Washington Watch: Even all Arab politics is local

The big question is who will deal with the problems relating Arab unrest, and will the people have a say in making those decisions.

libyan rebels 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
libyan rebels 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All politics is local. That American aphorism is playing out across the Arab world. The Zionist bogeyman that Arab rulers have relied on for more than six decades to deflect their people’s demands for freedom and economic opportunity won’t save them now.
This time around there have been only a few feeble and transparent efforts by dictators to blame Israel for their problems, but no one is buying.
Syria’s myopic ophthalmologist, President Bashar Assad, tried to dismiss the demonstrations in his country as the work of an “American- Israeli conspiracy... to dismantle Syria.”
Even a longtime Assad family apologist Patrick Seale, took him to task, for blaming “Israeli provocateurs, rebel forces and shady foreign agents for the bloodshed” when the real problem is “long pent-up anger at the denial of basic freedoms,” lack of job opportunities for the young and abuses by the privileged elites.
I Googled “burning Israeli flag” and the first three items for 2011 to pop up showed haredim in Jerusalem, Brooklyn, Monsey, New York, and London doing the dirty deed.
The Arab Spring is blowing change from Algeria to Yemen, sending some dictators into retirement and making the rest very nervous. Each uprising is local, with its own issues, grievances and means to cope with change, so don’t expect a domino effect, Amos Yadlin, the former chief of Israeli military intelligence, told a group at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week. And in each, the enemy is the country’s own leaders.
IN TUNISIA a young man’s self-immolation was the spark that sent a dictator fleeing and inspired uprisings across the region. In Egypt, the army sided with the insurgents against a corrupt and moribund autocrat.
A calcified ruler in Yemen has failed to respond to demands for change. Washington is saying it is time for him to go, but not yet telling the king of Bahrain, host to the US Fifth Fleet.
Libya is an important test for the Obama administration, and everyone is watching, particularly the Iranians. President Barack Obama has said Muammar Gaddafi must go, but making that happen may not be so easy for an America already bogged down in one war and paying the steep costs for a second.
There are some big losers in this Arab Spring.
Those who have long preached that the Israeli-Arab conflict or the absence of a Palestinian state are the root causes of regional instability have been thoroughly discredited. What the demonstrators really want is freedom, democracy, jobs, a decent income and peace. They’re no longer willing to let their leaders say it’s Israel’s fault that they’ve been denied their rights.
Iran, trying to export its revolution since the late 1970s, is another big loser. While their country is encouraging demonstrators in other nations, inflaming sectarian rage and even trying to take credit for inspiring the uprisings, those Iranians with the temerity to demand freedom and democracy at home get a swift, brutal response.
Iran and al-Qaida are discredited because few Islamists have been spotted among the predominantly secular crowds. Yes, the Islamists have been trying to take credit, but no one is buying.
Yadlin said Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is not an Iranian agent but “local, patriotic Egyptians” with a different point of view; the group has many streams pulling in different directions, and should be watched closely.
Iran remains the number one strategic problem for Israel, and despite its bravado, the Islamic Republic feels threatened by the wave of change both because it is ripe for revolution internally and it faces losing a key ally in Damascus, Yadlin said.
The West should encourage an Iranian uprising, taking advantage of the social media like Facebook and Twitter, which have shown they can mobilize the masses faster than a government can mass its forces, he added.
Syria, Hezbollah or Hamas, with Iranian encouragement, might try to deflect local pressure by stirring up violence on the Golan Heights, Gaza or the Lebanese border, Yadlin warned, and Israel must be careful not to “play into the hands of those who want to divert the attention of the public.”
Syria is the weak link in the Iranian crescent of influence, because unlike Hamas and Hezbollah, it is secular, and has indicated some willingness to make peace with Israel.
AS THE hamsin winds blow out of the desert and the Arab Spring turns to summer, no matter who is in charge when the fighting ends, the problems will remain – denial of basic freedom, low wages, high unemployment, repression and endemic corruption.
The big question is who will deal with those problems, and will the people have a say in making those decisions, or once more be told to shut up and mind their own business – or else.

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