from the danger of Communism, as well as linking economic military aid to serving US interests.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser vehemently opposed this theory, which he believed suppressed the struggle of Middle Eastern states and moved them from the age of European colonization to the era of American dominance.
Still, the Eisenhower Doctrine kept controlling the fate of many states in the region, until the US-planned Arab Spring came upon us. Regimes fell and states collapsed, yet no entity emerged that could fill the power vacuum besides Political Islam groups, which use terrorism to achieve their objectives.
The winds of the Arab Spring took down the armies of the targeted Arab states, which fell to the ground like autumn leaves. The void left by the collapse of these armies was soon filled by terrorist groups, which used the methods of militias and gangs against their own states and peoples. The goal was no longer to liberate the state and restore its power, but rather to launch fatal and bloody wars to take power. That this path would be stained with strife and bloodshed did not matter.
The most horrid model of Eisenhower’s theory was Afghanistan. Even after a 20-year occupation, the US did not manage to find someone to fill the political vacuum. Enter, the Taliban. With growing influence, the group grasped hold of the Afghani state and society. This quick and resounding fall was reminiscent of sandcastles being swept away by fierce waves.
If we were to conclude one thing from the Eisenhower Doctrine experiences, it would be that colonizers cannot invent a political system in occupied states that fills the void they leave after their departure. Instead, all that’s left are fragile, vulnerable entities.
The national state notion has received many blows, each filling the vacuum with religious and sectarian strife, conflicts, and rivalries that eventually deprived the state of its national identity and tore apart the national flag that brings everyone together. As each party tried to snatch a piece of the prize, these states were torn apart and weakened.
It can be hard for those who invent demons to later tame them. As such, the alleged democracy that the West bestowed on the region to fill the void became a source of chaos, armed battles, and conflicts over power.
A void can only be filled if all the components of the national state are strengthened and equipped to withstand the storms and hurricanes that strike the state and its institutions. The Arab Spring was never a spring; it was a hell that burned the states and peoples of the region and filled the void with blood and fire.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian newspaper Akhbar Elyom.