There is a very simple answer to an apparent disagreement about the current
“Arab revolt.” Whether it is positive or negative depends on the specific
First, let’s look at a silly myth that has developed
about these events. So far, only two revolutions have succeeded – in Tunisia and
Egypt. In both cases (without taking anything away from the courage of
individual citizens), the opposition movements won because the nation’s armies
supported them. The officers refused to defend these regimes because of their
own grievances against them.
But why should people expect that other
governments are going to fall if their armed forces – including special
ideological units closely tied to the regime – fight to defeat the opposition?
No reason at all.
Let’s take a look at each separate situation:
the resurgence of active opposition in Iran is a good thing. And there are real
chances for the Tunisia democratization effort to succeed.
In Libya, we
know little about the opposition, but – and I hope I don’t regret having written
this – it’s hard to see the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi leading to something
worse (though a radical Islamist state allied to the Iran-led bloc would indeed
be worse for the region). Yemen is, as always, complex, with so many competing
factors that one suspects even a seemingly dramatic change would merely be more
of the same.
Bahrain is very worrisome, but it appears that a compromise
will be worked out to combine reform with stability. With Iran backing the
hardline opposition and some groups wanting a total revolution and a
Shi’ite-dominated Islamist state, there will surely be dissent to any reasonable
Finally in this survey of developments, there has been a serious
weakening of US credibility due to Washington’s flip-flops, eagerness to dump a
veteran ally, ignorance about the issues and naiveté in pushing for change
without any idea of where it might lead. And that’s a short list.
seen how President Barack Obama disregarded the more reasoned advice of his
State and Defense departments while favoring highly ideological, totally
inexperienced junior White House staffers and a CIA which for some reason seems
to think promoting radical Islamism, even indirectly, is a great idea.
if we look at the totality of events there is both positive and negative,
including the hope that various factors have led to the birth of an important
Arab democracy movement.
MY CONCERN is not about the revolts as a whole,
but overwhelmingly about Egypt as a specific case. The West’s absolute refusal
to deal with the obvious fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is a profoundly
radical, well-organized, anti-Western, anti-Semitic group that wants to install
an Islamist dictatorship does not bode well.
In every Arabic-speaking
state there is a competition between Arab nationalism, Islamism and pragmatic,
moderate democratization. Every country has a different balance of
The overthrow of the Islamist regime in Iran, the dictatorships
in Syria and Tunisia and that in Libya would be good things in the strategic
The overthrow of the regime in Egypt contains great potential
The overthrow of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas, the
Jordanian monarchy by the Muslim Brotherhood or the Saudi monarchy by people who
like Osama bin Laden would be a disaster.
Meanwhile, everyone seems to
have forgotten one of the most important developments of 2011: the takeover of
Lebanon by Hezbollah, and that country’s subsequent joining to the Iran- Syria
bloc. And there is a lot of eyeclosing about another disaster: the growing
foreign-policy extremism of the Turkish regime, which is also aligned with the
One would assume that a sophisticated approach would be
taken by opinion-making and policy-making circles. More typical, however, is
unbridled enthusiasm, as in this Washington Post editorial: “The direction of
events means that, more than ever, the American interest lies in encouraging
more rather than less freedom and in reaching out to those Arabs who seek
genuine democracy. If that means straining ties with autocratic allies, then
that is preferable to appearing to back the wrong side.”
that last sentence. Does the US want to abandon its relationship with
Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – the three key remaining friendly countries –
in order not to back the “wrong side”? That phrase about supporting “those Arabs
who seek genuine democracy” sounds good, but we are being told that this
category includes the Muslim Brotherhood, anti-American leftists and radical
So what makes someone the “right” side? Presumably
they will push for change that meets the following qualifications:
• It will
bring more freedom and better living standards to the people. Do we know this to
• It will be more favorable to US interests. Do we know this to
• It will oppose terrorism, violence and war in the region. Do we know
this to be true?
Didn’t communism present itself as the “right” side of history
for decades? Doesn’t Islamism do so now? One must make case-by-case distinctions
based on serious analysis, not wishful thinking.
Moreover, there is an
unspoken assumption that if the US proves itself to be on the “right” side, then
the people will be grateful. This is not how Middle East politics works, as
shown by US efforts to be on the “right” side in Iran in 1978-1979, with the
Palestinians since the 1990s, and so on.
The US should also be
discovering the limits of gratitude in places like Afghanistan and
What is definitely wrong has been the tendency to be most
supportive of upheaval in relatively moderate states friendly to the West and
least supportive of it in radical states hostile to the West.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! Down with Bashar Assad! Down with Muammar Gaddafi! Down
with the Hezbollah-Iran-Syrian puppet regime in Lebanon! Down with the Islamist
government in Turkey! Down with the repressive, terrorist Hamas regime in the
Gaza Strip! That should be enough to keep Western policy busy for a
while.The writer is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal
and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com