What appears to be a “popular revolt” shaking sections of the Arab world shows signs of shifting the precarious balance of power in the middle east with an unexpected and perhaps unintended elevation to Iran’s power and its position in the region.
THE LONG SHADOW OF IRAN
Iran (or Persia) is not an Arab country. It is a Muslim theocracy of the Shi’ite sect closely allied in its theology to that of the powerful Alawite minorities of Syria, Irak and Jordan and the majority Shi’ites in Irak (65%) Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and the other Emirates including the strategically placed Kingdom of Qatar.
Whilst the final chapter in this nascent power shift in the region is yet to be written, It appears that Iran has already begun to reap benefits from the undermining of minority run absolutist monarchies in the region supported by Saudi Arabia, the US and Britain. The latter two states acting out of self interest for their economic and strategic purposes in the region.
IDEALISM VERSUS REALISM
The dangers of supporting “mass revolts” or uprisings, a phenomenon such as what the world is witness to in the middle east and North Africa is evident in the Egyptian example. There we were witness to an illegitimate, though popular displacing of a lawfully elected President and that country’s government, held hostage for several days to a highly organized and unruly crowd led by a mobile, middle class, western educated constituency of youth. It was in fact a civilian coup handing government to the army.
Without a leader or alternative government in the wings, faceless plotters of this mainly middle class vocal minority, driven by technology and a trend, paved the way for the only capable public body there to assume control of government. The Egyptian Army.
It wasn’t intended to turn out the way it did but that’s what Egypt’s mobs from its middle classes got. An undemocratic institution to outplay their own ambitions, legitimized by the so called “people power” through undemocratic use of highly visual and noisy street riots to seize government.
CHANGING LANDSCAPES AND POLITICAL OPPORTUNISTS
In a major and bold policy shift recognizing Iran’s growing power in the region, the new military regime in Cairo approved an unprecedented request by Iran’s navy for passage through the Suez canal of a flotilla of its men of war. Although a right at international law, Iran’s navy had been denied passage through the Suez canal since the ousting of the Shah Reza Phalavi in 1979. Israel was not impressed.
It appears that the current generation of texting, blogging and sit com educated pseudo Americans in most developing countries lack critical knowledge of history or how political movements and governments operate. The lesson should not be lost on Malaysia’s youth or its opposition.
These recent ‘uprisings’ have clearly demonstrated that if these rioters were indeed seeking change, then an alternative government would have been waiting in the wings with alternative policies and not mere emotional clichéd slogans for a mainly western media. Not so in any of the Arab countries till now.
Muhammad El Baradai head of the International Atomic Energy Commission stepped into the breach as only an opportunist like him could have done. An architect of the discredited and disgraceful “weapons of mass destruction’ lie that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs, although of Egyptian descent, has only lived in Egypt of the past decades for no more than 3 months at any one given time. He is now hopefully history.
PAWNS CAPTURE KINGS
Saudi Arabia the US’s strongest ally in the region long competing for influence with Iran in the region is now bunkering down. Its leadership an undemocratic unelected monarchy shaken to its core by protesters demanding change. Apart from its Shi’ite minorities Saudi Arabia has a home grown anti monarchy, unpredictable and capable of anything anytime anywhere. Now embolden by the cult of twitter frenzied youth engulfing the region and waiting for the right time to pounce is Al Qaida according western and Arab intelligence reports.
The three protagonists in the region that supported rapprochement with Israel and containment of Hamas and its military wing Hezbollah appear to be encircled by the fallout from the Egyptian revolution.
Jordan whose King Abdullah ranks as the most pro-western of the three (the other two being Saudi Arabia and Egypt) has thus far been spared the humiliation dished out by street mobs propelled by western media outlets and their exaggerated reports. But King Abdullah is fighting a rear guard action against a rising tide of anti-monarchists and Islamists, all of who are rightfully and opportunistically riding the ‘bucking horse” of democracy. King Abdullah’s chances of survival are slim according to Washington based Jordan watchers.
“Saudi Arabia is in turmoil internally as the Royal Family who own everything there and whose feudal authority has never been challenged for decades are now feeling they are under siege”. “It’s not going to be a pretty sight” according to a former American resident of Saudi Arabia with decades of experience in the Saudi Kingdom. “All of this points to an intelligence failure on our part” he said wishing to remain anonymous. “It’s not the first time either” he concluded hastily.
IRAN DEMON OR THE BEST POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE?
Iran’s appetibility, its confidence and its growing influence in the region stems from the shift in power structures the region experienced post 9/11. By containing the Taliban and removing Saddam Hussein from power in Irak, the US had unwittingly removed the two biggest obstacles to Iran’s assertion and projection as a power to be reckoned with in the region.
Iran has a lot to thank a negligent US administration for its rise to prominence in the Middle East. Iran’s ascendency in this regard has been without having to fire a single shot in anger. Today thanks to US intervention in the region Iran’s influence in Irak and Afghanistan is unassailable and cannot be ignored. It is unquestionably necessary a force to engage in order to achieve any lasting peace and stability to the region. The position Iran has been catapulted to by default is clearly the unintended consequences of US foreign policy.
SPEAKING IN FORKED TOUNGES
The biggest challenge now to US supremacy in the region in political and military terms is its tenuous hold in Irak. The same “People power” sweeping the region elsewhere has reared its head in Mosul, Baghdad and in Saddam’s home town of Tikrit. The protesters there united in their one objective, to rid Irak of the American backed unrepresentative government of Nouri Al Maliki.
The US has another problem in the region it cannot ignore. How is it going to morally justify support for revolutions in places like Egypt and in Libya against legitimate and internationally recognized governments however popular these ‘uprisings’ may appear to be on a TV screen without giving equally forceful recognition and backing to the street voices in Irak, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Emirates.
Calling for legitimate governments to be overthrown by anti-democratic means is a recipe for disaster in a seamless world of information available at the speed of light. The US in recognizing Egypt’s demonstrators and their actions as a legitimate means of regime change are now ensnared in their own devices.
Whilst underhandedly condoning China’s ‘Jasmine Revolution” at the same time being heavy handed and unevenly so in its treatment of the Libyan government in Tripoli’s crackdown of an internal rebellion is a one sided strategy that could well backfire on the US and encourage a spill onto the streets elsewhere.
There are millions of Americans who are homeless and without basic necessities courtesy of institutional corruption fuelled by US bankers with the underlying support of its government. Such street revolutions may yet be the catalyst they need for regime change there.
The Wisconsin debacle is already turning out to be one such incident and perhaps a catalyst for another million man (and woman) march. The US surely does not want something the likes of the French Revolution at its doorstep at a time its economy and military influence abroad is waning and its very survival as a super power at risk.
DOUBLE STANDARDS AND A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD
The US calls for the overthrow of legitimate governments in the Arab world unwilling to toe their line. From Saddam Hussein to Hosni Mubarak to Muammar Gadhafi they acquiesce in whipping up frenzied street protests largely unrepresentative of the majority. On the other hand they continue aiding the oppression of a people they invaded in Irak and in whose nation they have destroyed every working institution except those capable of supporting oil production to the benefit of US oil companies operating within.
The question now is who will replace Gadhafi if he is in the end overthrown by what’s another “ rudderless” show of “people power” in the region? Already Berlusconi Italy’s popular and controversial prime minister is wary of the unwanted flow of refugees making a bee line to Italy if Gadhafi falls.
France has quietly also expressed similar concerns to the EU but needs to toe the US line in respect of Libya and not make its anti-Arab anti-humanist sentiments known too publicly lest it undermines the moral credibility of the UN’s and US’s actions against Libya.
It appears that the two pronged attack engineered by the west to destroy non compliant governments in the region is baring its teeth ready to bite them in the proverbials. Democracy: whatever that means and the ‘rights of refugees’ (a human rights cornerstone) who support western campaigns in their homelands like mercenaries are now emerging as Europe’s biggest cultural, economic and security problem which they appear unwilling, incapable and ambivalent in exercise of their international responsibilities.
Madeline Albright a Holoucast survivor turned Catholic and Secretary of State under William Jefferson Clinton was after all correct in articulating US foreign policy speak: 350,000 dead children in Irak (or anywhere for that matter as long as they are not white Americans) “is a small price to pay”.