Monday, February 21, 2011

Other than the fleeing of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, the historical events in North Africa and the Middle East haven't yet brought about major political reforms, but we are very early in the process. If indeed the Arab World was affected by Obama's Cairo speech, an effect which can be easily overestimated by Americans, they are benefiting from the fact that hypocrites at least don't attempt to publicly disagree with the popular sentiment they're appropriating. Obama, for sure, has done absolutely no favors for the protesters around the region, providing support for the regimes of Egypt and Bahrain while they gunned down their people.

Except for one favor: he keeps them angry and united against him. A Machiavellian move would have been to acknowledge that the four year old blockade of Gaza wasn't going to last much longer, and lift it immediately to shore up support for the Egyptian military junta, which is led by a bunch of dimwits flipping burgers for the US. Instead, Muslim Brotherhood "spiritual godfather" Yousef Al-Qaradawi, whose imprisonments in Egypt began with Nasser, returned from years of exile to address two million Egyptians on Friday, saying that Egypt should "open wide the Rafah crossing and to pray for the re-conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims, so that he and the Muslims could pray in security at Al-Aqsa Mosque." Al-Qaradawi's rousing welcome bolsters the claim of those who think Egypt will be taken over by the Brotherhood, but truly the military junta has done something to irritate everyone: the labor movement, by banning strikes and pledging to move against them, and the student movement, by not lifting the emergency laws.

On the same day that Al-Qaradawi made his point about the blockade, the Palestine Liberation Organization pressed for a vote on a UN Securty Council resolution declaring Israeli settlement activity "illegal." Obviously, the revolts of the past month affected the decision to press for the vote, but also the Palestine Papers leaked to Al-Jazeera have put the PLO in a position where they must re-establish their credibility with their constituents. Barack and Hillary responded in their trademark fashion: they were in agreement with the resolution but vetoed it, and "a senior member of the PLO Ahmad Majdalani told AFP Friday that 'Yesterday Obama warned that he would take action against us, and this is not a new development. Since more than a week ago we have gotten American threats...' Obama said 'If we push this in the Security Council several circles within the US congress [will] reconsider the American aid that the Palestinian Authority receives from the United States.'" Obama's veto will certainly erode any support he may have still had in the Arab world.

Longtime insider Amr Moussa is emerging as the front-runner for the Egyptian presidency, supported by opponents of Mubarak for his Nasserite Pan-Arab views and his criticism of Israeli actions in Palestinian territories. The Los Angeles Times writes "Edward S. Walker Jr., who worked closely with Moussa when Walker was U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1997, said 'he established an independent base' of support and that 'people like him because he is not seen as a pawn of the U.S.'" and this past cooperation with US diplomats may have caused Seymour Hersh to comment on Al-Jazeera that he was US's Plan B. However, the NY Times reported on February 11 "the White House and the State Department were already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties" and this could likely be spent on Plan C. Since the revolts are uniformily erupting throughout the Arab world, though, it will be hard for the US to stop a new phase of Pan-Arabism in some form.

In Bahrain, a Shi'ite uprising is perceived as a threat not just to the US's naval base in the region, but the continued rule of the Saudi dynasty and all the pro-US states in the GCC, an alliance of that peninsula set up in 1981. That includes Qatar, sponsor of Al-Jazeera, which accounts for the network's assessment that the revolts and killings were less newsworthy than those elsewhere in the region.

The US's relations with the Saudi dynasty was established in the 1930s not only because of the US's oil drilling and refining technology, but to a large extent because the Saudis were angry at Britain over the Balfour Declarations. The game of "the other colonial superpower is more tied to Israel" may move into a new phase now, and indeed Mubarak stepped down the day after French President Sarkozy finally said that his doing so was "inevitable," a stronger statement than Obama ever made. Whether or not Mubarak's US sponsors were worried Europe would have the relative support of the Egyptian people, the anti-immigration positions and general reputations of Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel, and Berlusconi prevent them from having any such foothold.


  1. I posted a gigantic comment here but it got swallowed by technical foxes.

  2. The gist of my comment was that it's everyone's fault.

  3. It's Mohamed Bouazizi's fault, though his supporters don't fault him for his own death, the fact we're talking about this is his fault.