Oops! The law of unintended consequences in the Mideast

The region: Regional developments and US policies – including coddling Syria – make the Iranian leaders feel they are winning.

April 17, 2011 23:05
4 minute read.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ban Ki-Moon (File photo)

ahmadinejad ban ki-moon 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The following is fascinating for a totally unexpected reason. It illustrates the law of unintended consequences, which is perhaps the most important concept to keep in mind when examining the region at the moment.

Abboud al-Zumar was a leader in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (a group now associated with al-Qaida) who was imprisoned for more than two decades for his role in killing president Anwar al-Sadat. He was pardoned by the Egyptian Armed Forces Supreme Council on March 14. Since then, al-Zumar has been giving television interviews (translated by MEMRI). He said something truly remarkable: “I’d like to apologize to the Egyptian people [for the assassination of Sadat], because we did not intend to bring Hosni Mubarak to power. Our goal was to bring about change, and to deliver the Egyptian people from the conditions it found itself in. All we wanted was to rid the people of the Sadat regime. We were hoping that a better regime would replace it, but the outcome was that a worse regime came to power. For this, we apologize. Our intentions were to benefit this society....”

Now, of course, he is partly lying. The goal of Islamic Jihad was to organize a radical Islamist revolution and turn Egypt into a local version of Iran, Gaza under Hamas, and Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. It’s no accident that the Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is now one of the top leaders of al-Qaida.

But that aside, consider how his words apply to Egypt’s current situation and the recent revolution there: “...bring about change... deliver the Egyptian people from [bad] conditions… rid the people of the [substitute Mubarak for Sadat] regime... hoping that a better regime would replace it, but the outcome was that a worse regime came to power.”

This is the dilemma that Egypt is now facing. Some readers (and a lot more non-readers) of mine are upset that I’m a spoil sport. They point to the courage of the demonstrators, the happiness of most Egyptians (though not the Christian minority), their high hopes of freedom, and so on.

Yet that isn’t the issue, is it? My task is to point out the dangers and skewer the naïve wishful thinking that has so overwhelmed the West.

Al-Zumar also said one other thing that bears repeating.

He justified the assassination by saying that clerics had issued a fatwa to get rid of Sadat, “We were not religious scholars ourselves, but we followed the religious scholars.”

This is how the Muslim Brotherhood and even more extreme Islamists promote violence – not by implementing it, but by issuing fatwas which are to Islamists what ordering a “hit” is to organized crime.

And why did they put a price on Sadat’s head? Al- Zumar explains, because he was “attacking” Islam, opposed as he was to having Egypt governed by Sharia law, campaigning to let women dress as they pleased, and agreeing to peace with Israel at Camp David.

Now, if anyone takes such stances in post-Mubarak Egypt, there will be clerics calling for their murder.

When Islamists contest elections, they do not dispense with the option of murdering their opponents. This is precisely what happened in Lebanon, where Hezbollah whittled away the moderates’ parliamentary majority by assassinating members of parliament.

Al-Zumar wasn’t a pro-democratic idealist, but set out to bring about change and, from his standpoint, made things worse. He might not be the last one to face such a situation. Will others be apologizing in 20 years? One of the things they’ll be apologizing for is the failure to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

It’s becoming an open secret that the US-led sanctions on Iran are having no serious effect.

The reasons are clear: 1. To get the sanctions through the UN, the US government basically told Russia, China, and Turkey that it would ignore their violations.

2. Iran has shifted its trade patterns eastward and southward.

3. The price of oil has skyrocketed, in no small part due to mistaken US foreign and energy policies, putting more money into the pocket of the Iranian regime.

And, of course, regional developments and US policies – including coddling Syria, distancing itself from Israel, and supporting the downfall of relatively moderate Arab regimes – also make the Iranian leaders feel they are winning and thus should stay the course.

Meanwhile, the US government persists in seeing the current Turkish regime as an ally, despite far more evidence that it is an ally of Iran. In the midst of a sanctions’ regime, Iran-Turkey trade has increased by almost 44% over last year. In the month of February alone, the trade volume was almost $1.5 billion. Last year it was $10 billion. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the two countries are about to sign a preferential trade agreement that he believes will triple trade.

Yet the US government has not criticized the Turkish regime, despite such developments as its opposition to sanctions, its violation of sanctions, and even the announcement that the Turkish army will now train the Syrian army.

If this government is reelected on June 11, it will be a major defeat for Western interests, whether or not anyone notices.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (www.gloria-center.org) and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

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