Events in the Middle East have moved so quickly that one almost needs a daily
scorecard. Have Iran and revolutionary Islamists gained in recent months? Yes,
because of the belief that Islamism is advancing at the expense of declining
Arab nationalism as well as other reasons.
From the Muslim Brotherhood’s
perspective, yes, because of perceived gains made in Egypt (which also helps its
ally Hamas), Jordan, Libya, Syria and Tunisia for Brotherhood-affiliated
From the Iranian perspective yes, because of perceived gains made
in Bahrain (though it is unhappy at how Saudi intervention blocked its clients
from taking power), Lebanon, and Yemen along with all other places except Syria.
Moreover, Tehran can take satisfaction in the removal of Egypt, its most
important Arab foe, from the anti-Iran and pro-US category.
Islamists can take pleasure in the dramatic decline of US credibility, with
Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and probably soon Yemen no longer cooperating with US
LET’S LIST the main aspects of US policy:
• It is not opposed to
the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah being in government, and has helped create a
situation in Egypt where the Brotherhood is making a bid for
• It backs Syrian repression of its own democratic upsurge
because it sees dictator Bashar Assad as a “reformer.”
• It does nothing
• It thinks the Turkish regime is just fine – in fact, a
model for other countries (which is strange, since the regime is now an ally of
Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah).
• It is highly critical of Bahrain’s
suppression of its opposition (part of which is pro-Iranian).
• It is
intervening in Libya – an operation to which none of the Islamists are opposed
because they hope to benefit from it. In addition, US forces could get bogged
down there. Isn’t the Libya war just another version of Iraq, except with less
to gain and more to lose?
• It is distancing itself more from Israel than any
administration in the past 50 years.
• It refuses to back the Saudis,
thereby creating the worst friction in the history of the US-Saudi
So what’s for revolutionary Islamists not to like?
Obviously, they’d like an end to US sanctions on Iran, but generally speaking,
American policy is terrific from their standpoint.
Let’s take a quick
Bahrain: The regime has used repression, Saudi
intervention, and offers of compromise well to split the moderate (which wants a
fairer share of power for the Shi’ite majority) from the radical opposition
(which wants a pro-Iran Islamist republic). Minus one point for Iran, no thanks
to US policy.
Egypt: The Brotherhood is more powerful than ever, will
probably win about one-third of parliament, will shape Egypt’s cultural,
educational, intellectual and religious atmosphere, and can now help Hamas.
Egypt is no longer in the anti-Iran and pro-Western camp. Two points for the
Brotherhood, two points for Hamas, one point for Iran. Minus two points for US
Gaza Strip: Egypt is turned from enemy to ally. Arms and
terrorists flow in freely. Two points to Hamas and one each to the Muslim
Brotherhood and Iran. Minus two points for US interests: Hamas (and
revolutionary Islamism) gets stronger, a future Israel-Gaza (or even
Arab-Israeli) war is more likely.
Jordan: While the monarchy should
survive, the Brotherhood there is more demanding. It also undermines another
anti-Iran Arab state that is pro-Western.
Two points to the Brotherhood,
and one each to Iran and Hamas.
Lebanon: Everyone seems to forget
Lebanon, which went from having a moderate government friendly to the West to
being now largely controlled by Hezbollah and other clients in the Iranian-
Syrian sphere. The moderates (Christian- Sunni allied forces) tried to build
protests against the new regime but failed. One point to Iran. Minus one to the
Libya: Hard to say, since the opposition is complex. On the other
hand, it is not clear that Western interests will benefit, so the impact of
Western intervention is unclear. While Muammar Gaddafi was historically an
anti-Western sponsor of terrorism, he hasn’t caused much trouble in recent
years. No points awarded yet.
Palestinian Authority/Peace Process: The
Palestinian Authority knows it will never face a rebellion for being too
The peace process is certainly dead now. One point to Hamas,
the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Minus one to the US, which has again sabotaged
its own peace-process effort.
Saudi Arabia: While the anti-regime effort
hasn’t gotten far, the Saudis feel that their relationship with the US and the
West is undermined, and that they need to appease Iran and Syria. Plus one to
Iran. Minus one for US.
Syria: This is also complicated. Syria is an ally
of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Thus, its destabilization is not in their
interests. But what if an Islamist government comes to power, probably a Muslim
Brotherhood-dominated one (though non-Brotherhood Islamists could also play a
leading role)? Minus one for Iran and Hamas, but plus one to the
Tunisia: While Islamists are weak in Tunisia, the fact that
they can operate legally and that Tunisia will probably move into a neutral
position is a gain for Islamists and a defeat for the West. Score one point for
the Brotherhood and Iran.
Turkey: Everyone in the West seems to forget
that the Turkish regime, which may well win reelection this year, is now an ally
of Iran, Syria and Hamas. One point to each. Minus one for the US.
Also complex. In Yemen, all politics is local. But the destabilization of a
country that has at least partly cooperated with the US against terrorism is to
Iran’s advantage, whether or not it influences some domestic rebels. Score one
for Iran. Minus one for the US.
Extra credit: Tensions make oil prices
rise. Score one for Iran.
Obama administration factor: The US has lost
four friendly regimes – Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey (some would add
Yemen) – as well as the confidence of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (one might
add Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates).
Palestinian Authority seeing that it can – and in some ways must – ignore US
requests, that is another defeat. For general loss of credibility, minus one for
For failing even now to understand the material in this article –
and thus by not recognizing defeats or errors, another minus one for the
Totals: Muslim Brotherhood: 8 Iran: 8 Hamas: 6 US: -11 The writer is
director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center
(www.gloriacenter.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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