Majdalani Effect, Zawahiri Strategy, the M. East curse

The Region: A slip of the tongue by the PA labor minister illustrates the total contempt Arab leaders have for their people.

By BARRY RUBIN
December 5, 2011 07:33
ABO EL-MATY of the Salafist Al-Nour Party

ABO EL-MATY of the Salafist Al-Nour Party 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

In a rare glimpse behind the curtain, a recent Palestinian scandal shed a lot of light on the Palestinian Authority, Arab politics and Western illusions.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Labor Ahmed Majdalani was being interviewed by a radio station when, not realizing that his microphone was on, he referred to Palestinian workers as “brothers of whores.” Hundreds of callers complained. Majdalani’s answer? He claimed he was talking about Israelis, not Palestinians! What does this tell us? First, that Arab and Muslim majority society are still extremely traditional. Despite the rhetoric about popular struggle, Leftism, anti-imperialism and more, the leaders of both the establishment and, less surprisingly, the Islamists, and even of the “liberals” are extremely reactionary. They have total contempt for their own people and little or no interest in bettering their lot. Aid money goes into their pockets; power goes to their heads.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


Where naïve Western Leftists, liberals and many “experts” see some kind of mirror-image of themselves, there is something quite different. That’s one reason why the “Arab Spring” has failed and led to something worse, even while the West celebrates it from wishful thinking and many locals do so out of desperate hope.

The Majdalani slip was a particularly vivid example of the “old switcheroo,” the con-man’s substitution of a scapegoat to hide his own culpability. No, it isn’t your own leaders who betray you and exploit you, it’s the Jews, or the Americans, the Zionists and the Crusaders.

Western observers simply can’t believe that this political con-game works because they see through the scam. Of course, it’s always easier for people to understand another society’s foibles. But, yes, even today, it works. We’ve seen the return of the old hatreds to Turkey, where many thought they were banished forever.

ELECTORAL POLITICS brings out the best and worst in people. They can be the domain of reasoned debate but they also are the playground of demagogues.

Deep down, most Westerners can’t really believe that people would elect the Muslim Brotherhood in fair balloting. Such a result, they reason, can only be the result of a deep trauma or of a shallow propaganda trick that can be exposed and reversed. I’m amused to see that even now, as we approach the end of 2011, and despite the ample evidence available, the main critique of my work is that I exaggerate the power of the Islamists.



Friends and colleagues tell me that people simply don’t want to face the dangers of the situation. For regular people, it is just too unpleasant; for policymakers it requires action. But Egyptians, Iranians, Lebanese, Syrians and Turks, among others, know what’s going on. Israelis are in a special position to comprehend it also. The same applies to a lot of other people around the world, notably in Central Europe.

There is also, however a profound belief that people and governments are going to be “rational actors.”

What is defined as “rational” is a materialistic desire for more goods and for more freedom, as that is defined in the West. It’s not so simple. As Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini explained three decades ago, the revolution is not about lowering the price of watermelons.

That’s also why the Nazi analogy is so used and over-used, in a desperate attempt to find some historical example that can get through to Westerners the idea that non-materialistic factors and an appeal to irrational beliefs can sway a populace.

But aren’t there people like Majdalani in the Western world? Of course there are. More and more of them. I call this the “Middle Easternization” of the West.

But these regimes have lost their monopoly on the Majdalani Effect. For decades, for example, the Syrian regime used Israel and the West as a scapegoat for the lack of freedom and well-being in that society. It worked.But it doesn’t work any more for the Syrian regime because that government has been discredited among its own people – which doesn’t mean, by the way, that it is going to fall.

But the technique will still work for the Islamists. Majdalani’s quick thinking might not save his own job, nor did it save the Mubarak regime – because the army wanted the dictator gone – but it will still save and create many a dictatorship.

It is true that new governments are coming into power because of their predecessors’ corruption, repression and inability to deliver material benefits. But their successors are campaigning on an ability to fight the West and Israel even more effectively.

The best presentation of these points was made by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian and a top leader of al-Qaida. True, while al-Qaida planted the seeds, the Muslim Brotherhood reaped the harvest. But that doesn’t make his points any less relevant.

In a remarkable passage in his book, Zawahiri explained: “The Muslim nation will not participate [in an Islamist revolution] unless the slogans of the mujahidin are understood by the masses of the Muslim nation....


“The one slogan that has been well understood by the nation and to which it has been responding for the past 50 years is the call for jihad against Israel [and] against the US presence... The jihad movement has moved to the center of the leadership of the nation when it adopted the slogan of liberating the nation from its external enemies and when it portrayed it as a battle of Islam against infidelity and infidels.”

It is misleadingly easy to think that the “Arab Spring” has cancelled out the Majdalani Effect and the Zawahiri Strategy. We were told repeatedly that there were no anti-American or anti-Israel signs in Tahrir Square. They didn’t need signs. The slogans were already in people’s heads.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at Pajamas Media. His new book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January.

Related Content

Israeli flag
August 14, 2018
The Nation-State Law: A challenge to be faced

By AVI BERKOWITZ