The Middle East’s muddled alliances

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Dhia-Allah

Dhu al-Qa'dah 25, 1434 2013-10-01

News & Analysis

by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1434)

The tyrannical regimes in the Middle East are a bundle of contradictions. They are not sure who their friends or enemies are. While they are fighting each other, there are major contradictions in their relations pointing to extreme opportunism rather than policies based on principles.

Most societies assert that they are governed by certain fundamental principles even if they do not always adhere to them. This is evident from the behaviour of countries in North America and Europe, for instance. It was Winston Churchill who once candidly admitted, “Britain has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” Such candour is rare but true.

What, however, should one make of the regimes in the Muslim East? Do they have any interests at all and if so, what are they beyond the survival of the regime itself? Since most of them emerged from the bowels of colonialism, they are unable to shake off the colonial legacy. Many are artificial constructs. There was no Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon or Israel at the beginning of the last century. Each was carved out of the dying Ottoman Empire to serve the interests of then colonial powers Britain and France. Similarly, no shaikhdom on the western shores of the Persian Gulf existed. As fishing villages, they existed as clusters of tents where a tribe or clan lived eking out a miserable existence from whatever the sea delivered or what they could grab by robbing caravans.

Then oil was discovered and their fortunes changed overnight. The colonial powers with Britain first among equals grabbed the lion’s share. After the Second World War, America took on the mantle of the leading power. It gave the dying British colonial empire some crumbs. France brought up the rear. These tent villages emerged as “states” only in 1971 when Britain decided to withdraw from the region, albeit in a limited fashion. Today, these “states”, however are no more than huge shopping malls, but given the oil and gas wealth, their rulers live a rapacious existence that borders on the scandalous.

Western geo-strategic interests, however, have enhanced these shaikhdoms’ importance and almost all of them have become military outposts for the US. Bahrain serves as home to the US Fifth Fleet. Kuwait is a military base for US ground forces while in Qatar and Dubai, the US maintains huge air bases. There are also numerous US military bases in Saudi Arabia. And in recent months, the US has stationed a large number of fighter aircraft in Jordan for possible attack on Syria where a Western-backed insurgency has been raging for nearly three years now. Thus, each country or entity is little more than a US military base and completely subservient to Washington, London and now increasingly to Tel Aviv as well.

Given this degree of commonality in their subservience to external powers, it would be reasonable to assume that the regimes would work closely with each other. Far from it; their relations and policies are mired in contradictions. This is typical of a tribal mindset: extreme antagonism toward each other while vying for favour from external powers. It is a zero sum game in which no principles are involved. If the survival of a particular regime demands, an alliance can be broken without batting an eyelid.

Some examples would clarify this point. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are considered two important players in the Arabic speaking world, one because of its large population and army, and the other for its enormous oil wealth. The two were also allied against their people’s struggle for fundamental rights. In February 2011 when the people of Egypt drove the long entrenched dictator Hosni Mubarak from power, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was furious with US President Barack Obama for allowing the overthrow of a long-time ally. Even if he had wanted, Obama could not have saved the old pharaoh against the tide of people’s power. Saudi Arabia, however, did not retreat to its tent and sulk. It started to work actively to undermine the legitimately elected and established government in Egypt through a military coup. The Saudis immediately welcomed the coup once it occurred and have poured billions of dollars into the crumbling Egyptian economy.

The rapidly changing situation in Egypt has exposed other contradictions as well. The tiny island state of Qatar, which has carved a niche for itself because of its gas wealth and al-Jazeera television station, was supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Since Qatar has had a long-running border dispute with Saudi Arabia, it vies for influence far above its size and weight. The Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan derisively calls Qatar “a TV station and 300 people”! Yet when it comes to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are on the same page. Thus, in Egypt, they are on opposite poles but in Syria they are backing the same murderous thugs that have flooded the country from all over the world.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad was very upset with the now-deposed President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt for backing the rebels. When the Egyptian military overthrew Mursi, al-Asad welcomed the coup. So he finds himself on the same page as Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis Egypt even though the Saudis are hell-bent on overthrowing his government in Syria. At the beginning of August, Bandar travelled to Russia to try and convince President Vladimir Putin — it was a crude attempt at bribery by offering to buy $15 billion worth of Russian arms and ensure Russia’s gas monopoly in Europe regardless of who emerged in power in Syria after al-Asad — to withdraw his support of al-Asad but Putin dismissed the offer out of hand. Syria is too important for Moscow to let go for a $15 billion bribe.

While Tehran was upset with Mursi for joining the Saudi-led sectarian campaign in Syria and trying to undermine support for Iran among Muslims worldwide, the Islamic leadership in Iran condemned the coup in Egypt. It demanded respect for people’s wishes and condemned the brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters in Egypt. Islamic Iran’s position is based on principle: respect for people’s rights and dignity and the sanctity of life. It could easily have adopted an opportunistic attitude but it did not, even though Mursi had displayed poor judgment in aligning himself with the worst kinds of sectarian elements in the Muslim East.

There other contradictions as well in the Muslim East. Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is part of the alliance that wants to overthrow al-Asad. He has hosted the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and is also allowing fighters and arms to be smuggled through his long border with Syria. Yet Erdogan is furious that his Ikhwan ally Mursi was overthrown in Egypt. He has denounced the coup and for a while even withdrew his ambassador from Cairo for “consultations.” The Turkish ambassador has since returned to his post but Egypt has not sent its ambassador back to Ankara. Presumably, he is continuing his consultations. Thus Erdogan and the Saudis are on opposite sides in Egypt but cooperating in Syria!

It is, however, on the question of Palestine that all the Arabian regimes stand totally exposed. For decades they maintained the pretence that they were supportive of the Palestinian people’s struggle to regain their land and rights. The uprisings in the Muslim East forced them to abandon this pretence. When Egypt signed a peace treaty with the Zionist State in 1978 under what came to be called the Camp David Accords, the Saudis and other Arabian regimes continued to maintain the fiction that they were opposed to Zionism. They even suspended Egypt’s membership in the Arab League. It made little difference to Egypt since the Arab League is a toothless body that represents the unrepresentative regimes in the region and has never achieved anything of substance.

Yet, now, all these regimes have come out openly in support of the Zionists. The most glaring example is that of Saudi Arabia. It is not only totally subservient to the US but it has close relations with Tel Aviv as well. Even the Zionists now openly talk about Saudi Arabia as being their first line of defence and would not allow the regime to fall. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post last month, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren admitted that Saudi Arabia and (Persian) Gulf monarchies have close relations with the Zionist regime.

On numerous occasions the Saudis have asked the Zionists to destroy the Hizbullah in Lebanon. They have offered to pay for it. They have similarly urged the Zionists to attack Islamic Iran. The Zionists have more sense than embarking on any such foolish ventures. The last time they attempted to destroy Hizbullah by attacking the resistance group in the summer of 2006, the Zionist invaders were badly mauled.

The Saudis even tried to bribe the US to attack Syria and overthrow Bashar al-Asad’s government. For decades, they have been buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons from the US and Britain but when it comes to military operations, they are incapable of doing anything. Their forte is intrigue — skills honed in the harsh environment of the desert. US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that America’s “Arab friends” have agreed to finance the US attack on Syria. A day later, he named Saudi Arabia as the country that had offered to pay for the entire cost of US military operations against Syria up to and including overthrowing the regime.

Muslims have a right to ask, how many dollars has Saudi Arabia contributed to liberating Palestine from the clutches of Zionism? Instead, they are spending Muslim wealth to kill fellow Muslims. The Saudis have become so hated because of their anti-Islamic policies that are serving the interests of imperialism and Zionism that even their paid agents dare not support such policies in public. Instead, what they do is indulge in sectarian rhetoric so that Muslims are engulfed in petty squabbles dissipating their energies while diverting attention from Saudi crimes.

But how long can this campaign last? The contradictions in Saudi policies, especially vis-à-vis Egypt are getting exposed and increasing numbers of Muslims are beginning to see through these crimes. While awareness is an important first step along the way to correcting the terrible state of the Ummah, getting rid of the House of Saud should be the top priority of the global Islamic movement. Only by getting rid of the House of Saud can Muslims begin to lead a dignified existence.

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