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America’s Arab Allies: assets or liabilities?
Should America start rethinking its alliances in the Arab World?
By Aladdin Elaasar — “It is always the same splendid setting–and the same sad story. A senior American diplomat enters one of the grand presidential palaces in Heliopolis, the neighborhood of Cairo from which President Hosni Mubarak rules over Egypt. Walking through halls of marble and gilt, passing layers of security guards, he arrives at a formal drawing room where he is received with great courtesy by the Egyptian president. The two men talk amiably about U.S.-Egyptian relations, regional matters and the state of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Then the American gently raises the issue of human rights and suggests that Egypt’s government might ease up on political dissent, allow more press freedoms and stop jailing intellectuals. Mubarak tenses up and snaps, “If I were to do what you ask, the fundamentalists will take over Egypt. Is that what you want?” The diplomat demurs and the conversation moves back to the latest twist in the peace process”, says Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria.The rulers of the Middle East are not democratic politicians with finely tuned senses of what their publics want. They are dictators. After all, if Mubarak was so close to his people, why would he need to arrest, torture and murder hundreds to stay in power? These men fear a public that they barely know. In the Middle East, the democrats are the first to seek refuge in fantasy, denial and delusion. America’s allies in the Middle East are autocratic, corrupt and heavy-handed, Zakaria explains.
In January 1979, the Pehlevi regime fell to the angry masses in Tehran. Shah Muhammad Riza had to flee Iran with his family after ignoring cries of corruption and repression in his regime. In his reign, the gap between the poor and rich increased tremendously. Instead of implementing reform, he set his secret police, the SAVAK on his people. Political opponents to the Shah led the angry masses to the arms of the Mullahs (the Ayatollahs). America soon found itself called the Great Satan. A similar scenario repeated itself with Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Suharto in Indonesia.
Anti-Western nationalism seems to be the predecessor of anti-Western Islamism, as was the case in Iran. To some political observers, the rise of political Islam in the Middle East is not surprising- given the social ills engendered by extended unemployment, especially among the qualified young; aggravated social polarization in which ill gained wealth, insolently displayed, stood out against the growing misery of the rural and urban population; and generalized corruption spreading right up to the highest levels of society and state.
The Arab world has no institutions evolved by common consent for common purposes, under guarantee of law, and consequently there is nothing that can be agreed upon as the general good, says David Pryce-Jones …” no mechanism exists so that people may participate in whatever is being decided and performed in their name, a handful of absolute despots oppress and attack with every available stratagem all those within reach.
The rich and strong mercilessly bully and exploit their inferiors… from the proudest power holder down to the humblest family, all are engaged in pillaging whatever they can for themselves, or at best for their tribe and religion, rather than considering the public interest and constructing a common wealth. Politics in practice is reduced to the black arts of applied force, and in any emergency, of terror, in all relationships, domestic, private and public, internal and external, violence is therefore not only customary but also systematic and utterly impervious to piecemeal reform or amelioration”. Pryce-Jones explains.
Arabs are excluded from contractual relationships of this kind amongst themselves, and this in turn prejudices and handicaps their dealings with outsiders. Foreign affairs, commerce, even acquaintanceships are not conducted as between equals, but as probes conducive to victory or defeat, as though in an extension of feuding. So there is nothing that can yet be properly called the Arab Society, but only the inherited collectivity.
Commenting on sectarian conflicts sweeping the Arab World, Pryce-Jones contends that “whether Sunni or Shia, ambitious men in all centuries abused the Holy Law they were supposed to be upholding, in sectarian wars and challenges to advance themselves. Conspiracy, manipulation, and deception of opinion at home and abroad are still the requisite skills of pretenders to power, with exile and death as the fate of losers.
Military despotism, pure and simple, is the looming prospect, or the rule of whoever is brutal enough to put a final stop to all ambitions, except for his own.
Foreign support may protect and prolong the lifespan of an authoritarian regime, but it cannot maintain such a regime indefinitely. It is in the interest of all parties concerned, including authoritarian regimes and their international patrons, to opt for political reform rather than risk the imposed and unpredictable transformation of dissent. The U.S.should recognize that it should pressure friends into genuine reforms.
(Aladdin Elaasar is an award winning Arab American journalist and author of several books including “Silent Victims.” Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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