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A demonstration planned for July 8 in the Egyptian capital could be the largest such gathering in Egypt since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood, which did not drive the protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster, announced July 6 that it would join the July 8 rally. The move might appear to be an expression of solidarity with Egypt’s secular pro-democracy activists, but it is the Islamist movement’s attempt to retain legitimacy in the eyes of its younger members.


A rally that many organizers have dubbed “Revolution First Friday” or “Persistence Friday” is scheduled to take place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on July 8. It could become the largest demonstration in Egypt since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood unexpectedly announced July 6 that it would attend, joining the secular civil society and political forces that have already begun setting up tents in the square.

This apparent display of unity among all those who have pledged to go to Tahrir on July 8 is superficial, as it does not address the fundamental divide among those vying for power in post-Mubarak Egypt. The main demands of the planned protest revolve around a general call for social justice following the 18 days of demonstrations last winter. Specific demands include a purge of the Interior Ministry and the pressuring of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to order trials for members of the security forces accused of employing violence against demonstrators as well as corrupt former National Democratic Party officials. In other words, this demonstration is based on things almost everyone in Egypt — whether secular or Islamist, politically active or not — can agree upon. Recent riots in Cairo and Suez, for example, were triggered in large part by lingering resentment against the security forces and the fact that so far only one police officer has been convicted for acts committed during the protests. Rather than an act of solidarity with those who initially called for another return to Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in the July 8 rally is an attempt to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of its younger members, who share common ground with the activists.
The Debate: Constitution First or Election First?

Plans for another mass demonstration in Cairo on July 8 were first made public in early June. The main umbrella group of Egypt’s various pro-democracy youth movements — the January 25 Revolutionary Youth Coalition — announced that the day would be known as “Constitution First Friday.” The rally name refers to the group’s position in the debate that has dominated Egypt’s political scene for the past few months — whether parliamentary elections or a rewriting of the constitution should occur first. Although the planned rally is no longer being advertised as Constitution First Friday, this debate has not been resolved.

The Muslim Brotherhood, many other Islamists and even a sizable number of Egyptians who do not identify with Islamist groups favor holding elections first, then using their expected gains to wield greater influence over the writing of the new constitution. Meanwhile, almost all of these types of activists, as well as opposition parties that have not yet sought to ally with the Brotherhood in the campaign, want a committee chosen by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to draft the constitution and then hold elections, giving them more time to prepare. As it stands, the vote is scheduled for September, before the writing of the new constitution. Thus far, the Muslim Brotherhood has stayed away from the persistent demonstrations in Tahrir Square , as it does not want to upset the trajectory toward elections.

After the Egyptian rising, the military found itself in an unspoken alignment of sorts with the Muslim Brotherhood — something that would have been unheard of only six months ago. This intersection of interests does not mean the military is eager to give the Islamists political power. However, the ruling military council is committed to giving up the day-to-day responsibilities of governance and likely understands the inevitability of the Muslim Brotherhood’s new political party , along with other Islamist groups and their parties , gaining a sizable share of seats in parliament and thus having a significant say in any future coalition government. (That said, the military could also be assuming that even if the Brotherhood fares well in the September elections, its inexperience in governance, combined with the current difficult circumstances in Egypt, would lead the it to do a poor job once in office. This outcome would put Egypt’s secular political forces in a better position in the long run.)

Factors Changing the Political Landscape

The military can always simply cancel elections or postpone them indefinitely. However, it would risk creating an unknown level of backlash from a segment of society that by and large never took to the streets during the uprising. The introduction of true multiparty politics in Egypt is a new reality that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has accepted, and the council is managing the environment in an attempt to maintain its own power. So far, it has remained committed to moving the country toward elections. In the last few weeks, however, two ongoing processes have changed Egypt’s political landscape. One has to do with rising frustrations among many Egyptians who feel that their revolution has been hijacked (or that there never was a true revolution ). Another impacting force has to do with dissent within the Muslim Brotherhood . Combined, these processes create the possibility that the July 8 demonstration will draw the largest crowds seen in Tahrir Square since February.

Since its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood has been very deliberate and cautious, and its behavior in the initial days of the rising against Mubarak was no different. Its youth wing, however, took a much more active role in the Tahrir demonstrations. Since the military council took over, the Brotherhood has enjoyed more political space than it has had before, and this freedom has led many members to challenge the authority of the group’s leadership. Since June, the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau expelled six members for disobeying its orders against joining or forming alternate political parties to the Brotherhood-sanctioned Freedom and Justice Party . Those expelled already held a large amount of influence within the Muslim Brotherhood, especially with the younger members, and the publicity surrounding their expulsions has the Brotherhood’s leadership concerned that it could feel the effects in the polls this September.

This situation is one reason behind the Brotherhood’s announcement that it would join the Tahrir rally: It feared its abstention would leave it vulnerable to accusations that it is working with the military and against the revolution. Nonetheless, if the protest had been about Egypt’s new constitution being written before the election, the Brotherhood would not have joined. The Brotherhood is likely in communication with the military council, assuring the council that its decision to participate in the July 8 rally is not a break from their unspoken alignment.

As for the disillusionment among Egyptians who believed Mubarak’s ouster would bring real change, the military council is taking the issue seriously. In the face of popular pressure, the council has already begun to offer concessions to those who believe it is acting just as the Mubarak government would have acted. On July 6, Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawi said he would reveal the largest shake-up in the history of the ministry July 17, a change he said would be tantamount to a “purge.” One day later, the government announced that it would be putting on trial the main leaders of the “Battle of the Camels” that took place in Tahrir Square on Feb. 2. The Interior Ministry also said July 7 that it would not deploy officers to the square on July 8 but would station them along the periphery and call upon them if needed. These actions appear to indicate that the council will allow the demonstration to take place without interference — unless violence breaks out.

Madawi Al-Rasheed

August 26, 2011 "Al-Akhbar"

The Arab Spring has successfully removed three autocrats from the stage, while others may be on their way out. But it has brought three regional powers face to face, each competing to shape the outcome of the revolts in pursuit of its own national interest. Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are struggling either to contain the revolutions or model them in their image. All three seem to be competing in search of lebensraum, or a sphere of influence, where they aspire to create living spaces for ideologies, influence, capital, and military outreach.

A Lonely Revolution

For the last three decades, and despite serious efforts elsewhere, Iran stood as a lonely revolution in a “sea of Sunni Muslims.” Its regime looked comfortable after the removal of Saddam in 2003. Consequently, it has secured many clients in Iraq, some of whom command serious forces on the ground. Iran reached a modus vivendi with the remaining American troops, and continues to act in Iraq as the godfather of preachers and political parties. It can send its fighters to bomb Iraqi territory without any serious consequences. Iraq has thus become Iran’s lebensraum. Its enthusiasm for revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain where the uprisings stumbled badly, is in contrast with its unequivocal condemnation of the Syrian uprising. Tehran risks losing its influence in the Levant following the demise of the Syrian regime. While its leadership and media project the North African revolutions as an Islamic awakening, that of Syria is seen as the work of terrorists and agitators.
None of the current Arab revolutions will ever produce a replicate of Iran’s wilayat al-faqih [Rule of the Religious Jurist]. Yet serious political overtures are on their way: for example, the normalization of Egyptian-Iranian relations after three decades of sporadic antagonism. The passage of Iranian ships through the Suez Canal and the recent visit by Egyptian delegates to Tehran reflect a new era. But Iranian expansion in the Arab world may have reached its limits, not because of a lack of will and determination, but because of the limitations of Iranian Shiism and, in particular, its political doctrine. Iran’s expansion among Arabs had been founded on supporting resistance to Israel rather than historical affinities or religious proximity. Many Arabs would like to see Iran raising the flag of Palestine, but after their spring, none of the emancipated Arabs would look to Iran for political inspiration. They are more likely to look towards Turkey.

Hip-Hop Turkey

Turkey is another regional power looking for opportunities. Turkey is on its way to becoming even more important as a regional player in light of the ongoing Arab Spring. In Lebanon and Palestine, Turkey’s influence had already preceded the Arab Spring. Its recent patronage of Levantine politics is now boosted following the events in Syria. A defender of Palestinian rights, a friend of several Lebanese political players, and an former friend of Bashar Assad, Turkey is beginning to be seen as a model of an Islamic democracy, slightly different from the liberal version, but faithful to its most important principles. Its hosting of the Syrian opposition conferences, held on its territory, attests to a growing opportunity. Its Foreign Minister Ahmet Oglu, has put his weight behind serious political change in Syria. Turkey’s flourishing economy, its functioning marriage between Islam and democracy, and its energetic and impressive leadership have become the envy of many Arabs. In the eyes of Sunni Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine, and their more conservative Saudi and Gulf counterparts, Turkey has scored high. Many see it as a strong, autonomous country capable of pursuing its own agenda rather than that of the West, while continuing to build strong ties with Western countries. Its consumer goods flood Arab markets, while its entrepreneurs demonstrate the success of capitalism with an Islamic flavor. Its popular culture and television soap operas, dubbed in Syrian Arabic, make news across the region. Turkey, however, does not only appeal to Arab Islamists. Arab Nationalists may continue to see it as an old imperial power, but they cannot stop being impressed. The new youth of the Arab world are fascinated by its hip-hop Muslim girls with their colorful scarfs. All aspire to an Islamic cosmopolitanism al la Turque, an alternative to Western globalization with its contested social and moral foundation.

Counter-Revolutionary Saudi Arabia

There remains the most politically repressive, economically powerful, and dangerous counter-revolutionary regime of Saudi Arabia. The fall of the Mubarak regime has removed, for the time being, the largest and most important Arab country from regional politics. Egypt’s absence has created a void that Saudi Arabia is desperately trying to occupy as the vanguard of Sunni Islam. This will be the second time the Saudis try to do so — the first was after the 1967 Egyptian defeat by Israel. Without a revolution in ‘The Land of the Two Holy Mosques,’ the authoritarian Saudi regime was compelled to take pre-emptive counter-revolutionary measures in anticipation of the domino effect of the Arab Spring. Internally, in addition to classical Saudi strategies to appease the population with economic benefits and intimidate potential protesters with security measures, the state succeeded in fragmenting protests and dividing protesters using the sectarian Sunni-Shia religious rhetoric of its own religious establishment. The regime activated sectarian discourse against the very politically active Shia minority in order to abort the development of ‘national politics’ that cross regional, ideological, sectarian, and tribal boundaries. By depicting calls for protest as a Shia conspiracy against the Sunni majority, with the objective of spreading Iran’s influence in the Sunni homeland, the kingdom deepened sectarian tension and undermined efforts to stage minor protests in various cities, including those where Shias live.

Saudi Arabia is desperately trying to contain two Arab Spring challenges. First, the regime is on alert lest contagious revolutionary winds reach its heartland. The regime mobilizes its religious militia to condemn potential protesters and activists while security forces pick them up in their offices and homes. But Saudi sectarianism proved to be the most successful strategy to thwart mobilization. Even women calling to lift the ban on driving are depicted as Shia agents, determined to westernize the country and corrupt its pious society. Preachers praise their regime of oppression as a defender of Sunnis not only in the Arab world but also across the globe. The princes enjoy the flattery. They let the preachers propagate sectarian and conservative messages in return for the preachers efforts to keep the population under control and away from ‘blasphemous’ democracy talk.

The second challenge for the Saudis is external, in countries where revolutions did take place. In Bahrain, the suppression of the pro-democracy movement with the help of Saudi troops allowed the regime to contain a truly threatening revolution. Riyadh sent strong signals not only to its own agitated Shia minority but also, more importantly, to its Sunni majority. The regime compelled its subjects to support it against Shia foreign agents, allegedly acting in the name of Iran. For the moment, and under the pressures of tense regional and internal dynamics, it seems that the Saudi regime has succeeded in suppressing its own minor protest and created a volatile situation in Bahrain that may explode any time in the near future.

In Yemen, the Saudis struggled to push a Gulf Co-operation Council agenda that guarantees the safe delayed exit of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but found themselves nursing an injured president. Riyadh does not deal with Yemen as a matter of foreign policy. It has always considered the country a security concern, first handled by Prince Sultan, Minister of Defence, and more recently by Muhammad ibn Nayif, Deputy Minister of the Interior. Both men are not associated with diplomacy. After it pushed its own Jihadis into Yemen, the regime fears Yemen becoming even more of a safe haven for al-Qaeda. There is also the problem of arms smuggling and illegal immigration. While Bahrain was a temporary quick fix, Yemen may yet prove to be a more complex bee hive full of aggressive hornets. In a country where three revolutions take place in one, the Saudis may have reached a dead end with their previous policies of patronage, divide and rule, and export of Salafi teachings. The struggle between the Yemeni notable families of al-Salehs and the al-Ahmars, between the regime and the old opposition parties, and between the revolutionary youth and the President’s men, not to mention two separatist groups in the north and south, may prove to be too much to handle for the ageing Saudi leadership. The latter will try to find a puppet, but Yemen is definitely not Bahrain. The Saudi regime may once again play the sectarian and separatist card as a pre-emptive counter-revolutionary strategy that exaggerates religious differences and hatred and mitigates against the consolidation of national politics in Yemen.

While the Saudi regime dreams about becoming the sole fixer and protector of the world of Sunni Arab Islam, its political system is not one that many Arabs aspire to emulate after their Arab Spring. Arabs will welcome Saudi economic largess but may well challenge the patron-client relations that the Saudi regime has always deployed to silence regional Arab competitors. With Iran losing its appeal, the new confrontation may well be with Turkey. The Saudis think that Iran can be defeated with anti-Shia sectarian hatred. To confront Turkish regional ambitions, they may find their old Wahhabi manuals that denounce the Sufi Turks and a reinvented Arab nationalism handy. They have already purified The Land of the Two Holy Mosques from signs of a historical legacy, when the country was under nominal Ottoman suzerainty.

But despite the exhaustion of Arabs following their spring rebirth, regional powers may not find in them this time the easy clients they are looking for.

Madawi al-Rasheed is professor of anthropology of religion at King’s College, University of London and a political commentator on Middle East Affairs.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

Protests and revolts have swept across the whole of Arabdom, from the Atlantic coastline of Morocco to the shores of the petro-sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf. In this regard, U.S. and E.U. double-standards are being applied to these events. There is a selective focus and condemnation by the White House and the European Union at play in regards to which Arab protests and protest leaders they support.

Regardless of the direction of these revolts and protests and the reaction of outside players, a new dynamic is taking shape. Democracy has not yet emerged, what is beginning to emerge is a new wave of pan-Arabism. This re-invigorated pan-Arabism will prove a challenge to the ongoing efforts to further fragment and weaken the Arab World.

The Categories of Protest and Revolt in The Arab World

In regards to the mass protests and popular revolts, today the states of the Arab World can be categorized into five groupings or categories. These categories are the following:

Group 1 - Arab countries that are in a state of civil war;

Group 2 - Arab countries that have populations that have revolted;

Group 3 - Arab countries where the people are currently protesting and are on the verge of revolt;

Group 4 - Arab countries where the groundwork for revolts are taking shape;

Group 5 - Arab countries where there are no revolts.

Each category will be discussed and summarized. It must be cautioned that these groupings are not static either and likely to evolve.

The Typologies of Benefit

Taking into account U.S., E.U., and Israeli foreign policy these protests and revolts can also categorized within two different typologies. The latter can be used to explain the reactions of the U.S., the E.U., and Tel Aviv and their respective mainstream media coverage of these events.

The typologies are:

(A) Arab countries where the protests and possible outcomes would be beneficial to the interests of Washington, Israel, and the European Union;

(B) Arab countries where the protests and revolts go against the interests of Washington, Israel, and the European Union.

It should, however, also be cautioned that the outcomes of these protests and revolts are unpredictable. The behaviour of Washington and Brussels suggest that they want to cash in on projected outcomes to reinforce their geo-political influence. Both the U.S. and the E.U. seek to"manage democratization" in the Arab World to thier benefit.

The “agency of the Arab people,” namely the grassroots, which the U.S. and its allies underestimate, has a significant role to play in these events. It is this process of an unfolding mass movement that makes these revolts unpredictable. Coupled with pan-Arabism, a potent force is arising.

The Arab people ultimately constitute a major challenge to Washington and its cohorts.

Unlike in Eastern Europe during the colour revolutions, the Arab regimes are supported by Washington. The Arab people are aware of U.S. and E.U. double-standards. Arabs know full well that the U.S. and its E.U. allies are not the vanguards of democracy and liberty.

In regards to Israel, Tel Aviv sees instability and chaos in the Arab World as serving its interests. Israel is not cutting itself off from the events in Arabdom. The Israeli strategy, in seamless alignment with both the U.S. and the older British strategies in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, has always been to weaken and divide the Arab states. Israel has supported balkanization in the MENA region wherever it can. The Yinon Plan is very much alive today in what can henceforth be called the “Yinon Approach.” The strategy is named after Oded Yinon, a Israeli foreign policy analyst who outlined the “Zionist strategy” for breaking up and balkanizing the Arab World. [1]

The plan operates on two essential premises. To survive, Israel must (1) become an imperial regional power, and (2) must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states. Small here will depend on the ethnic or sectarian composition of each state. Consequently, the Zionist hope is that sectarian-based states become Israeli satellites and, ironically, its source of moral legitimation.

Note: The following map was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters. It was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, Peters is a retired colonel of the U.S. National War Academy. (Map Copyright Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters 2006).

Although the map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine, it has been used in a training program at NATO's Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, has most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles.

Note: The following map was drawn by Holly Lindem for an article by Jeffery Goldberg. It was published in The Atlantic in January/February 2008. (Map Copyright: The Atlantic, 2008).

The “Yinon Approach” in the Middle East and North Africa

While there is a move for unity amongst the people of the Middle East and North Africa, there is also a counter-push seeking their division. Either directly or indirectly, the Yinon Approach has been operational amongst the Arabs and in their region. In the backdrop, it is also a force in the Arab World.

According to the Yinon Plan, Iraq was the largest Arab threat to Tel Aviv. That threat was removed with the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Currently, Iraq is divided alongside Kurdish, Sunni Muslim Arab, and Shiite Muslim Arab lines. Political parties in Iraq are increasingly based on sectarian schemes. The power sharing arrangements in Baghdad increasingly resemble those in Beirut, Lebanon. Since 2003, the U.S. has actively pushed ahead with a soft form of balkanization in Iraq through federalization. Moreover, Israel has been a major supporter of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

Along with its U.S. and Western European partners, Israel is working to divide Lebanon and destabilize Syria through the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). It can even be said that Tel Aviv has its own version of a Zionist lobby in Lebanon within the March 14 Alliance. It should come as no surprise that Bashar (Bachir/Bashir) Gemayal, an Israeli ally and the assassinated former president of Lebanon, wanted Lebanon to become a de-centralized federal state with a canton system modelled on Switzerland. Only in Lebanon the canton system would be based on ethno-religious and confessional lines, rather than on linguistic demarcations as in the Swiss confederation.

Instead of uniting the Lebanese, such a system would further magnify the sectarian atmosphere in Lebanon and play into the hands of Washington and Tel Aviv.

The Israelis have divided Palestine with the instigation of a Palestinian mini-civil war in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis even gleefully began to talk about a “three state solution” after the Hamas-Fatah split in 2007. In Turkey, the Alawis (Alavis in Turkish) are beginning to demand greater recognition by Ankara. In Egypt, there has been a campaign against the Coptic Christians with the objective of creating Muslim-Christian tensions. In Iraq too, Christians have been targeted by unknown forces. Sudan has been balkanized with the secession of South Sudan, which Israel heavily supported and armed. In Libya there is a foreign-supported push to manipulate tribal difference and divide the country along the lines of Eastern Libya and Western Libya. At the same time, the House of Saud has been encouraging a confessional divide between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims and between Arabs and Iranians.

Israel, like the U.S. and the E.U., is working to take advantage of the upheavals in the Arab World. It has intensified its sporadic attacks on Gaza while the Arab World has been distracted with the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. Yet, this Yinon Approach will increasingly be challenged by pan-Arabism. The cooperation between Syria, Turkey, and Iran to form a regional bloc and common market may also prove to defy the Yinon Approach. In this context, Tehran is also working to support the protests in the Arab World and to align Iran with them.

Who Falls into What? Categorizing the Arab States

Group 1

Although the fighting in Libya is being exaggerated and embellished, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is the only Arab state that falls into the first category of an Arab state undergoing a state of civil war. Yemen may also fall into this group at some point and it can be argued that Yemen is even a part of it too, because of the fighting in 2010 between Yemenite government forces (with the help of the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan) and Yemenite rebels.

In Yemen and Libya, however, there is a difference that must be emphasised. It is in the interests of the U.S. and its allies to have President Ali Abdullah Saleh in power. The U.S. has no alternative to Saleh. In Libya, the U.S. is actively working to remove Colonel Qaddafi so that Washington and its allies can appropriate Libyan energy reserves and financial assets.

The alternative in Tripoli to Qaddafi is possibly a divided leadership structure comprised of an alliance of former regime officials who defected and external groups supported by Washington, like the National Front for the Salvation of Libya. On the other hand, a Libya divided into several states or fiefdoms with prolonged fighting could also be a U.S. objective in Libya.

Group 2

Egypt and Tunisia fall into the second category. The mood of the people has changed in both Arab republics, but the political and economic status quo remains unchanged. U.S. and E.U. interests have remained unaffected and are intact.

As mentioned earlier, the “agency of the Arab people,” something that the U.S. and its allies underestimate, does have a significant role to play. The continued protests in Tunisia and Egypt show the continuation of dissatisfaction, because popular demands were not met. The psyches of the Tunisian and Egyptian people have changed. Despite the current status quo and Washington’s aims, the outcomes of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt will work against the interests of Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv in the end.

Group 3

The third grouping of Arab states includes Bahrain, Yemen (if it is not considered a part of the first group with Libya), and Oman. Earlier is could have been said that Iraq could also possibly not fall into this third category. Massive protests and riots have broken out across Iraq from Baghdad and Basra to Sulaymaniah. It can now be said that Iraq is a part of this category too. These respective Arab states could ignite with open revolt and therefore become re-classified into the second group of Arab countries.

The protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, and Iraq all work against the interests of Washington and the European Union. In Iraq the people are demanding that oil deals be cancelled. Both Washington and Brussels specifically support the status quo in the Arabian Peninsula. This is why they have mostly ignored the protests in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula or presented them in a different light than the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Group 4

The fourth group includes the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank that is managed for Tel Aviv by Mahmoud Abbas and the corrupt Palestinian Authority. Protests have taken place in all these Arab states and the occupied West Bank at various levels. The groundwork for revolt in these states and the West Bank is being prepared by internet-based social media groups, dissidents, and opposition officials.

The release of the Palestinian Papers by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Network has also heightened already rising tensions amongst the Palestinians. Palestinians are now pressuring Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government. Fatah is especially under a lot of pressure and scrutiny in the West Bank. Because of the mounting pressure, Mahmoud Abbas is now talking about political change as a means to pre-empt any revolt against him. If a revolt breaks out in the West Bank, the U.S. and Israel could work to position Mustafa Barghouti into the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. Despite their high fanfare in Washington and Brussels, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Hanan Ashrawi would be too unpopular. Mohammed Dahlan and other ranking Fatah members, except for Marwan Barghouti, would not be well received either.

It is a matter of time before protests and revolt emerge in these places of Arabdom. Protest and popular revolt in these places would also be against the interests of the U.S., the E.U., and Israel. Algeria may prove to be the exception in the fourth group. Like Libya, Algeria also exercises a degree of autonomy in regards to the U.S. and the European Union.

Group 5

The fifth and last group of Arab states includes Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar and Syria could also be included in this group. In comparison to the other Arab states, both Qatar and Syria have been peaceful, although there is potential unrest and the possibility of protests in both Qatar and Syria.

In the case of Qatar the agitation appears to be internal and aimed at the Emir of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah bint Naser Al-Missned, the autocratic political structure in Qatar, and Qatari ties to Israel. In the case of Damascus the agitation widely appears to be driven externally by Syrian expatriates. With the recent appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Syria, Washington is also set on a path towards eventually instigating and supporting revolt in Syria against President Bashar Al-Assad.

Mauritania, Kuwait, and Sudan do not qualify for this group either, because protests have broken out in these states. In Kuwait protests have already taken place that could place it in the third grouping. One set of protests was launched by Kuwaiti Bedouins that demanded that they be recognized and given legal rights as Kuwaiti citizens. Additional protests have been against the Kuwaiti state structure and against the discrimination of Shiite Muslims.

The Changing Winds in Iraq

In Iraq, after months of negotiations with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malaki, Ayad Allawi has refused to accept a position of power as the chair of the Iraqi National Council for Strategic Policy. The position of the head of the Iraqi National Council for Strategic Policy is meant to counter-balance the role of the prime minister of Iraq. Ayad Allawi announced that he would not take the position at a press conference in Najaf alongside Moqtada Al-Sadr on March 3, 2011.

Whereas Allawi is known for being aligned to U.S. and British interests, Moqtada Al-Sadr is known for his opposition to the U.S. and Britain. At the press conference Allawi made an interesting, if not pragmatic, statement: “We are not seeking [state or government] positions, but looking for the interests of the people, the progress of Iraq and [the] stability [of Iraq.]” [2] In this context, Ayad Allawi can be seen as a weather vane or windsock in regards to the political situation and the mood of the people in Iraq. Revolt may inflame Iraq and Allawi may be positioning himself accordingly.

Since the protests in Iraq are being discussed it should be pointed out that Iraq sits at the borders of the Iranic World and the Arab World, as well as the Turkic World to a much lesser degree. These three conceptual realms can also be compounded and distinguished as the Turko-Arabo-Iranic World. Getting to the point, Kurdish sensitivities must be addressed. The Iraqi protests, like Iraq itself, cannot simply be characterized as Arab in nature. While the protests are purely Iraqi, they are characterized as partially Arab and partially Kurdish.

The Threat of Foreign Intervention in Lebanon

A storm is gathering over Beirut. Lebanon could join the first grouping of Arab states with Libya. Although weaker, Saad Hariri and his March 14 Alliance are itching for confrontation with Hezbollah and its political allies in Lebanon. This itch is far more than mere politicking.

Over the years the Hariri-led March 14 Alliance has worked with the U.S., the E.U., Saudi Arabia, Mubarak, Jordan, and even Israel to pave the way for foreign intervention in one form or another in Lebanon against the Lebanese Resistance. Hariri and the March 14 Alliance have also been very close allies to all the Arab dictators and absolute monarchs. The support that the March 14 Alliance receives from the U.S., Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia is not due to any self-styled democratic values that its members talk about, but due to its willingness to transform Lebanon into a colony.

In 2006, Hariri and his allies covertly supported Israel in its war against Lebanon. When Lebanon was being attacked, they ordered the Lebanese military to stand-down in the face of Israeli aggression. After the Israeli defeat in 2006, they went on to import Fatah Al-Islam into Lebanon in the hopes of using it as an armed option against Hezbollah and its allies; they would later shamelessly try to blame the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon for the materialization of Fatah Al-Islam. They also tried to dismantle the vital communications network used by Hezbollah in 2008.

Now, Hariri and his political allies loudly criticize the Lebanese Resistance with their renewed political acquisition about its weapons. This is ironic, because the March 14 Alliance themselves have been arming their own militias over the years. This was proven during the fighting of May 2008 when both sides brandished guns. The groups within the March 14 Alliance have also been the ones who used militias in the past exclusively for fighting their own Lebanese countrymen. They have a history of fighting other Lebanese and a disregard for democracy.

A pause is in order to consider the reasons why Hariri and his crew have armed themselves. It has not been to defend Lebanon from the external threat of Israel, but they have been arming themselves for internal fighting in Lebanon. Hariri and the March 14 Alliance only talk about democracy, because they do not have enough force to impose themselves in Lebanon.

Today, they are attempting to use the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as a snare to internationally indict Hezbollah. Once an indictment is made at the international level, the U.S. and its allies could intervene on the pretext of international justice. Washington and Brussels could also be called upon for help in bringing Hezbollah to justice by Hariri and the March 14 Alliance.

Hariri did not foresee the plug being pulled by Hezbollah and its political allies on his government and his own impotence to regain power. This has been a crushing blow to the Hariri family. They have run out of cards and are working to keep the STL alive. As long as the STL remains, it leaves an open option for some form of foreign intervention for the U.S. and its E.U. cohorts into Lebanon.

Increasingly, the language of Hariri is that of confrontation and sectarianism. Even without the STL, Hariri and the March 14 Alliance may yet ignite another civil war in Lebanon. They can also still play the sectarian card and Hezbollah and its political allies are well aware of this. This is why Najib Al-Mikati and Hezbollah are moving forward cautiously in an effort to dismantle the sectarian card. Through starting a civil war the Lebanese could risk inviting a U.S. and NATO intervention in Lebanon.

Double-Standards Are at Play

Washington and the E.U. have little regard for real democracy and freedom as is evident from their reaction to the outcome of the democratic elections in the occupied Palestinian Territories. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian elections. The U.S., the E.U., and Israel immediately refused to recognize the Palestinian elections.

Despite the fact that Fatah lost the elections, Washington and its allies also forced Hamas to allow Fatah to co-manage the Palestinian government. Democracy is only acceptable when it works in the interests of the U.S. and Brussels. Today, these powers have let Mahmoud Abbas run the occupied West Bank as their agent and as a quasi-dictator.

In Sudan, Washington and Brussels have put undue pressure on Khartoum, while supporting the balkanization of the country. Yet, they have said nothing about the continued occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.

Western Sahara is a case of outright occupation, which has been widely ignored. The Sahrawis or the Western Saharans have also faced attacks from Morocco for wanting independence. Even during the referendum in South Sudan the Sahrawis were attacked by Moroccan forces during their protests, but there was no widely publicized condemnation by the U.S. or Brussels. [3] No big Hollywood stars have taken up their cause either in major public campaigns.

In Iraq major protests by Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds are underway, but they have been ignored by the European Union and the U.S. government. Amongst the demands of Iraqi protesters is a key one that Iraqi oil wealth be redistributed and under the control of the Iraqi people. In Bahrain blatant brutality was used against the Bahraini protesters, which were not just Shiite Muslims as unknowledgeable people and propagandists claim. Yet, the reaction of Washington and Brussels towards the Al-Khalifa family was diametrically different than their reaction towards Colonel Qaddafi in Libya.

In summary, the U.S. and the E.U. continue to apply double-standards. Their policies towards the Arabs are riddled with hypocrisy. Their actions are based on their own interests. Even in the midst of the Egyptian protests, U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden refused to even refer to Mohammed Husni Mubarak as a dictator in what can only amount to a display of utter hypocrisy. [4]

Pan-Arabism versus the Yinon Approach

Tel Aviv, Washington, and Brussels all oppose Arab unity. Historically, they have worked to divide the Arabs. In the past, the British separated Kuwait and Iraq, Palestine and Jordan, and Egypt and Sudan from one another, while the French separated Algeria and Tunisia in the Maghreb and Lebanon and Syria in the Levant from one another. The Yinon Approach is a continuation of this project.

U.S. policy is part of this continuum. The White House has worked with Israel and the House of Saud to divide and isolate the Palestinians through a Hamas-Fatah split. In Iraq the process of national estrangement has been a major endeavour for Washington and its allies. Sudan has been fractured and now a civil war is being fuelled in Libya. Arab League member Somalia has also been divided into Puntland, Somaliland, and South Somalia. South Somalia has also been divided to an even greater extent.

The interests of the U.S. government, Brussels, and Israel are to keep the Arabs divided in separate “feeble states.” There is, however, a new dynamic that is emerging in the Arab World. This new dynamic emerging from the upheavals and protests potentially challenges the Yinon Approach, which is being applied against the Arab people.

Pan-Arabism is a new dynamic, which constitutes a potent force. The trend of decades of divisions can eventually be reversed. Nor will the issue of Palestine be left in the hands of outside powers for much longer.

The plurality of Arabdom was constructed on the basis of inclusiveness and multi-culturalism. The Arab identity is a very open and inclusive one that has a wide embrace. According to the Arab League’s 1946 definition or description: “An Arab is a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic speaking country, [and] who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples.” [5] This has brought different civilizations, ethnicities, creeds, traditions, and lands together and united them under one roof, from the pre-Arabized Levantine peoples to the pre-Arabized Egyptians, Nubians, and Berbers.

Pan-Arabism gives a political will to this inclusive Arab identity and paves the way for a political project amongst the Arab peoples. Thus, regardless of the initial successes or failures of these revolts, the Arab march towards unity as a political and popular project is an eventual assurance. Nor can its tides be contained for long as a new geo-political and sociological reality begins to take shape for the Arab Nation.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya specializes on the Middle East and Central Asia. He is a Reseach Associate at the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).


[1] The Yinon Plan is a strategic Israeli policy put forward by Oded Yinon that advocates that Israel act as an imperialist power and fracture the countries of the Middle East and North Africa into tiny and feeble states.
[2] Alice Fordham, “Allawi backing away from the Iraqi government deal,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2011.
[3] “Deadly clashes as Morocco breaks up Western Sahara camp,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), November 8, 2010.
[4] Daniel Murphy, “Joe Biden says Egypt’s Mubarak no dictator, he shouldn’t step down...,” Christian Science Monitor, January 27, 2011.
[5] William D. Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and Middle Eastern Countries (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), p.25.

Alexander Cockburn

Threaten the stability of Saudi Arabia, as the Shi’a upsurges are now doing in Qatif, and al-Awamiyah in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province and you’re brandishing a dagger over the very heart of long-term U.S. policy in the Middle East for over half a century.

In 1945 the chief of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs, wrote in a memo that the oil resources of Saudi Arabia are a “stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The man who steered the Saudi sheikhs towards America and away from Britain, was St.John Philby, Kim’s father, and with that one great stroke Philby Sr. wrought far more devastation on the British Empire than his son ever did. The fall of America’s ally, the Shah of Iran in 1979 only magnified the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia.

These days the U.S. consumes about 19 million barrels of oil every 24 hours, about half of them imported. At 25 per cent Canada is the lead supplier. Second comes Saudi Arabia with 12 per cent. But supply of crude oil to the U.S. is only half the story. Saudi Arabia controls OPEC’s oil price and adjusts it carefully with U.S. priorities in the front of their minds.

The traffic is not one-way. In the half-century after 1945, the United States sold the Saudis about$100 billion in military goods and services. A year ago the Obama administration announced the biggest weapons deal in U.S. history – a $60 billion program with Saudi Arabia to sell it military equipment across the next 20 to 30 years.

The US trains and supplies all Saudi Arabia’s security forces. US corporations have huge investments in the Kingdom.

Say the words “Saudi Arabia” to President Obama or to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the high-minded prattle about the “Arab spring” stops abruptly. When the Saudis rushed security forces across the Causeway and into Bahrein, counselling the Khalifa dynasty to smash down hard on the Shi’a demonstrators in the homeport of the US Fifth Fleet, the public noises of reproof from Washington were mouse-like in their reticence and modesty.

Could the uprisings in Saudi Arabia spiral out of control? We’re talking here about two different challenges. The first are the long-oppressed Shi’a, making up ten per cent of the population. The second is from the younger generation — youth under 30 account for two-thirds of the Saudi population– in the Sunni majority, living in one of the most thorough-going tyrannies in the world.

In February of this year, perturbed by the trend of events in Egypt and elsewhere, the 87-year King Abdullah announced his plan to dispense about $36 billion in welfare handouts – about $2,000 for every Saudi. He correctly identified one of the Kingdom’s big problems, which is that nearly half those between 18 and 40 don’t have a job.

A few days ago Abdullah offered Saudi women a privilege – to participate in certain entirely meaningless municipal elections (if approved by their husbands.) What municipal elections can be meaningful amid resolute repression under an absolutist monarchy?

As the international rights lawyer Paul Wolf remarked on PressTV, “In Saudi Arabia, cell phones with cameras are illegal. All telephone conversations are monitored. The government controls the TV and the print media. In 2009 an election was cancelled…. So I mean it is great if they are taking action to try to include women in the political process but really, no one is included in the political process.”

The American Empire has lost Iran and Iraq. What of Saudi Arabia? Suppose, fissures continue to open up in the Kingdom itself? I doubt, at such a juncture, that we would hear too much talk from Washington about “democracy” or orderly transitions. Aside from anything else, the downfall of the Saudi regime would have terrible consequences in Washington, since hundreds of heavy-hitters there are on the Saudi payroll, starting with virtually all the ex-ambassadors, with the exception of James Akins who once told a friend of mine he was the only one who wasn’t. No way will Washington let the money flow from Riyadh to K street be endangered. Send in the 101st Airborne!

One cherished British imperial rule, handed down to the Empire that displaced it, is: When in doubt, break it up. There have been recent western advocates of break-up of Saudi Arabia, Two well-known neo-cons, Richard Perle and David Frum wrote in their 2005 book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror that the U.S.should mobilize the Shi’ites living in eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the Saudi oil is: “Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state. But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly it’s an outcome to ponder. Even more certainly, we would want the Saudis to know we are pondering it.”

Perle was once head of the Defense Policy Board, advising the Defense Department. As Robert Dreyfus reports in Devil’s Game, In 2002, a Defense Policy Board briefing argued that the US should work to split Saudi Arabia apart so the US could effectively control its oil. Other neoconservatives like Michael Ledeen expressed similar views. In early 2003, Akins, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, mentioned the possibility that Osama bin Laden could take over Saudi Arabia if the US invaded Iraq. “I’m now convinced that that’s exactly what [the neoconservatives] want to happen. And then we take it over.”

I guess the current model is the Kurdish sector of Iraq.

Jahangir Muhammad
Centre for Muslim Affairs

After the last few weeks there should no longer be any doubt that the Muslim world needs to rid itself of American presence and interference in Muslim lands. There can be no freedom, self-determination or independence in these lands unless that happens. The United States veto of the Palestinian efforts at recognition in the United Nations, the decision to withdraw aid for Palestinians, as well as continued US military presence, repeated drone attacks and assassination of Muslims without charge or trial in Muslim lands, is surely compelling evidence that its time for a different approach.

Change happens when the majority of people develop a common understanding of their situation and decide collectively to do something about it. The revolutionary movements (not yet revolutions) in the Arab world this year, are the product not just of face book (this was just a vehicle for change), but also of decades of Islamic activism, and challenge to dictatorship and oppression. Small and gradual changes over time produce bigger change. This activism helped produce a common understanding of the nature of these regimes, leading eventually to these uprisings. We must never forget the many Islamic activists and their families who have been persecuted, imprisoned, or killed for exposing and standing up to these regimes.

However, there will be no revolutions in the Muslim world unless and until the Muslim masses understand that their struggle is not just against their own dictators. These dictators are just the local proxies of the United States and the West. To produce revolutionary change requires Muslim masses first to understand that their real struggle is against western presence and interference in Muslim lands, and then to do something about it. In both Egypt and Libya we have seen that removing a Western backed dictator does not equate to removing Western presence and interference. Nor will it lead to freedom and independence.

Nowhere is this relationship between the West and United States becoming clearer than in occupied Palestine. For over 60 years now the Palestinian leadership have been struggling to persuade the West and the United Nations of the just nature of their cause. The Palestinian Authority accepted the United Sates and Britain as impartial mediators, even prepared to accept what amounts to a tiny parcel of land of what was once Palestine. Yet from 1949 -2010 the United States has supplied $106BN of assistance, mostly military, to Israel. This does not include special military assistance on occasions and for joint military projects. Moreover, the economic assistance is provided on more favourable terms than other countries and not to programmes but direct to the Israeli government. This support has continued even when the Israelis have been massacring Palestinians and Muslims in both Palestine and Lebanon.

Anyone with sense can conclude from this, that the Palestinian struggle is not just against Israel, but the United States in particular, and other Western nations that support it. Yet the Palestinian leadership has treated this as a local struggle and the US as their friend. If someone aids and abets your enemy in every conceivable way for over 60 years, it is an act of gross stupidity to consider them your friends and as a solution to your problems. Recognising your enemy is an essential step to putting an end to your misery. That is why the Quran goes into so much detail about the threats and enemies Muslims and humanity are likely to face in this world, and how to deal with them.
So when the US threatens to veto even the tabling of a call for recognition of a Palestinian State, and most of the non –Western nations support it, and almost all the Western nations oppose it, or abstain, its time to realise who your struggle is really against? The United States did not even float the idea of a Palestinian State for the first time until after 911 in the June 2002 speech of George Bush. Even then it laid down so many pre-conditions that it made it virtually impossible to achieve.

Instead of Muslims running to the UN, and, the United States threatening to veto, it should be Muslims who should be vetoing the United States. Every penny that Muslims spend in trade or investment with the United States simply prolongs our suffering. Instead of our leaders and scholars pleading for justice with the leaders of Western nations, they should be addressing and mobilising the Muslim masses in a global resistance movement against the United States. They should be calling for the masses to make it difficult for American companies to do business in any part of the Muslim world, not through violence but through legitimate protest, boycott and other means of civil mobilisation and resistance. This would have a major impact. The American economy is already collapsing. Muslim masses could hasten this decline, and as the American people realise that their regimes policies are making them suffer, they will rise up against their own government and the State of Israel, and force change. It is this global resistance against the US and capitalism, inspired by Muslims, rather than elections or lobbying that will bring about revolution and change not just in the Muslim world but in the West too.

The despots of the Muslim world will not support such calls against the US, but the global Muslim Ummah of two billion people will. Our scholars and leaders of movements need to learn to address them not Western instruments of power. It was to them we should always have turned. In one of his last commands to Muslims before he passed away the Prophet Muhammad (saw) asked the believers to “ Expel the Mushrikeen from Jazeera ut- al Arab” ( the Arabian peninsula, extends all the way to Syria). This order remains to be fulfilled even today. Revolutions first occur in the mind before they can be established on the ground. Its time for a change in mindset and strategy.

Wadah Khanfar,
Sunday 27 November 2011  

Ennahda, the Islamic party in Tunisia, won 41% of the seats of the Tunisian constitutional assembly last month, causing consternation in the west. But Ennahda will not be an exception on the Arab scene. Last Friday the Islamic Justice and Development Party took the biggest share of the vote in Morocco and will lead the new coalition government for the first time in history. And tomorrow Egypt's elections begin, with the Muslim Brotherhood predicted to become the largest party. There may be more to come. Should free and fair elections be held in Yemen, once the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh falls, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, also Islamic, will win by a significant majority. This pattern will repeat itself whenever the democratic process takes its course.

In the west, this phenomenon has led to a debate about the "problem" of the rise of political Islam. In the Arab world, too, there has been mounting tension between Islamists and secularists, who feel anxious about Islamic groups. Many voices warn that the Arab spring will lead to an Islamic winter, and that the Islamists, though claiming to support democracy, will soon turn against it. In the west, stereotypical images that took root in the aftermath of 9/11 have come to the fore again. In the Arab world, a secular anti-democracy camp has emerged in both Tunisia and Egypt whose pretext for opposing democratisation is that the Islamists are likely to be the victors.

But the uproar that has accompanied the Islamists' gains is unhelpful; a calm and well-informed debate about the rise of political Islam is long overdue.

First, we must define our terms. "Islamist" is used in the Muslim world to describe Muslims who participate in the public sphere, using Islam as a basis. It is understood that this participation is not at odds with democracy. In the west, however, the term routinely describes those who use violence as a means and an end – thus Jihadist Salafism, exemplified by al-Qaida, is called "Islamist" in the west, despite the fact that it rejects democratic political participation (Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, criticised Hamas when it decided to take part in the elections for the Palestinian legislative council, and has repeatedly criticised the Muslim Brotherhood for opposing the use of violence).

This disconnect in the understanding of the term in the west and in the Muslim world was often exploited by despotic Arab regimes to suppress Islamic movements with democratic political programmes. It is time we were clear.

Reform-based Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, work within the political process. They learned a bitter lesson from their armed conflict in Syria against the regime of Hafez al-Assad in 1982, which cost the lives of more than 20,000 people and led to the incarceration or banishment of many thousands more. The Syrian experience convinced mainstream Islamic movements to avoid armed struggle and to observe "strategic patience" instead.

Second, we must understand the history of the region. In western discourse Islamists are seen as newcomers to politics, gullible zealots who are motivated by a radical ideology and lack experience. In fact, they have played a major role in the Arab political scene since the 1920s. Islamic movements have often been in opposition, but since the 1940s they have participated in parliamentary elections, entered alliances with secular, nationalist and socialist groups, and participated in several governments – in Sudan, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria. They have also forged alliances with non-Islamic regimes, like the Nimeiri regime in Sudan in 1977.

A number of other events have had an impact on the collective Muslim mind, and have led to the maturation of political Islam: the much-debated Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979; the military coup in Sudan in 1989; the success of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front in the 1991 elections and the army's subsequent denial of its right to govern; the conquest of much of Afghan territory by the Taliban in 1996 leading to the establishment of its Islamic emirate; and the success in 2006 of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. The Hamas win was not recognised, nor was the national unity government formed. Instead, a siege was imposed on Gaza to suffocate the movement.

Perhaps one of the most influential experiences has been that of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, which won the elections in 2002. It has been a source of inspiration for many Islamic movements. Although the AKP does not describe itself as Islamic, its 10 years of political experience have led to a model that many Islamists regard as successful. The model has three important characteristics: a general Islamic frame of reference; a multi-party democracy; and significant economic growth.

These varied political experiences have had a profound impact on political Islam's flexibility and capacity for political action, and on its philosophy, too.

However, political Islam has also faced enormous pressures from dictatorial Arab regimes, pressures that became more intense after 9/11. Islamic institutions were suppressed. Islamic activists were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Such experiences gave rise to a profound bitterness. Given the history, it is only natural that we should hear overzealous slogans or intolerant threats from some activists. Some of those now at the forefront of election campaigns were only recently released from prison. It would not be fair to expect them to use the voice of professional diplomats.

Despite this, the Islamic political discourse has generally been balanced. The Tunisian Islamic movement has set a good example. Although Ennahda suffered under Ben Ali's regime, its leaders developed a tolerant discourse and managed to open up to moderate secular and leftist political groups. The movement's leaders have reassured Tunisian citizens that it will not interfere in their personal lives and that it will respect their right to choose. The movement also presented a progressive model of women's participation, with 42 female Ennahda members in the constitutional assembly.

The Islamic movement's approach to the west has also been balanced, despite the fact that western countries supported despotic Arab regimes. Islamists know the importance of international communication in an economically and politically interconnected world.

Now there is a unique opportunity for the west: to demonstrate that it will no longer support despotic regimes by supporting instead the democratic process in the Arab world, by refusing to intervene in favour of one party against another and by accepting the results of the democratic process, even when it is not the result they would have chosen. Democracy is the only option for bringing stability, security and tolerance to the region, and it is the dearest thing to the hearts of Arabs, who will not forgive any attempts to derail it.

The region has suffered a lot as a result of attempts to exclude Islamists and deny them a role in the public sphere. Undoubtedly, Islamists' participation in governance will give rise to a number of challenges, both within the Islamic ranks and with regard to relations with other local and international forces. Islamists should be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling overconfident: they must accommodate other trends, even if it means making painful concessions. Our societies need political consensus, and the participation of all political groups, regardless of their electoral weight. It is this interplay between Islamists and others that will both guarantee the maturation of the Arab democratic transition and lead to an Arab political consensus and stability that has been missing for decades.


James Petras

The dynamic of democratic, nationalist and class struggles throughout the Muslim world has set in motion a new constellation of alliances between the imperial West (US and European Union) and Islamist parties, leaders and regimes, dubbed “moderate” by US officials, propagandists and academics.

This essay analyzes the changing contemporary context of imperial domination, especially the demise of longstanding client regimes.  It then examines the previous significant ties between western imperial powers and Islamist movements and regimes and the basis of ‘historical collaboration’.

The third part of the paper will outline the political circumstances in which the imperial powers embrace “moderate” Islamists in government and utilize “armed fundamentalists” in opposition to secular regimes.  We will critically analyze how “moderate” Islam is defined by the Western imperialist powers.  Is this a tactical or strategic alliance?  What are the political “trade-offs”?  What do imperialism’s neo-liberal clients and their new ‘moderate’ Muslim allies have in common and how do they differ?

In conclusion, we will evaluate the viability of this alliance and its capacity to contain and deflect the popular democratic movements and repress the burgeoning class and national struggles, especially in regard to the ‘obstacles’ posed by the Israel-US-Zionist ties and the continued IMF policies which promise to worsen the crises in the Muslim countries.

The Transition from Neo-Liberal Client Rulers to Power-Sharing with Moderate Islamists

The key motivation in Washington’s and the European imperial troika’s (England, France and Germany) embrace of what their press and officialdom hail as “moderate” Islamist parties has been the collapse or weakening of their long-term client rulers.  Faced with the ouster of Mubarak, in Egypt, Ali in Tunisia and Saleh in Yemen, mass protests in Morocco and Algeria, the US-EU turned to conservative Muslim leaders who were willing to work within the existing state institutional framework (including the army and state police), uphold the capitalist order and align with the empire against anti-imperial movements and states.  In Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood), in Tunisia the Renaissance Party, in Morocco the Justice and Development Party have all indicated their willingness to serve as reliable partners in blocking the pro-democracy movements that challenge the socio-economic status quo and the long-standing military-imperial linkages.

The Islamist collaborators are called “moderate and respectable” because they agree to participate in elections within the boundaries of the established political and economic order; they have dropped any criticism of imperial and colonial treaties and trade agreements signed by the previous client regions – including ones which collaborate with Israel’s colonization of Palestine.

Equally important “moderate” means supporting imperial wars against nationalist and secular Arab republics, such as Syria and Libya, and isolating and/or repressing class based trade unions and secular-left parties.

“Moderate” Islamists have become the Empire’s ‘contraceptive of choice’ against any chance the massive Arab peoples’ revolt might give birth to substantive egalitarian social changes and bring those brutal pro-western officials, responsible for so many crimes against humanity, to justice.

The West and their client officials in the military and police have agreed to a kind of “power-sharing’ with the moderate/respectable (read ‘reactionary’) Islamist parties.  The Islamists would be responsible for imposing orthodox economic policies and re-establishing ‘order’ (i.e. bolstering the existing one) in partnership with pro-multinational bank economists and pro US-EU generals and security officials.  In exchange the Islamists could take certain ministries, appoint their members, finance electoral clientele among the poor and push their ‘moderate’ religious, social and cultural agenda.  Basically, the elected Islamists would replace the old corrupt dictatorial regimes in running the state and signing off on more free trade agreements with the EU.  Their role would keep the leftists, nationalists and populists out of power and from gaining mass support.  Their job would substitute spiritual solace and “inner worth” via Islam in place of redistributing land, income and power from the elite, including the foreign multi-nationals to the peasants, workers, unemployed and exploited low-paid employees.

Why the Empire Arms Fundamentalist Anti-Secular Muslims

While the US and EU have backed respectable “moderate Islam” in heading off a popular upheaval of the young and unemployed, in other contexts they have enlisted violent, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists to overthrow secular independent anti-imperialists regimes – like Libya, Syria — just as they had done earlier in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.  The US, Qatar and the European troika financed and armed Libyan fundamentalist militias and then engaged in a murderous eight months air and sea assault to ensure their client’s ‘victory’ over the secular Gaddafi regime.  Fresh from NATO’s success, the US, the European ‘Troika’ and Turkey, with the backing of the League of Arab collaborator princes and emirs, have financed a violent Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in Syria, intent on destroying the nationalist economy and modern secular state.

The US and EU have openly unleashed their fundamentalists allies in order to destroy independent adversaries in the name of “democracy” and ‘humanitarian intervention’, a laughable claim in light of decade long colonial wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  All target regimes have one crime in common:  Using their national resources to develop modern secular states – independent of imperial dictates.

NATO  implements its campaigns through conservative ‘moderate’ or armed fundamentalist Islamist movements depending on the specific needs, circumstances and range of options in any given target nation.  With the fall of  pro-Empire ‘secular dictatorships’ in Egypt and Tunisia, pliable conservative Islamist leaders are the fall back “lesser evil”.  When the opportunity to overthrow an independent secular or nationalist regime arises, armed and violent fundamentalist mercenaries become the political vehicle of choice.

As with European empires in the past, the modern Western imperial countries have relied on retrograde religious parties and leaders to collaborate and serve their economic and military interests and to provide mercenaries for imperial armies to savage any anti-imperialist social revolutionaries.  In that sense US and European rulers are neither ‘pro nor anti’ Islam, it all depends on their national and class position.  Islamists who collaborate with Empire are “moderate” allies and if they attack an anti-imperialist regime, they become ‘freedom fighters’.  On the other hand, they become “terrorists” or “fundamentalists” when they oppose imperial occupation, pillage or colonial settlements.

Contemporary History of Islamist-Imperial Collaboration

The historical record of western imperial expansion reveals many instances of collaboration and co-optation as well as conflict with Islamist regimes, movements and parties.  In the early 1960’s the CIA backed a brutal military coup against the secular Indonesian nationalist regime of Sukarno, and encouraged their puppet dictator General Suharto to unleash Muslim militia in a veritable “holy war” exterminating nearly one million leftist trade unionists, school teachers, students, farmers, communists or suspected sympathizers and their family members.  The horrific ‘Jakarta Option’ became a model for CIA operations elsewhere.  In Yugoslavia the US and Europe promoted and financed fundamentalists Muslims in Bosnia, importing mujahedeen who would later form part of Al Qaeda, and then backed the Kosovo Liberation Army, a known terrorist organization, in order to completely break-up and ethnically ‘cleanse’ a modern secular multi-national state – going so far as to have Americans and NATO bomb Belgrade for the first time since the Nazis in the Second World War.

During President Carter’s administration, the CIA joined with Saudi Arabia’s ruling royalty, providing billions of dollars in arms and military supplies to Afghan Muslim fundamentalists in their brutal but successful Jihad overthrowing a modern, secular nationalist regime backed by the USSR.  The murderous fate of school teachers and educated women in the aftermath was quickly covered up.

Needless to say, wherever US imperialism faces leftists or secular, modernizing anti-imperialist regimes, Washington turns to retrograde Islamic leaders willing and able to destroy the progressive regime in return for imperialist support.  Such coalitions are built mainly around fundamentalist and moderate Islamist opposition to secular, class-based politics allied with the Empire’s hostility to any anti-imperialist challenge to its domination.

The same ‘coalition’ of Islamists and the Empire has been glaringly obvious during the NATO assault on Libya and continues against Syria:  The Muslims provide the shock troops on the ground; NATO provides the aerial bombing, funds, arms, sanctions, embargoes and propaganda.

These Islamist-Imperialist coalitions are usually temporary, based on a common secular or nationalist enemy and not on any common strategic interest.  After the defeat of a secular anti-imperialist regime, militant Muslims may find themselves attacked by the colonial neo-liberal regime most favored by the imperial west.  This happened in Afghanistan and elsewhere after the overseas Islamist fighters (Afghan Arabs) returned to their own neo-colonized, collaborating home countries, like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere.

Contemporary History of Islamist-Imperial Conflict

The relation between Islamist regimes and imperialism is complex, changing and  full of examples of bloody conflict.

The US backed the “modernizing” free market dictatorship of the Shah in Iran, overthrowing the nationalist Mosaddegh regime. They provided arms and intelligence for the Savak, the Shah’s monstrous secret police as it hunted down and murdered tens of thousands of nationalist-Islamists and leftist resistance fighters and critics in Iran and abroad.  The rise to power of the fundamentalist-anti-imperialist Khomeini regime fueled US armed attacks and provoked retaliatory moves:  Iran backed and financed anti-colonial Islamist groups in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Palestine (Hamas) and Iraq (the Shia parties).

Subsequent to 9/11 the US invaded and overthrew the Islamist Taliban regime, re-colonized the country, establishing a puppet regime under US-European auspices.  The Taliban and allied Islamist and nationalist resistance fighters organized and established a mass guerrilla army which has engaged in a decade long war with armed support from Pakistani Islamist forces responding to US military incursions.

In Palestine, Washington, under the overweening control of Israel’s Zionist fifth column, has armed and financed Israel’s war against the popularly elected Palestinian Islamist Hamas government in Gaza.  Washington’s total commitment to the Jewish state and its colonial expansion and usurpation of Palestinian (Muslim and Christian) lands and property in Jerusalem and elsewhere reflects the profound and pervasive influence of the Zionist power configuration throughout the US political system .They secure 90% votes in Congress, pledges of allegiance from the White House, and senior appointments in Treasury, State Department and the Pentagon.

What determines whether the US Empire will have a collaborative or conflict-ridden relation with Islam depends on the specific political context.  The US allies with Islamists when faced with nationalist, leftist and secular democratic regimes and movements, especially where their optimal choice, a military-neo-liberal alternative is relatively weak.  However, faced with a nationalist, anti-colonial Islamist regime (as is the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran), Washington will side with pro-western liberals, dissident Muslim clerics, pliable tribal chiefs, separatist ethnic minorities and pro-Western generals.

The key to US-Islamist relations from the White House perspective is based on the Islamists’ attitude toward empire, class politics, NATO and the “free market” (private foreign investment).

Today’s ‘moderate’ Islamist parties in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco (and elsewhere), which have offered their support to NATO and its wars against Libya and Syria, uphold ‘private property’ (i.e. foreign and imperialist client control of key industries) and repress independent working class and anti-imperialist parties.  They are the Empire’s “new partners” in the pillage of the resource-rich Middle East and North Africa.

The US-brokered counter-revolutionary alliance among moderate Islamists, the previous military rulers and Washington is fraught with tensions.  The military demands total impunity and a continuation of its economic privileges; this includes a veto on any legislation addressing the previous regime’s brutal crimes against its own people.  On the other hand, the Islamist parties uphold their electoral victories and demand majority rule.  Washington insists the alliance adhere to its policy toward Israel and abandon their support for the Palestinian national struggle.  As these tensions and conflicts deepen, the alliance could collapse ushering in a new phase of conflict and instability.

Emblematic of “moderate Islamist” collaboration with US-EU imperialism is the role of Qatar, home to the ‘respectable’ Arabic media giant, Al-Jazeera, and the demagogic Qatari “spiritual guide” Sheik Youssef  al-Qaradawi.  Sheik Youssef quotes the Koran and Islamic moral principles in defense of NATO’s 8-month aerial bombing of Libya, which killed over 50,000 pro-regime Libyans (themselves Muslims).  He calls for armed imperial intervention in Syria to overthrow the secular Assad regime, a position he shares comfortably with the state of Israel. He urges the “moderate Islamists” in Egypt and Tunisia to cease any criticism of the existing economic order, ( see “Spiritual guide steers Arabs to moderation”, Financial Times, December 9, 2011 – p5).  In a word, this respectable Muslim cleric is NATO’s perfect Koran-quoting “moderate Islamist” partner – a dream come true.

The Strategic Utility of “Moderate” Islamist Parties

Islamist parties are approached by the Empire’s policy elites only when they have a mass following and can therefore weaken any popular, nationalist insurgency.  Mass-based Islamist parties serve the empire by providing “legitimacy”, by winning elections and by giving a veneer of respectability to the pro-imperial military and police apparatus retained in place from the overthrown client state dictatorships.

The Islamist parties compete at the “grass roots” with the leftists.  They build up a clientele of supporters among the poor in the countryside and urban slums through organized charity and basic social services administered at the mosques and humanitarian religious foundations.  Because they reject class struggle and are intensely hostile to the left (with its secular, pro-feminist and working-class agenda), they have been ‘half-tolerated’ by the dictatorship, while the leftist activists are routinely murdered.  Subsequently, with the overthrow of the dictatorship, the Islamists emerge intact with the strongest national organizational network as the country’s ‘natural leaders’ from the religious-bazaar merchant political elite.  Their leaders offer to serve the empire and its traditional native military collaborators in exchange for a ‘slice of power’, especially over morality, culture, religion and households (women); in other words, the “micro-society”.

For their part, they offer to marginalize and undermine the left, anti-imperialist secular democrats in the streets.  In the face of mass popular rebellion calling into question the imperial order, a ‘moderate’ Islamist-imperial partnership is a ‘heavenly deal’ praised in Washington, Paris or London (as well as Riyadh and Tel Aviv).

Conclusion:  How Viable is the Imperial-Islamic Coalition?

Those who thought that the spontaneous pro-democracy movements spelled the end of the imperial order left out the role of organized “moderate” Islamist electoral parties as able collaborators of Empire.  The brutally repressed mass mobilization of unemployed youth was no match for the well-funded grass roots community organization of the moderate Islamists.  This is especially true when politics shifted from the street to the ballot box, a process that the Islamist parties facilitated.  In the absence of a mass revolutionary party seeking state power, the existing military-police state was able to work around the mass protesters and put together a power sharing agreement at least in the short-run.

In the November 2011 elections, the radical Egyptian Islamist party, Nour, gathered one-quarter of the vote in Cairo and Alexandria.  Their showing was even higher among the urban poor districts, which promises even greater support among poor rural constituencies in the coming elections. Essentially a Salafist Islamist party, Nour, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, combined denunciations of class abuses and elite corruption with mass appeals to a return to a mythic harmonious life.  They used effective grass roots organizing around basic services in order to gain a greater proportion of the working class vote than all the leftist parties combined.  Nour’s message of “class retribution against the …abuses of Egypt’s elite fueled Nour’s new found popularity”, (Financial Times, December 10, 2011 p6).

Despite the successes of the Islamist-Imperial partnership, the world economic crises and especially the growing unemployment and misery in the Arab countries will make it difficult for the ‘respectable moderate’ Islamists to stabilize their societies. They are inextricably constrained by their alliances to function within the confines of the ‘orthodox neo-liberal framework’ imposed by the Empire.  For that reason, the “moderate” Islamists will try to co-opt some secular liberals, social democrats and even a few leftists as ‘minority partners’, so that they won’t be held solely responsible for dashing the expectations of the poor in their countries.

The fact of the matter is that the pro-imperial Islamist parties have absolutely no answer to the current crises:  Charities delivered from the mosque during the dictatorship won them mass support; now more austerity programs imposed from their ministerial posts will certainly alienate and infuriate their mass base.  What will follow depends on who is best organized:  Liberals are limited to media campaigns and tied to economic orthodoxy; the leftists have to advance from protest movements in the downtown squares to organized political units operating in popular neighborhoods, workplaces, markets, villages and slums.  Otherwise radical fundamentalist, like the Salafists, will exploit the people’s outrage with moderate Islamist betrayals and promote their own version of a closed clerical society, opposing the West while repressing the Left.

The US and EU may have ‘temporarily’ avoided revolution by accommodating electoral reforms and adapting to alliances with “moderate” Islamists, but their ongoing military interventions and their own growing economic crisis will  simply postpone a more decisive conflict in the near future.


The US and its Arab allies are scrambling to control the outcome of the Arab Spring in a way that will prolong their regional dominance

A specter is haunting the Arab world - the specter of democratic revolution. All the powers of the old Arab world have entered into a holy alliance with each other and the United States to exorcise this specter: king and sultan, emir and president, neoliberals and zionists.

While Marx and Engels used similar words in 1848 in reference to European regimes and the impending communist revolutions that were defeated in the Europe of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there is much hope in the Arab world that these words would apply more successfully to the ongoing democratic Arab uprisings.

In the case of Europe, Marx ended up having to write the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon in 1852 to analyse the defeat of the 1848 revolution in France. He explained how revolutions could overthrow an existing ruling class but would not necessarily lead to the rule of the oppressed. He analysed the process by which Louis Napoleon was able to hijack the revolution and proclaim himself emperor, restoring monarchy to republican and revolutionary France, as his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte had done before him to the glorious French Revolution of 1789.

Since the end of World War I, European powers and the United States have appointed and removed Arab kings at will. Their actions were always taken to ensure the persistence of these dictatorial monarchies, rather than their removal, and to strengthen Euro-American control and hegemony over the region.

The only seeming exception to this rule was the French removal of King Faisal from the throne of Syria in 1919, ending the short-lived Syrian independence, only for the British to extend to him the throne of Iraq, which he assumed that same year, with the inauguration of British rule in that country.

This Euro-American power would include the granting of Abdullah the throne of Jordan in 1921 and the removal of his son King Talal from it, replacing him with his own son Hussein in 1952-53. The French would dethrone Mohammed V of Morocco in 1953 but would restore him again in 1955 when opposition to his removal weakened their control.

The British would remove Sultan Said bin Taymur in 1970 and replace him with his son Sultan Qabus, who was better able, with the help of the Iranian Shah, the Jordanian King, British and American military support, to quell the republican revolution in Dhofar.

Even the palace coup of 1995 by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani of Qatar to oust his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al Thani, and replace him, received American support and enthusiasm, as it was carried out to strengthen, rather than weaken, the Qatari monarchy.

Imperialism and orientalism

Since World War II, but more diligently since the mid 1950s, the United States has followed two simultaneous strategies to exercise its control over the Arab peoples across Arab countries. The first, and the one most relevant to Arabs, was based on the early US recognition and realisation (like Britain, France, and Italy before it) that Arabs, like all other peoples worldwide, wanted democracy and freedom and would struggle for them in every possible way.

For the United States, this necessitated the establishment of security and repressive apparatuses in Arab countries, which the US would train, fund, and direct in order to suppress these democratic desires and efforts in support of dictatorial regimes whose purpose has always been and continues to be the defense of US security and business interests in the region.

These interests consist principally in securing and maintaining US control of the oil resources of the region, ensuring profits for American business, and strengthening the Israeli settler-colony.

Much of this was of course propelled by the beginning of the Cold War and the US strategy to suppress all forms of real and imagined communist-leaning forces around the world, which included any and all democratic demands for change in the region.

This strategy, which was formalised in the Eisenhower Doctrine issued in 1957, continues through the present. The Eisenhower Doctrine, issued on 5 January 1957, as a speech by the US president, declared the Soviet Union, not Israel or Western-supported regional dictatorships, as the enemy of the people of the Middle East.

To neutralise president Gamal Abd al Nasir’s wide appeal across the Arab world, Eisenhower authorised the US military "to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism.”

In contrast with its actual anti-democratic policies around the world, the US has always insisted on marketing itself as a force for global democracy. In line with this public relations campaign, the second strategy the US used to advance its anti-democratic policies in the Arab World was the importation of European orientalism, which acquired a central place in post-war US academia.

State Department funding assisted by funding from private foundations would solidify orientalist research that asserted that Arabs and Muslims were incompatible with democracy and that more often than not they love and prefer dictatorial rule and that it would be culturally imperialist for the US to impose democracy on them, leading to the conclusion that it would be best to uphold their dictatorial rulers whose repressive policies, we are told, are inspired by Islam and Arab culture.

Between the billions spent on repressing the Arab peoples and the millions spent to explain academically and in the American media the need to repress them, this two-pronged US strategy in the region since World War II has been coming apart at an accelerated rate since January 2011, a development that continues to cause panic in the Obama White House and manifests in the incessant fumbling of his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who is much despised across the Arab world.

If president Jimmy Carter infamously declared on the eve of the Iranian Revolution in December 1977 that the Iran of the Shah was "an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world", Hillary Clinton would declare Mubarak’s Egypt as "stable" days before he was overthrown.

Subverting democracy

The anti-democratic US campaign in the region started with the first coup d’état the US sponsored when it overthrew democratic rule in Syria in 1949 and was soon followed by the restoration of the Shah in neighbouring Iran in 1953 in a CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the government of prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and suppressed the democratic movement in Iran.

As the US was following similar strategies elsewhere in its expanding empire, especially in Guatemala where it sponsored an anti-democratic coup against the reform government of Jacobo Arbenz and unleashed a wave of terror that murdered hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans for the next four decades, it formalised its new strategy in the Arab world through the Eisenhower Doctrine.

Soon after, the US went into high gear suppressing democracy in the region, starting with intervention in Lebanon on the side of right-wing sectarian forces in 1957, moving to engineer the palace coup launched by the young King Hussein against the democratically elected parliament the same year in Jordan, and proceeding to help the Baath party assume power in 1963 in Iraq and massacre thousands in the process.

The defeat of Nasir in the 1967 war was followed by US support for the most repressive Sudanese regime ever under Jafar Numeiri and the suppression of the revolution across the Arabian Gulf in the early seventies with the assistance of the Shah’s forces and the Jordanian army, which stabilised the region for US oil profits and began the road to secure Israel’s supremacy.

In the meantime, the removal of Arab monarchies from power and replacing them with republics would take place through the mechanism of military coups, which, unlike Euro-American interventions, had much popular support. Beginning with the removal of King Farouk of Egypt in 1952 by the Free Officers, the removal of Arab monarchies would proceed with the overthrow of the Iraqi King and the Hashemite royal family in 1958, the Yemeni monarchy in 1962, and ended with the overthrow of the Libyan monarchy in 1969 by Gaddafi.

All other Arab monarchies have persisted, with massive American, French, and British financial, economic, military, and security support, despite a number of threats to these thrones over the decades. While only two monarchies survive outside the Arabian Peninsula, which only managed to lose its Yemeni monarch, all other Arab regimes have a republican form of government.

The US-Saudi axis

The ongoing uprisings in the Arab world today, as is clear to all observers, do not distinguish between republics and monarchies. Indeed, in addition to the republics, demonstrations have been ongoing in Morocco, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia (and more modestly in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates), despite the brutal suppression of the major Bahraini uprising by a combined mercenary force dispatched by the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council led by Saudi Arabia.

The situation in Arab countries today is characterised as much by the counter-revolution sponsored by the Saudi regime and the United States as it is by the uprisings of the Arab peoples against US-sponsored dictatorial regimes.

While the US-Saudi axis was caught unprepared for the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, they quickly made contingency plans to counter the uprisings elsewhere, especially in Bahrain and Oman, but also in Jordan and Yemen, as well as take control of the uprisings in Libya (at first) and later in Syria. Attempts to take control of the Yemeni uprising have had mixed results so far.

Part of the US-Saudi strategy has been to strengthen religious sectarianism, especially hostility to shiism, in the hope of stemming the tide of the uprisings.

This sectarianism targets not only Iran but also Arab shias in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and even in Oman and Syria, while simultaneously encouraging anti-Christian zealotry in Egypt. The Sadat and Mubarak regimes encouraged anti-Christian zealots for decades. Part of the ongoing counter-revolutionary efforts is to resuscitate these sectarian forces to break Egyptian unity and bring about chaos.

If the Eisenhower Doctrine insisted in 1957 that the Soviets, not Israel, were the main enemy of the Arab peoples, today the US insists that it is Iran and shiism who are their main enemy. With the US and Saudi-led suppression of the people of Bahrain, the hope is that this American-sponsored sectarian hatred and encouragement of sunni Arab chauvinism would in one swoop render Iran (and not the Arab dictators, their Israeli ally, or their US sponsor) the enemy of Arabs, if not the only enemy of Arabs, and delegitimise at the same time the uprisings in countries with a substantial number of Arab shiites.

The US sponsored this project several years ago with limited success. It would be best articulated by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who warned in 2004 of a "shia crescent" threatening the region. The US and the Saudis are hoping that it could be more successful today.

The French and the British have continued to play important neo-colonial roles in the region, economically, militarily, and in the realm of security "cooperation". They have strengthened their position by increasing their security and diplomatic "assistance" to their allies among Arab dictators.

The US-supported repression in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and in the United Arab Emirates goes hand in hand with the Euro-American-Qatari intervention in Libya to safeguard the oil wells for Western companies once a new government is in place.

The hijacking of the Libyan uprising and the defection of Gaddafi's governing elite of politicians overnight to the side of the "revolutionaries" not only casts more than one shadow of suspicion on those claiming to lead the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi's horrific dictatorship, but also on the Western powers who were Gaddafi's major allies in the last decade until their recent defection.

The situation today is one of a struggle between the formidable US-Saudi axis, which is the main anti-democratic force in the region, and the pro-democracy uprisings .

The US-Saudi strategy is two-fold: massive repression of those Arab uprisings that can be defeated, and co-optation of those that could not be. How successful the second part will be depends on how co-optable the pro-democracy forces prove to be.

While it is true that revolutionaries make their own history, as Karl Marx famously put it, "they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."

Guarding against the co-optation of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions is the hope of all Arabs today .

The US-Saudi axis will use every mechanism at its disposal to do so, not least of which will be the forthcoming elections in Egypt and Tunisia. The great Arab hope is that Tunisia and Egypt will write a new Revolutionary and Democratic Manifesto for the Arab peoples.

The concern and the fear remain, however, that we may end up with less of a Communist Manifesto and more of an Eighteenth Brumaire.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York.


Prof. Madawi Al-Rasheed & Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen
Open Discussions – Gulf Cultural Club
20th March, 2012

On 14th March 2011 Saudi forces crossed the border with Bahrain and entered the country to crush the Revolution that had started one month earlier. The deafening silence by the West on the Saudi occupation of Bahrain has been shameful. The double standard policy of the West has shocked anyone with clear conscience. The West has abandoned its support for the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain and opted to support the Gulf monarchies that cannot be reformed or modernised in any shape or form.

Madawi Al-Rasheed: It is always a pleasure to address this distinguished audience. I am interested in the question of the Saudi response to the Arab spring. I think that in order to understand the response we have to look at the Saudi internal challenges. These internal challenges determined how Saudi Arabia responded to the Arab uprisings. It couldn’t have been a worse moment for the Saudi leadership for these uprisings to emerge.

First it had an aging leadership that is trying to navigate security and survival in the middle  of internal political, religious and social schisms with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is today witnessing serious debates and real and virtual protests among several groups in Saudi Arabia.

Obviously we have seen serious demonstrations starting in Qatif last year and other villages moving to other places in Saudi Arabia. The most recent one was a demonstration and civil disobedience by  female students in one of the universities in Abha. We have also seen other types of mobilisation by women’s groups. For example, last summer, there was a campaign for driving that several women participated in and there were calls for demonstrations in March last year that didn’t materialise.

The point that I am trying to make is that Saudi Arabia has not been immune from the kind of protest that has swept the Arab world from Morocco to Bahrain to Iraq and even sleeping Muscat.

Saudi Arabia responded to these kinds of minor protests that had taken place by deploying three strategies internally. The first one was the heavy deployment of security forces everywhere, not only in the eastern province  (Qatif) but also in other parts of the country. There is a heavy security presence everywhere.

The second strategy was to deploy the religious establishment and the religious establishment improvised by adopting two strategies. The first one was the reiterate the view that civil disobedience and peaceful protest is forbidden in Islam and the second strategy of the religious establishment is to heighten among its followers sectarian tension and schism.  During the last year I do not think I have witnessed in Saudi history more sectarianism than I have recorded in the past twelve months since the events in Bahrain on 14th February. So these were the two strategies of the religious establishment.

And finally there was the economic side whereby the Saudi leadership promised and distributed some economic benefits in order to buy time and to buy loyalty.

These internal tensions have determined how Saudi Arabia responds to the Arab  uprisings. At the beginning of the Arab revolt we heard that Saudi Arabia  is a counter revolutionary force. I want to make a serious distinction here because there is a difference in the way in which Saudi Arabia dealt with several uprisings. There are three strategies.

The first one was containment and we see this in North Africa. The second one was a counter revolution and there are two places where Saudi Arabia deployed that. Unfortunately for the Bahrainis it was in Bahrain and counter revolution was actually carried out by direct military intervention. In Yemen Saudi Arabia played a counter revolutionary role but by negotiations and trying to reach a solution that suits the Saudi leadership as a result of negotiations. The third strategy was to support revolution and this is what we have seen in Syria.

So let me just describe some of the events that come under containment in Tunisia and Egypt and possibly in Libya, counter revolution in Bahrain and Yemen and supporting revolution in Syria.

First of all Saudi Arabia and its main religious groups and even the media denied the Arab revolts and their transformative character in the sense that there was quite a lot of talk in the public sphere about these revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia as fitna, as a kind of dissent and invoking a long term religious heritage that  even forbids oppressed people from rising against their rulers even by peaceful means.

Therefore in Tunisia and Egypt from the very beginning, Saudi Arabia stood with the regimes. It was so clear that they were with the regimes. I can give you some examples of how they did it. First of all with Bouazizi  set himself on fire many religious scholars regarded this as suicide which is condemned by  Islam. And also they attributed to weak faith and inability to endure hardship. Interestingly in one of the towns in northern Saudi Arabia a person committed suicide as a result of a series of events and hardships and the immediate reaction you get is that he should be blamed for it because his faith his  weak because he is a sinner.  Bouazizi was seen in the same sort of way.  Saudi Arabia supported the Tunisian regime.  Tunisia had some intimate security relations with Saudi Arabia but it wasn’t the jewel in the crown. Although Tunisia had the privilege and the pride that it started the Arab spring in its relations with Saudi Arabia it wasn’t that important.

When the Egyptians got rid of Mubarak in 18 days this created a crisis for Saudi Arabia but also an opportunity. The way the Saudi regime saw the Egyptian uprising was that it would deprive them of their main ally. Mubarak was an ally, the needed him for so many reasons one being a counter force against Iran in a future conflict or confrontation. Therefore they tried their best to prolong the  crisis in Egypt and promised Mubarak some millions in order to compensate him for loss of American aid. Many Egyptians discovered later on that this aid was not coming.

There was a serious shock  that if Mubarak fell Saudi Arabia would be deprived of one of its main allies. Even though Egypt was seriously weakened as a result of  its economic situation and had actually become so marginal in Arab politics we find that it still mattered to Saudi Arabia to have Mubarak in power.

We find that Saudi Arabia did not congratulate the Tunisian people for their revolution, they did not welcome Tunisian official until very recently almost a month ago. In February the Prime Minister of  Tunisia went to Saudi Arabia without talking in public about the repatriation of Zine El Abdine Ben Ali.

Once it became clear that the revolutions are in full swing and there is no point in returning to the status quo Saudi Arabia tried to manoeuvre to contain the outcome. The irony is that Islamists have come to power as a result of free elections in these countries from Morocco all the way to Egypt. One would think that Saudi Arabia which claims to be an Islamic country would actually be happy about the Islamists coming to power but the opposite happened and this is interesting. Saudi Arabia does not want any kind of Islamic political system that combines Islam with democracy. Therefore the real challenge for Saudi Arabia today is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood present the Saudi regime with an alternative to the so-called hereditary Islamic rule and therefore you can see and monitor the tension and see how the government through its media launches attaches on the Muslim Brotherhood in order to undermine the Islamic project.

Therefore the only option for Saudi Arabia is to support Scarf the security council as a counter force to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and at the same time sponsor other Islamists who might challenge the supremacy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore these are strategies to contain the outcome in Egypt. What worries Saudi Arabia is that if there is an open election there might be some forces that might come to power in Egypt that may actually not be so friendly to Saudi Arabia be they the Muslim Brotherhood or other groups.

So the strategy is to contain the outcome.

I don’t know whether this will work. I think it is such a short time to predict how the situation in Egypt would actually develop in the future. But one thing that Saudi Arabia does not want is for Egypt to be able to maintain its independence and make decisions and policies that reflect the elected parliaments constitution and composition.

Saudi Arabia therefore saw the Egyptian revolution as a challenge, as a threat but also as a positive things because a weaker Egypt, an Egypt that is busy with its daily affairs  and a deteriorating economy would give an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to actually reach that dream that it had maintained since after 1967 and that is to lead the Arab Sunni camp. This has been a project for Saudi Arabia for the last four decades. Whether it will happen we will have to see. I have my doubts that that will be the outcome because I think it is very difficult even for Egyptians who are exhausted by their economy and needs to simply become agents of Saudi Arabia. Egypt is too big to be able to be contained as the Saudis would prefer it to be although there are serious economic challenges facing it.

Let me move now to Bahrain and this is where  we see the counter revolution in its full swing. First of all the Saudis from the very beginning presented the Bahraini pro-democracy movement as a sectarian, Shia conspiracy backed by Iran against the Sunni majority.  We have heard this again and again since the very beginning. My view as somebody who is not a specialist on Bahrain, but I have read secondary sources on Bahrain. We see that there is a kind of mobilisation in Bahrain that has not been witnessed anywhere else in the Gulf. From the early 19th and early 20th century there is resistance against colonial rule. Bahrain has always been engaged with Arab politics. It is very difficult to believe what the Saudi propaganda is saying about the Bahraini pro-democracy movement. They had been communists before, they had been Baathists, they had been nationalists and over the past three or four decades they had been Islamists.

I don’t see how Wafd can be a Shia conspiracy backed by Iran. But all the diversity of the forces in Bahrain has been eradicated by this discussion of Bahrain as a fifth column. What worried Saudi Arabia most in Bahrain was the fall of Hamad and the ruling family. It would be the first precedent that would be created in the Gulf that would depose these kind of family dynasties. It may bring the prospect for the future downfall from Kuwait all the way down to Muscat and also Saudi Arabia.

So it was so important to keep Hamad in place not for the sake of the Bahrainis but for the sake of Saudi Arabia itself. Saudi Arabia would never allow such a development. So that is why it was so crucial for the Saudis to move in very quickly with the other Gulf states in order to suppress this uprising.

Unfortunately for the Bahrainis the move meant that the crisis is prolonged and it becomes very difficult to reach compromises. Only today six opposition groups called for dialogue for a leadership. But when a country’s minority ruler is backed by another power its very difficult to reach compromises and this has been so clear historically. Once you have one country, big brother like Saudi Arabia with all the means available backing a minority regime, the regime is no longer accountable to its own people because it can secure the backing of a foreign power.

There are so many scenarios about confederations  and unity about whether Bahrain should be the 14th province of Saudi Arabia or the 14th province of Iran. I think the Bahrainis had the opportunity to say what they wanted and that is in the seventies. They wanted the opportunity to be an independent state and an Arab state rather than an Iranian satellite.

Now the critics would say things have changed since the 19th century. Bahrain today wants to be part of Iran. I have not yet met a Bahraini who would like Bahrain to become a province of the vilayat al fakhi in Iran. I haven’t come across them. Maybe they do exist. The regime is very good at providing us with evidence that if you raise the picture of  Khameini or Khomeini in the streets and villages of Bahrain than those people are loyal to Iran.

I have seen in Lebanon, the heartland of  Sunni Islam, huge portraits of King Abdallah and King Fahd and nobody is saying that those people would like to be the citizens of Saudi Arabia. Maybe they would like to. I don’t know.  This kind of imagery and iconography is today used in order to prove a point, to prove that those people are not loyal.

My answer to this is if you ask a Filipino who has the photo of the pope in her bedroom   does that mean that her loyalty is to the Vatican or to the Filipino state. This is a community that has transnational links and it is the fault of the regime which does not allow them to have their own marjaia or hawzat to produce their religious scholars that drives them to seek religious scholars or religious knowledge from somewhere else. These are religious communities that exist everywhere. We live in a globalised world and the same thing happens among Sunni Muslims. If you go to some mosques in Birmingham  you would find that they are  connected by satellite  TV to the mufti of Saudi Arabia. They receive religious knowledge from him by skype. Therefore  do we say that these Muslims are not royal to Britain or that they receive orders from the mufti. In terms of their  citizenship and loyalty we have to use a different kind of discourse.

There is also Yemen but I don’t have time to go into it. The same thing happened. Saudi Arabia did play a counter revolutionary role there in the sense that it helped to prepare a safe exist for Ali Abdullah Saleh diluting the revolution. But I think the situation is not finished. There are certain groups in Yemen that are resisting this kind of arrangement whereby the old system stays but some individuals are taken out.  Ali Abdullah Saleh mainly. Everybody else is still in place. We will see whether this will develop into a secure country that reflects the desires of the people that gave their lives in Sana and other places.

In Syria we have a clear example of Saudi Arabia supporting a revolution. So here their reaction to a regime that deprives everybody of their human, political and civil rights is to support the Syrians.  This is realpolitik.  I think that Saudi Arabia wants to defeat  Iran in Syria rather than support the Syrian people. I said this from day one especially when King Abdullah last summer announced that he worries about Bashar killing his own people.

I have no sympathy for Bashar. I think he is as bad as Mubarak or the Saudis. It is a very minority regime that oppresses its own people. But that does not mean that Saudi Arabia is going to save the Syrians. It is unlikely that they will. They have their own agenda in Syria and Syria is extremely important not only to defeat Iran in Syria but also to defeat Iran in neighbouring Lebanon.

We have to understand that over the past five or six years Saudi  Arabia has lost quite a lot of its influence in the region. First of all in Iraq. Iraq is no longer a place where Saudis can actually dictate any policy. They have lost their influence among the Palestinian factions. They tried to organise some kind of talks and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah with no success. Qatar has hijacked the project from Saudi Arabia.

They have also lost their influence in Lebanon especially after the war with Israel in 2006 and then the clashes in Beirut between  Hezbollah and other factions. So the influence of Saudi Arabia has eroded in these hotspots of the Arab world and therefore Syria becomes extremely important in order to contain Iran in the region and hoping that a pro-Saudi regime would  emerge in Syria.

So in a way this Syrian crisis is far from being resolved. It will actually escalate and I can’t see how it can be resolved now. I think  with the intervention of Russia, Saudi Arabia,  Iran and also some perhaps covert operations from the West it will escalate and change the map of what used to be called the Levant.

My biggest worry is the rethinking of the region along sectarian lines so we have an Allawi state,  a Shia state, a Hezbollah state in the south of Lebanon, a Druze state and then perhaps a Sunni arrangement between the Sunnis of Iraq, the Sunnis of  Syria and pockets of ethnic minorities such as the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, a Kurdish enclave in Syria and  we could go along dividing the region even further.

That is against my  belief. Here I stop being an academic. I would not like to see the region divided along sectarian lines and having little emirates re-emerging. The tyranny of the sect is unbearable for everybody. My hope for the region is to have a civil state where people are respected and given their rights as citizens not as groups belonging to Shia, Sunni, Alawi or Christian if we are talking about Lebanon. I think I will stop there.

Dr Kristian Ulrichsen :  I would like to pick up on the second part of the talk on the role of the West. Adding to what  Professor Madawi said about Syria. This has been the most surreal experience of the last year. The Saudi Foreign Minister  expressed his support for arming the opposition to an authoritarian regime. This is incredible that this would happen. The Saudi would react to organized protest in the same way. This is what led the Syrian envoy to the United Nations to propose a peace-keeping force to Qatif and to Bahrain to protect the local people there from the Saudi oppression. He may have been speaking tongue in cheek grandstanding at the UN but I think it contains more than a grain of truth.

When the revolution at Pearl Roundabout started last year there were two almost inevitable things that were bound to happen. The first was that Saudi Arabia would intervene once the extent of the uprising became visible. The second was that the West would keep a degree of silence, complicity in fact in that action.

In any form of monarchical government in the Gulf the chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Bahraini ruling family, the Al Khalifa, are the weakest link in that chain. We have seen at regular intervals over the past 80 or 90 years regular cycles of mobilization or society demanding political and economic rights and the ruling family having cycles of partial political openings followed by political closures. We have seen that over the past ten or 15 years alone.

What changed last year was the scale of the uprising in February and March last year when we had tens and even hundreds of thousands of people out on the street. It was a social mobilization. It wasn’t  Shia against Sunni. It was Shia with Sunni, people from all walks of life. One of the slogans was ‘no Sunni, no Shia, only Bahraini’. This panicked the ruling family and their  supporters into the response they made. Clearly there was a social movement developing which had to sweep away the vestiges of monarchy in this extremely sensitive island which is a microcosm of the wider power shifts and structures in the Arab  world and the Middle East and the Iranian world.

Bahrain is a cockpit of geo strategic interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran. When people speak of the kind of alleged Iranian interference in Bahraini affairs it is  staggering that no one speaks of the Saudi interference in Bahraini affairs which was invited by the ruling family. If you are looking external manipulation and external intervention into the affairs of a sovereign country then I don’t think  you can isolate one example and claim to instances of another when they don’t actually exist.

I think that since the beginning of the revolution last February the degree of Saudi involvement was inevitable. We saw that in the 1990s in the previous uprisings/revolutions. This has placed the West in a very difficult position. Britain has long historical linkages with Bahrain not just in its protective status until 1971 but in the security services. People will recall the role of Charles Belgrave (1926 – 1957). He was in many ways the real ruler of Bahrain, the right-hand man of the emir.

Britain intervened in 1923 to arrange a succession to serve its own interests. Belgrave was  interestingly swept away in 1957 as a direct result of the pan Arab nationalism at the time of the  Suez crisis and popular anger and disgust at Britain’s role in the tripartite aggression against Egypt. He was quickly replaced.  From the1960s Ian Henderson was the backbone of the Bahraini security services. He had a very unsavoury past. He was the architect of the crushing of the Maw Maw rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s. He remained in Bahrain in Bahrain from 1966 until 1998 and was directly involved in the torture of many of the detainees during the uprising in the 1990s. He is still living in Bahrain as far as I am aware.

Britain has a long and inglorious record in the involvement of the security affairs of Bahrain which continues to this day with the appointment of John Yates . We would have thought that after the recent Leverson inquiry and the allegations of Yate’s behaviour over the past two or three years he might be beyond the pale. His deep expertise  in the manipulation of the media makes him ideal for taking on the position he had in Bahrain. He gave a remarkable interview about a month ago shortly before the anniversary of the uprising  in which he said he was hoping to translate British crowd control methods into the Bahraini context. I think he was referring to the issue of kittling.  I would be concerned if he ever returns to the UK and tries to transfer Bahraini crowd control measures here. That would be alarming and probably appealing  to some people in government.

Given this role, given the backbone geostrategic considerations Bahrain is of key importance to the British and also to the Americans clearly in terms of its posting of the US fifth fleet.  At this time with the escalation of tension with Iran the increase in rhetoric between the US and Israel on the one hand about running out of patience. There is the feeling that in an election year there could be some sort of action. I don’t think there will be any action but there will be an increase in rhetoric against Iran which in many ways makes it even harder to hope that there will be some kind of US or British leverage on the Bahraini ruling family.

Clearly Bahrain is the backbone of the US position in the Gulf by virtue of hosting the US fifth fleet. The US is not going to take liberties with one of its core regional allies at this moment in time. They sacrificed Mubarak who was a key American ally in the Middle East but he wasn’t positioned in the same kind of way as the Bahraini ruling family are caught between supposed Iranian hegemonic ambitions on the one hand and a Saudi-US alliance on the other. That makes it even more difficult for any pressure being applied by the West on the Bahraini ruling family as they try to perhaps make statements in support of meaningful reform. Most people know that that is simply not on their agenda.

Bahrain Watch has gone into a great detail about  whether the recommendations of the Bassiouni report have been implemented and degree to which they have been sidelined or ignored is incredible. Even perhaps more remarkable was  debate in the House of Lords  last week on the position of the Arab uprisings one year on and on Britain’s role in the whole area. There was hardly any mention of Bahrain at all. The Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Lord  Howell, had a lot of words over the situation in Libya which stands as a testament to Britain’s incompetence in any form of engagement with the Middle East and North Africa. He had a lot of condemnation of the actions of the Syrian regime as you might expect but on Bahrain he had two sentences basically for further commitment by all sides to dialogue.

If one side is uncommitted to an equal sharing and distribution of power then there is a limit to what they can achieve particularly if the opposition societies in Bahrain have tried to engage and settle their differences and find a compromise settlement. They tried in 2000 after the initial boycott in 2002 the major parties gave the government benefit of the doubt in 2006. Having that benefit of the doubt shredded, having their own credibility called into question to participate in what was a political opening of some sort which later turned out to be little more than political window dressing by the ruling family why should they believe the ruling family now?

I think Britain places too many hopes in the reforming element of the ruling family, notably the crown prince perhaps turning a blind eye to the extent to which he has been marginalised or sidelined within the family.  But as we have seen in the case of Saif Al Islam putting your faith in alleged ruling family reformers can backfire spectacurely because when push comes to shove they are still members of the ruling elite and the ruling family and they are unwilling to sacrifice their position of power.

We saw this very clearly in Libya whenSaif Al Islam sacrificed all his credentials as a reformer and all the hopes placed in him by the West for the sake of staying in power. I suspect we will see that in Bahrain also if the Crown Prince ever has to make that choice.

In Bahrain we have already seen the whole Economic Development Board vision of a business friendly  shredded. In London I used to see taxis with ‘business friendly Bahrain’ painted on the doors and on the busses. I have several stamps in my passport with the stamp business friendly Bahrain. That whole concept  has been shredded. It was the cornerstone of the vision of 2030. It was the cornerstone of attempts to diversify the economy, of trying to present Bahrain as an investment friendly country looking at engagement on multiple levels, playing on its position as a leading financial centre in the region. All this  has been shredded to stay in power despite the societal demands for a fair position in the decision-making process.

I think we have seen over the last year a lot of very cold truths which may have been suspected by people in the Bahraini opposition who doubted the sincerity  of the ruling family regarding meaningful reform. It is  becoming increasingly more difficult for those in the West who have a relationship with the Bahraini ruling family or for that many any ruling Gulf family to try to push under the carpet. That will continue to be the story.

We will see the Bahraini Grand Prix going ahead on April 23rd so that will be an early test of the degree to which the spotlight will be shone on the Bahraini settlement last year. It will be interesting to see whether  during the Grand Prix there will be an opportunity for the opposition to mobilise to take advantage of the spot light  that is being shone on the kingdom or whether the ruling family will attempt to manipulate and present a deeply one-sided picture of the semblance of normality.

We saw in the run-up to the election in 2010 a number of incredibly patronising pieces even in The Independent a very respectable British newspaper which  extolled the virtues of Bahraini democracy – a new institution coming to terms with its newly found role and responsibilities. If we were to see that again it would be deeply complicitous.

Given the Bahraini ruling family’s obsession with pr and spin and hiring pr companies to do their work for them I suspect we may well see that. We have seen British companies working for the regime trying to place articles in the Guardian and other newspapers. It is much harder to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Bahrain and other parts of the Gulf and to buy the regime’s rhetoric hook line and sinker. I suspect that places the government in a difficult position. They want to engage.

Clearly the Bahraini and the Saudi ruling family is a major commercial ally, a source of an incredible amount of foreign investment into the UK at a time or recession it is more important for  British trade and industry to get Gulf foreign investment into the country for British jobs. It is going to be a very difficult position for them for them to straddle these diverging pressures and to maintain a degree of dignity while the do so.
Madawi Al-Rasheed is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at King’s College, London. Her research focuses on history, society, religion and politics in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Middle Eastern Christian minorities, Arab migration, Islamist movements, and state and gender relations.

Recent publications include Politics in an Arabian Oasis (I.B. Tauris 1991), A History of Saudi Arabia (second edition CUP 2010), Counter Narratives: History, Contemporary Society and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen (Palgrave 2004),Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf (Routledge 2005), Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation (CUP 2007), Kingdom without Borders: Saudi Political, Religious and Media Frontiers (Hurst 2008) and Dying for Faith: Religiously Motivated Violence in the Contemporary World (I.B. Tauris 2009), and mazaq al-islah fi al-saoudiyya (Saqi). She is a regular contributor to al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper and other television/radio programmes. Some of her articles are posted in English and Arabic on

Dr Kristian Ulrichsen is a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Deputy Director of the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the author of The Logistics and Politics of the British Campaigns in the Middle East, 1914-22, Insecure Gulf: The End of Certainty and the Transition to the Post-Oil Era, and The Transformation of the Gulf: Politics, Economics and the Global Order.



From transport workers:

o “Cooking gas is LE 25 ($5), a kilo of vegetables is LE 7 ($1.5), a kilo of meat is LE 70 ($10.50), a kilo of fish is LE 20 ($4)”

Bread, freedom, social justice

“There is no social justice at all. There is no indication that there ever will be any.”

- Light Rail Supervisor:

o “As long as there are unmet demands among workers and poor Egyptians, it means that the revolutionary demands have not yet been met. The revolution was sparked for “freedom, social justice, and human dignity”. The administration is still trying to seek its best interests”

VO— Since early 2012, international financial institutions have been negotiating loans for what they say will help rebuild Egypt’s ailing economy. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, [also called the EBRD], is awaiting approval from its shareholders to provide $1.5bn in annual loans to Egypt. This will be the first time since its establishment that the EBRD has lent to the Middle East. On February 2012, the EBRD published its technical assessment of the country, recommending the continuation of more than 20 years of privatization policies.

SOT—FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

“Workers have expressed their opinion with regards to privatization by staging walk-outs, strikes, and sit-ins in front of the parliament over the last few years. We used to find five or six companies simultaneously protesting in front of parliament. On Labor Day, 2010 we saw another sit-in in front of parliament, workers from across industries: telecommunications’, or [Amoncito], or [Tanta le Ketan], or Ghazly Shebeen, and a slew of privatized companies simply to say: ‘privatization ruined our livelihoods’, privatization destroyed the company, privatization kicked us out of work, etc… All of their chants were against privatization and the reinstatement of the institution into public hands.”

NATSOT: Shot of women, chanting

Oh Egyptians, investors have ruined our homes

SOT—AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

“What is stunning with the EBRD’s technical assessment is that it’s talking about new opportunities that can be available in further privatization. … I have no problem with privatization perse, it’s not that the state has to own everything or anything, it’s not about that, but there is this idea of pushing privatization into things that were never even put to sail before even under Mubarak. Like for example they are talking about the commercialization of what they call urban facilities, so what we’re talking about is potable water, infrastructure in big cities, in a way that the state relinquishes its ownership and these things go to foreign or domestic investors. And of course, we can imagine that drinkable water is quite critical for all basic social, and economic, and even basic human rights”

NATSOT: This isn’t investment, it’s imperialism!

DANYA NADAR— EBRD’s plan is to focus on privatization and investment in small and medium sized businesses in Egypt as, what they say, a means of job creation.

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

So the Egyptian economy ever since 2006 through 2010 was growing at quite an impressive rate—like averaging 6.5 or 7 percent annually, which is historically quite unprecedented. Yet, the poverty, unemployment, and low-productivity jobs that were created in the informal market, which are like very low waged, paying very low wages, has been the rule for the vast majority of the people. And this has been the reason behind the social and economic protests that took place and went out into the public sphere ever since 2005, and culminated into the January revolt.

SOT— FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

“In 2002-2003 we saw about half a million workers who were forced into retirement because of privatization. The people who bought the companies didn’t want them with the existing employees. The government tried to get rid of its workers so it could sell the company by passing a law called “early retirement pension” which dismisses the worker even though he is able to continue working, and able to give, and throw them in the streets. We have an unemployment problem. The workers that received a pittance of an allowance, had spent it after a very short time, and thought they would actually be able to find a new job never found anything. In fact, we see some of them today working as street sweepers after they were producing in a factory.”

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

…One of the structural problems with the economy that most of the investment goes into extremely capital and extremely energy intensive sectors in a way that does not really create jobs, and does not contribute to the general welfare of those who participate in the labour market.

DANYA NADAR--This World Bank graph shows that unemployment and malnutrition have been on the rise since 2004. During that same period, inflation has skyrocketed to almost 30 percent. Up until today the minimum wage remains unchanged since the 1980s.

[Broll: world bank graph, images of poverty [old cairo], images of paystubs]


- How is a worker supposed to live with a LE 110 ($20) salary? A kilo of sugar is LE8 ($1.2). What about school fees, electricity is getting more expensive. What about gas, water, and transportation costs? We’ve told him before that this is not enough to provide for the worker himself on a daily basis, let alone his wife, children and household needs. When the government announces that they will increase salaries by 17%, people don’t realize that 17% of LE110 is only an increase of LE 17.5 ($3). There’s no justice; there are people at the very top, and others at the very bottom. Some people are making millions and some are making cents. Some people almost had a breakdown when they heard about the millions that were stolen.

DANYA NADAR— Numerous cases of corrupt privatization deals have been fought and won during the Mubarak years, where public assets were underpriced and transferred into the hands of a few with close ties to the regime.

SOT: Khaled Abdel Gawad, Factory worker, Legrand Company

Up until this very moment, we still have no rights in this company. Neither a proper salary nor a pension, or any of these things. This is a result of the former corrupt regime’s laws, under Mubarak. The laws that were passed in the Parliament are in favor of businessmen. Exclusively for businessmen. All the members of parliament were businessmen.

SOT— FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

It’s the workers who filed a lawsuit against 6 of the privatized companies, and won, like Tanta le Kettan, Ghazly Shbeen, Maragel el Bokhareya, and Omar Effendi among them. They won were ordered to return the companies into public hands, for two reasons: corruption in the sale, and the preservation of the workers rights/contracts]…The government is now filing a lawsuit against the workers because they want these companies back. So the workers have stated their opinion on privatization a while back, that privatization is not in the best interest of the country, nor in their best interests either.

DANYA NADAR— Whether the EBRD lends to the Egyptian government or to the private sector, it will be almost impossible to avoid businessmen or officials with strong ties to the military junta' which has been ruling Egypt's politics and economy for 60 years

SOT—Light Rail supervisor

“During the January 25th Revolution, many martyrs and injured were sacrificed in the hopes for change. Although we ousted the head of the establishment, remnants of his regime continue to exist. You can find his cronies in companies, in banks, in politics, national media, in hordes.”

NATSOT—Taxation workers:

“Down with the Military Regime! Down down with corruption!”

SOT: Khaled Abdel Gawad, Factory worker Legrand Company x2

The problem is with the laws. These laws were passed, but they are unjust to the workers. So our problem is that these laws that were passed under the old guard has negatively impacted the workers and has made the average Egyptian’s life miserable.

NATSOT: And he who kills Egyptians, cannot rule Egypt. He cannot rule Egypt

DANYA NADAR—The EBRD is also proposing public-private-partnerships in the transport and power sectors, as well as municipal infrastructure. These projects have existed in Egypt since 2007, and critics say the EBRD ignores the rampant corruption and crony capitalism associated with these projects to date.

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

“… The inherent problems with PPPs is mainly that they are very prone to corruption. We don’t have, exactly, a strong regulatory framework that would make sure that the obligations from the state side are not so big with the private sector. We also run the risk that most of the profits are collected by the private sector, which happens to be a very well connected big business man, or of multinationals which get involved with mega infrastructure projects. We have this major problem that the regulatory framework has to be revised and has to become much more transparent than before.

WORKER, Legrand Factory

We’re asking this current government to undo the laws that are in favor of investors. Investors think that this is a great country to invest in: it has cheap workers, and cheap materials, low trade barriers, and in a central geographic location…and this is why they invest here. They sell the land at the price of sand, and they bend over backwards for them so they can invest and supposedly ‘create jobs’. So if they’re giving them all of these benefits, why aren’t investors giving us a proper salary? We want to properly raise our children and have a proper standard of living.

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

It has to do with the very terms. Sometimes, or usually, the terms themselves are quite imbalanced in favor of private investors. Even if it happens to be legally sound, then it becomes that the terms themselves are so imbalanced, in a manner that makes the government pay for such an enterprise, much bigger amounts of money than taking it on its own.”

NATSOT: The striking is a legitimate struggle, against the remnants of an ousted regime

Revolution, revolution until victory. Tora prison is ruling Egypt

SOT- FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

Workers were pivotal in the last 3 or 4 days that led to Mubarak’s downfall. The military junta figured that if they allowed the revolution to continue, everything would fall apart—which is very dangerous for the establishment. So they had to decide whether to shove one person aside to preserve the regime, or allow a movement to disrupt the very system that privatizes, etc…

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

The technical assessment given by the EBRD, this approach of ignoring whatever happened, they are quite oblivious to the revolution and to the past privatization. And that’s why they want to base the whole thing, equating again conceptually development with privatization and external liberalization. Even the evaluation of the last couple of years under Mubarak’s rule, mainly under the neo-liberal team, the assessment was that it was a success story when it comes to liberalization, what they call external liberalization—mainly trade and capital liberalization—together with the privatization drive.

NATSOT: Oh Field Marshal, the face of oppression, Tell me how much you make a month!

SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit:

And I don’t know how a success story be the case in the years that preceded a revolution that was mainly driven by the deteriorating social and economic conditions in a country. I have no idea how successful it was. That’s no success story at all!

NATSOT: They’ve inflated sugar and cooking oil, Now we’re forced to sell our furniture.


AS THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO FALTER WITH wages DROPPING AND gas shortages SPARKING WIDESPREAD OUTRAGE, workers across the nation vow that strikes and street protests AGAINST THE SAME FAILED ECONOMIC POLICIES will only intensify. This is Danya Nadar, for the Real News, in Cairo, Egypt.

NATSOTs: Man with Megaphone:

Striking is a legitimate struggle, against the remnants of an ousted regime .

Striking is our weapon, against a military regime that’s slaughtering us


For the Muslim World, the last 18 months will remain long in the memory when the history books are finally written. What began with a single man in the markets of Tunisia spread to thousands on the streets in Cairo and evolved to hundreds of thousands demanding political change for the entire region. The self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia created a sweeping wave, which crossed the artificial border to Egypt, then to Libya, Yemen and Bahrain until it engulfed most of the Muslim world. The Arab spring has seen many brave the streets to protest and change the status quo which has dominated the political, economic and social landscape for so long. The reaction of the Muslim rulers was as predictable as it was brutal with violent clampdowns leaving thousands dead and many more injured.

The uprisings brought the brutal rule of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia and Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi’s to an end, whilst Basher al Assad continues to cling to power. Elections have also taken place in a number of countries which has seen the Islamic parties gain significantly

In Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, voters in their millions have clearly expressed their opposition to secular liberal values and their strong desire for Islamic government. Yet the same parties that went to great lengths to demonstrate their Islamic credentials to the masses in their election campaigns, are now going to greater lengths to demonstrate their moderation to the West. Indeed in their rush to placate so called international opinion, they have abandoned all pretence of being Islamic politicians.

In doing so, they think they are being pragmatic, smart and politically savvy. Yet all they have shown is their opportunism, their double standards and that they are no more principled than their secular counterparts. When it comes to applying Islamic politics they cite constitutional barriers and the need to keep minorities onside. When it comes to applying Islamic economics, they cite the need to avoid scaring international investors and tourists. When it comes to applying the Islamic foreign policy, they cite the need to show a moderate image and to appease the West. Indeed such is their caution, weakness and desire to please, they have now become Islamic Politicians in name only. The current reality is that the Islamic groups that languished in the torture cells of the likes of Mubarak touting ‘Islam is the solution,’ are now actually holding the Ummah back from Islamic rule.

Muslims globally are demanding a clear and profound change to improve their situation, with the calls for Shari’ah, Khilafah and Islam ringing in the streets from Cairo to Damascus and beyond. Despite this, the only options being laid out before them are solutions from the Western economic and political models, often disguised with notional Islamic terminology.

We live in unique times as the discussion of what next in the Middle East takes place as Western notions of governance continue to drown in scandal after scandal, whilst the invisible hand of the market (free market) is being replaced by the very visible hand of state intervention. At the same time the bedrock of western civilization, its independent media has been exposed for being in cahoots with government.

We are now firmly in the ‘after the Arab spring’ phase, the challenge the Ummah not just in the Middle East but globally now face are the following:

Is it enough to have some Islamic principles or a reference to Islam in the constitutions being drawn up?

Is the solution for the Ummah in the Middle East restricted to the artificial borders created by the departing colonialists or does it lay in combining resources and using synergies in the region

Those who protected Western interests have been overthrown and those who remain are barely clinging onto power. What does it practically mean for the Muslim world to chart an independent course for itself.

The Middle East possesses some of the worlds most sought after mineral resources, which for long have been exported globally enriching a narrow elite. For the first time the region can pursue its development first over international investors. What opportunities does this present?

It is in this context that Hizb ut-Tahrir is pleased to announce a ground-breaking International Conference, to be held in London on 30th June 2012.


The images of jubilant crowds in Tahrir Square following the election of Dr Mohamed Morsi are an understandable reaction; given that this the most open election in the history of modern Egypt.

There can be little doubt that by electing him, the people of Egypt have continued a trend – seen before in Tunisia, Morocco and elsewhere – of voting in candidates who were known for their Islamic background and who had campaigned over many years for Islamic policies and governance. To that extent, this is a welcome sign of support for Islam in the Muslim world.

Dr Morsi would surely have known that his words would appeal to the Islamic people of Egypt when he echoed the first speech of the first Caliph of Islam, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), in his victory speech when he said, “as long as I obey God in your affairs. If I don’t do so, and I disobey God and I do not adhere to what I promised, you are not obliged to obey me”. He rightly paid tribute to the brave people of Egypt, especially the martyrs, and in doing so reminded us of the heavy weight of expectation on him.

So, at this critical juncture, it is important to look at the challenges awaiting Egypt under its new President. Whilst Dr Morsi mentioned some obvious challenges in his speech – such as needing to unite the population – it is worth considering the following points, which are no small matters:

1. The new President, unlike his predecessors, has no real power. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] have appointed many powers to themselves, along with allowing the judiciary to dissolve parliament and trying to dominate by influencing the writing of the new constitution.

2. It must be recognized that a man of upright and moral character is not the same as a state that is just and righteous. Egypt is still the same state, but with a new President; and this new President will find it hard to fulfill his much needed pledge that the ‘revolution will continue until it realises all its objectives’ now that his office has been neutered, and if he works in such a way so as to keep SCAF or America happy.

3. Dr Morsi restated his desire to be faithful to Islam saying “that I will never betray Allah in your affairs, or disobey Him in the affairs of my nation”. Yet this statement is almost impossible to reconcile with other statements in his speech. For example, to say “we will respect the international treaties and conventions we signed” would be incompatible with obedience and loyalty to Allah if it included the Camp David Accord, as well as some other treaties and conventions.

To really show his loyalty to Allah, His Messenger (saw) and his people, Dr Morsi would have to set Egypt on a path independent of American interests; he would work to absolutely remove the blockade and sanctions on Gaza; he would work to end the disastrous capitalist casino economy and establish a real economy to bring jobs and prosperity; he would free up capital by ending the haemorrhage of wealth by ending debt interest payments; and he would only be satisfied with a real Islamic constitution to bring justice to Egypt.

4. Slogans such as ‘social justice, freedom and human dignity’ for all citizens would be welcomed by many, as well as promises to ‘establish justice and righteousness’. But the challenge for the Islamic politician is to show how the laws of the Shar’iah, derived from Quran and Sunnah, secure these goals – and do so better than any other system.

The challenge for Dr Morsi is to resist the pressures from Western colonial governments and the secular military leadership, who each serve their own interests, yet who would all portray Islamic government, based on Quran & Sunnah alone, as ‘extremist’. We have seen Islamic politicians in power before, such as in Turkey – which also has a secular army that ensures that Islam is not referred to in government.

What Egypt really needs is the application of the Islamic system of government. The challenge for Dr Morsi is how to make that a reality, so that neither Allah, His Messenger nor the Muslims are betrayed in this matter of ruling.

We pray that Allah guides us and guides Dr Morsi so that he avoids making the same mistakes as his predecessors, in Turkey, Sudan and in Egypt or indeed for that matter in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where secular constitutions bear the superficial slogans of Islam.

He has laid out the standard by which people will surely hold him to account. If the people whose Islamic sentiments he appealed to in the electoral campaign and victory speech pick up on some of the contradictory messages mentioned so far, they should surely scrutinize his term in office very closely from his first day – as the best traditions of Islam demand.


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