Thursday, June 23, 2011
The Internal And External Factors Affecting The Arab World
By Bilal Hassen
Instability…this is the simplest description that we can give to the situation that the entire Arab region is facing. This situation in our region is being described by some as "the Arab Spring", "popular uprisings", or even as various movements for "regime change." All of the above descriptions of the situation in our region may be correct, but nobody can deny that this reflects a state of instability.
There has been talk about the situation in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, and I do not know why we do not add Iraq to this list, particularly in light of the continued demonstrations taking place against the government and against US military presence in the country. I do not know why we do not also add what is happening in Palestine to this list, from the stalled calls for reconciliation and the internal divisions within the Fatah movement over the decision to dismiss Mohamed Dahlan and the repercussion of this, particularly in Gaza. I do not know why we do not add the state of full-scale political confrontation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government over the issue of negotiations and reaching a political settlement to this list, particularly after this issue has taken an international dimension with the issue of recognizing the state of Palestine being transferred to the UN amidst a climate of complete cooperation between Washington and Tel Aviv. I do not know why we do not add the recent occurrences that have taken place in the Lebanese city of Tripoli to this list, particularly as this resulted in a number of deaths and injuries and incited public sectarian confrontations that are said to echo what is happening in Syria.
When all of the incidents mentioned above can be included in a single news round-up, we can clearly see the dangerous Arab reality that we are facing today. Not everything that is happening in our region is necessarily positive, that is unless we adopt the "creative chaos" doctrine [that if the Middle East is thrown into turmoil the old authoritarian regimes will be replaced by democratic ones] that the American neo-conservatives sought to implement during the era of George W. Bush. Many had thought that this doctrine had died, following the absence of its creators [the American neo-conservatives], but it has re-emerged, this time at the hands of the American neo-conservatives main political opponent Barack Obama, as if this were now official US policy.
Many Arab writers and politicians are reluctant to talk about the issue of foreign interference in our affairs, whilst some see this [talking about foreign interference in our affairs] as reflecting our own failures to address our problems. This may be a reasonable viewpoint; however Western writers and politicians continue to stress that this is not the case and that NATO is the sole western tool for this [foreign intervention]. In this regard, American writer Ivo Daalder [US Permanent Representative on the NATO Council] reminded us that the entire world needs NATO and its military power [in his article "Who needs NATO? We all do" published by New York Times on 17/6/2011]. In this article, he reminded us that more than 150,000 troops participate in six NATO operations on three continents, from military operations in Afghanistan and Libya to anti-piracy operations in Somalia to counter-terrorism activities in the Mediterranean to training security forces in Iraq to NATO's long-standing commitment to stability in the Balkans.
We can also add to this list US interference in Yemeni affairs, the US threatening the Syrian regime, from imposing economic sanctions to blacklisting certain officials and figures, not to mention Washington threatening to target Syria's oil and gas revenues which would significantly harm the country. The US is expected to target Syria in this regard unless Damascus agrees to the US demand that it breaks off its alliance with Iran, cuts its ties with the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance, and concludes a peace agreement with Israel. All of this was made clear in the last speeches given by [US President] Obama and [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu from Washington. These two speeches angered the entire Arab world, to the extent that Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote an article for the Washington Post [Failed favouritism towards Israel, published on 10/6/2011], in which he warned of the consequences of this policy, stating that this could intensify Arab hostility towards the US.
NATO's intervention in Arab affairs, whether militarily or politically, is justified on the grounds that "everything that was previously national is now international." This is true, and we can see signs of this everywhere, yet we have not seen any attempt to create an Arab understanding of this concept, nor could we formulate an Arab policy to confront this. The most that we see today is media statements issued by one county or another that either expresses blame or anger. Statements such as this are often issued by the Arab League Secretary-General, whose position necessitates stances that are compatible with contradictory Arab positions. This means that the Arab League's position is either obscure or confused, or in other words these are positions that can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
What we want to stress here is that the Arab region is not just facing internal problems, but also high-level foreign interference that begins with pressing statements and pressure, and then becomes threats of economic sanctions, until this reaches a stage of a war being waged against one Arab country or another. It is no longer beneficial for us to deal with what is happening in our region as being mere internal incidents. However following the principle that "everything that was previously national is now international", whenever any incident takes place in the Arab world, foreign powers prepare to interfere in order to steer events in a specific direction that does not jeopardize their political, economic or military interests. This is what happened with regards to events in Tunisia; no sooner had the news been announced that President Ben Ali had fled the country than European pressure was exerted to ensure that Tunisia remained within the European political sphere of influence, and therefore within Europe's economic sphere of influence as well. The same situation occurred in Egypt following President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, with the US exerting political pressure in order to ensure that Cairo remains within its influence. Whether Washington has been successful in this regard or not, the battle began as soon as Mubarak stepped down, and continues until today. This battle began by focusing on politics, and then extended to the economy, and following this to the arming and training of the Egyptian army; this situation is directly reflected in Cairo's relationship with Israel, as well as Egyptian support of the Palestinian cause. Even if the Egyptian revolution has been successful in achieving some of its objectives, its other objectives will be decided on the battlefield.
When this is the situation that we are facing, no country – whether it is Arab or non-Arab – can face its problems alone, not can it address its problems or be committed to its internal affairs without taking a broader look at the outside world, whether regionally or internationally. We cannot ignore the fact that an international conflict is taking place over the Arab world, and so we see China and Russia issuing a joint announcement that they will confront any new attempts of military intervention in the Arab world. If this is the position taken by China and Russia, how can any Arab country protect itself?
The situation in the Arab world now requires changes within each regime, in a manner that is commensurate with the nature of each country. However the state of affairs in the Arab world also requires a new network of international relations. The US today is deeply hostile to the Arab world due to its strong relations with Israel, whilst America is also facing economic problems that may prove to be dangerous, whilst the influence of countries such as Russia, China, India and Brazil is on the rise, which necessitates thinking about a new map of international alliances in order to strengthen our region, in a climate of fierce international struggle.
If it is our duty to focus on the need for change in the Arab world, then we must also warn against foreign intervention or interference in our affairs at the same time, particularly as this is something that is taking place on a daily basis, and this is not merely an expression of the so-called "conspiracy mentality", as it is often claimed.
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 22/06/2011