Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2007
Issue No. 856
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fast-track 'moderation'

In Cairo and Sharm El-Sheikh, Dina Ezzat and Doaa El-Bey follow a series of meetings that reveal signs of a "new" Middle East

Hardly any evidence

Tying one knot, tightening another


In two separate statements made this week in Lebanon, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa suggested that Western plans to reshape the politics and dynamics of the Middle East cannot be imposed on the peoples of the region -- with Nasrallah suggesting a total failure of such plans. Hizbullah's leader and Moussa -- who share very little if anything in common other than rejection of Western hegemony over the Arab world, albeit at different levels and for different reasons -- must know that developments on the ground in the Middle East defy their wishful statements.

The Middle East, to judge by the statements issued this week in a set of meetings held in Cairo and Sharm El-Sheikh, appears to be entering a new phase that was heralded late last year by no other than Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who predicted a region of "moderates against extremists" and not "Arabs against Israelis". And by virtue of their many contacts with regional and international figures, both Nasrallah and Moussa must know that the vast majority of Arab regimes -- including Cairo, Riyadh and Algiers, which are still apprehensive of the full consequences of the irreversible embrace of the American style of moderation -- are not prepared to let the region be ruled by any Islamist political faction, be it Hizbullah, Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasrallah and Moussa must also know that with the odd exception of Damascus, which is in a marriage of convenience with Tehran -- the most feared enemy of the US and Israel -- there is hardly any Arab capital that is still willing to entertain a tug of war with Washington.

The meeting held this week in the region by the visiting US secretaries of state and defence, the Arab foreign ministers' meeting held in Sharm El-Sheikh on Tuesday for Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf states and the Arab foreign ministers meeting that convened at the Arab League on Monday show plainly that the new Middle East born out of the Israeli military aggression against Lebanon last summer is nearing its nine-month point.

"We have so many common interests. We are all in a war with extremism," Rice said after the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting that adopted a long statement supporting all the forces identified by Washington as allies of moderation, especially the Iraqi government of Nuri Al-Maliki and the Lebanese government of Fouad Al-Siniora, and issued an implicit warning to unnamed forces perceived by the US, and for that matter some regional powers, as forces of extremism.

However, according to statements made in London yesterday by British Secretary of State Kim Howells after a visit to the region, most Arab regimes are not willing to deal with a Middle East dominated by the forces of Islamism as represented by Iran or its allies Hamas or Hizbullah.

The fact that Rice declared that Washington would give Egypt $13 billion in military aid a few hours before the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting just might suggest that this is conditional on Cairo's subscription to the American style of "moderation" for the future of this region. The fat military deals promised by Washington to other regional allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia are part of an American design to heighten confrontation between its allies and Iran. "The US is determined to assure its allies that we will be reliable and will help them meet their security needs in fighting extremism and terrorism," Rice said. The official spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohamed Ali Al-Husseini criticised the new US arms deals for the region saying, "the US always had a special policy of fear in the region and tarnishing existing good relations among its countries."

Still, the abrupt and lone exit of the head of the Syrian delegation to the Arab foreign ministers' meeting on Monday to protest against the failure of the Arab states to discuss ways to end the current isolation of Hamas in Gaza and the cold shoulder that almost all Arabs gave to a proposal made by Moussa for the Arab foreign ministers to seriously pursue mediation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is yet another sign of the rising star of "moderation". Indeed, it was no other than the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad -- with his recent statements on the need to abolish militant resistance of occupation -- who was first to oppose Moussa's proposal in no uncertain terms on the basis that such a proposal amounts to an intervention in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.

The ultimate sign of the rising tide of "moderation" was a statement made yesterday in Jeddah by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faissal who indicated his country's willingness to participate in a conference that the US administration is proposing on the Arab- Israeli peace process and to which Israel would participate. "When we get an invitation from Rice to attend, we will study it and we will be keen to attend."

It is unclear as yet who the participants that Washington has in mind for this conference are and what exactly its agenda or possible outcome would be. Indeed, it's completely unknown whether Syria will be included in the meeting. The resolution adopted by the Arab foreign ministers on Monday made an indirect appeal for the US to include Syria in order to enhance the chances of the conclusion of a complete peace deal in the region, but fell far short of laying out any conditions for the Arab participation in this ambiguous meeting -- even to the closest of US allies. (see p.2)

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