Against the fragmentation of the Arab world
Western plans to divide and rule the Arab world by sowing confusion and exploiting ethnic and religious divides must be resisted in the post-revolutionary period, writes Galal Nassar
I have been too immersed in studies of international strategic relations and national security to be able fully to enjoy the thrill of the 25 January Revolution and the other revolutions in the Arab world. Instead, my focus has been on the actions of regional and international players and their probable cost/benefit calculations in an attempt to determine which of these players truly supports the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, and which are merely trying to turn events to their own advantage. These countries could be in the Middle East, including Israel, Turkey and Iran, or elsewhere, among them the EU, China, the US and Russia. I was also not very involved in the revolution. From the outset, I gave my conditional support to the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square and in other cities across the country, hoping that they would follow through on their immediate and long-term demands. My only condition was that they should not bring down the institutions of the Egyptian state along with the Mubarak regime and that a drive towards the resumption of normality, as opposed to strikes, sit-ins and general stagnation, would set the pace for the transitional period. The demands of the revolutionaries in the Arab streets aside, I have long been aware of the strategies pursued by the intelligence agencies of various countries with interests in this region, as carried out by these countries’ agencies, research institutes, and political and logistical support centres, especially those involved in training and promoting reform movements and civil society institutions on democratic governance. One of the foremost aims of such agencies has been to support minority and separatist movements in a region that is particularly ripe for change due to a long legacy of dictatorship, corruption, poverty and illiteracy, and to try to steer such change in a manner that serves their countries’ interests without resorting to more flagrant interventions. Indeed, the most powerful weapon in the US arsenal as far as this region is concerned has been a complex made up of the following components: dictatorship, corruption, torture, injustice, poverty, unemployment, organised protest movements, an easily provoked security establishment, hundreds of dead and wounded among peaceful protesters leading to the rapid collapse of regimes due to popular pressure, followed by proclamations of support from abroad. In order to facilitate reconstruction tailored to US interests, it has been important to fan the flames of revolutionary anger in order to demolish existing institutions ï the army, the judiciary, the police and the banking sector ï freeing Washington of the need to turn to military means, which, in all events, have become an outmoded way of furthering national interests abroad, according to pundits in US research centres concerned with the Middle East. All this being so, one counter-weapon is the need to raise the level of alert against any slide towards such a dangerous precipice. Such warnings are the natural response not to any ”conspiracy theories– but rather to the very nature of politics: in their pursuit of their own interests countries resort to foreign policy tools that are dirtier than we often imagine and they do not shrink from exploiting the suffering, demands for rights and hopes of ordinary people. Such has been the game of nations over the course of their rise and fall throughout history. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt proved victorious, and the Arab world entered a political spring unlike anything this region has experienced in many decades. The dams behind which anger, hope and revolutionary impulses had been gathering finally burst, with the populations of many Arab countries rising up to demand their rightful share of the new dawn. There was no prelude to this, and nor were there clear political agendas or programmes. Uprisings flared up as though ignited by sparks flying from the Tunisian Revolution inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi or by the epic demonstrations of millions in Egypt. These uprisings then marched against the fortresses of tyranny and despotism across the Arab world. The suddenness, rapidity and force with which the revolutions spread stunned the Arab region and the world as a whole. International reactions were initially confused and conflicting, yet once foreign powers had realised that the revolutionaries’ victory was at hand, they threw their weight behind them and withdrew support for regimes that up until then had been among their staunchest allies. This was the most convenient route to take, for such countries’ fundamental positions have remained unchanged, and they remain bent on their pre-existing designs, set since the mid1970s. These include trying to fragment the Arab world into petty states and harmless cantons along the lines of ethnic and religious divides. Such a strategy is today being pursued systematically by the Western powers and by certain neighbours in the Arab world, the tragic events in Libya and Yemen bearing eloquent witness to this. At present, Libya is being torn apart before our very eyes, with various powers manipulating the country’s revolutionaries and pro-Gaddafi forces in order to drag out the civil war and wreak as much damage as possible through attrition. The fragmentation process is also in high gear in Yemen, where secessionist trends have been fed, and acrimony and conflict fuelled, by sudden shifts between support for opposition forces one day and support for ailing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh the next.
The beginnings of this policy of attempting to sow fragmentation and chaos took shape immediately after the October 1973 War. This marked a turning point in many respects, since it proved that the Arabs could win a war and inflict damage on the Zionist project if they could attain a minimum level of solidarity. It also showed that the Arabs could use their natural resources in the service of their own national and regional interests. The war marked the first time that the Arabs had been able to use their oil wealth as a political card. Regardless of what actually happened, which only subsequently came to light, the move demonstrated that the Arabs could pursue an independent policy when they summoned up the collective will to do so. At the time, the then US secretary of state and US president Richard Nixon’s foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, said that the US had to help Israel become the strongest power in the region now that the Arabs had destroyed the myth of Israel’s invincibility. Arab leaders paid little attention to the statement at the time, however, perhaps thinking that it was part of the usual run of American moral support for the Zionist entity. In fact, building Israel’s military might was only one side of the equation. The other side was the brainchild of the American strategic experts of the period, and it entailed an attempt at fragmenting the Arab countries, starting with Egypt. The strategy was designed to kill several birds with one stone, so to speak, and it was put together in the hope of forestalling the coming together of an Arab military force capable of challenging the Zionist project as a bastion of American interests in the region. The aim was to try to create conflict between the Arabs over zones of influence and competing interests, in turn facilitating attempts to secure control over petroleum resources. In addition, by fuelling sectarian and ethnic conflicts inside the Arab countries, the strategy would disable Arab governments, causing them to become too bogged down in domestic strife to give their full attention to problems elsewhere. Moreover, some of these Arab governments would likely appeal to the major powers, the US above all, for aid and protection. On top of all these strategic aims, there was also an economic one: the Arab world would be fragmented in order to ensure that it remained a consumer market and one that contributed to recycling revenues from the sale of oil and petroleum products and ensuring that Arab oil income ended up in Western pockets.
RAGMENTING THE ARAB WORLD: It was during the administration of US president Jimmy Carter that the logistical preparations for the Arab fragmentation strategy began. The Carter administration created a rapid intervention force, and soon reports began to leak of training exercises in the Arizona and Nevada deserts. Not long afterwards, in the late 1970s, certain Arab countries began to host American military exercises, code-named ”Bright Star–. Even at that time, journals close to American decision-making circles began to speak of Iraq as a ”soft spot– in the region due to its demographic mosaic, suggesting that occupying the country could serve as a platform for implementing a strategy of regional fragmentation and as a way of guaranteeing a lasting hold on petroleum resources. In January 1990, the US magazine The Nation predicted war before the year was out. Following the Gulf war and during preparations for the Madrid Conference on the Middle East, the then US secretary of state, James Baker, remarked that the political map of the region would now be changed more dramatically than it had been in the wake of World War I. He was referring to the implementation of the Balfour Declaration and of the Sykes-Picot Agreement that had been secretly concluded between France and Britain during the war, both of which broke promises made to the Arabs in exchange for their help during the war itself. Baker’s statement coincided with the publication of a leaked CIA study on US plans to fragment the Arab world, though ironically that study, along with Baker’s remarks, did not trigger Arab concern at the time. Shortly after the end of the Gulf War the US imposed a no-fly zone over Iraq, which was a prelude to the ”new map– of the ”new Iraq–. More precise features of this map emerged when US president Bill Clinton expanded the no-fly zones to include the north and the south of the country on the pretext of protecting the Kurds and the Shia. For all practical purposes, therefore, the northern Kurdish areas of Iraq were removed from Baghdad’s control in the early 1990s. Preparations for the invasion and occupation of Iraq were set in motion following the events of 11 September 2001, when US officials started to speak of ”creative chaos– and wars against ”terrorists–, the lists of which expanded or contracted depending on which official was speaking. Also around that time, the Rand Strategic Studies Institute produced a major strategic report detailing plans to fragment the Levant, in the process of which the occupation of Iraq was only to be the first stage. The Americans then occupied Iraq and proclaimed a new democratic order in the country. It soon became apparent that this ”order– merely resuscitated sectarian and ethnic tensions that Iraq had buried centuries ago. The composition of the country’s first transitional council after the USled invasion was guided by these divides, with political offices allotted according to sectarian and ethnic quotas. The new constitution and federal order imposed under American tutelage then affirmed this trend, along with a strategy to strip Iraq of its Arab and Islamic identity. US intentions towards the Arab world were revealed by the American Armed Forces Journal in its July 2006 edition when it spoke of the ”map of blood– that defined the scheme to partition the Arab world into petty states based on sectarian and ethnic affiliations. The article cited experts who said that this plan was already in motion and being applied to Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia and that it could extend to other Arab countries in future. Egypt may well be one of those other Arab countries whose turn has now come. According to a recent article in the UK Glasgow Herald by Thomas Brown, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, Egypt and other Arab countries should be on their guard against a long-term plan, designed on the drawing boards of the CIA and the Pentagon, which aims at surrounding and isolating Egypt before devouring it militarily. Alongside the article, Brown published a picture of the ”new Middle East–, as envisaged by the plan, which would include the components summarised below. First, the Palestinians would be gathered together into a single territorial entity separate from the present Jewish one, creating a new state consisting of what is now Jordan, parts of Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, a part of the occupied West Bank. The population of this new entity would include all the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the Palestinians inside Israel, and Palestinians from the Diaspora. The proposed name of this new entity would be ”Greater Jordan–. Meanwhile, the Zionist entity itself would annex the rest of the occupied territories, including Gaza, the borders of which would be extended to include about half of the Sinai. Second, in Sudan, where the south has already been severed from the north, work is now focussing on excising the eastern portion of the country, so as to yield a third separate state. The idea is that South Sudan, a Christian country that will give its allegiance to the West, will offer the US and the West the key to controlling the Nile water that flows northward to Khartoum and Egypt. According to geological surveys, eastern Sudan is sitting on a sea of oil, which the US and the West will not run the risk of leaving in the hands of a government hostile to its interests and that is now working to enhance its relations with China and Russia. One obvious aim of the plan is to ”solve– the Palestinian question at the expense of neighbouring countries (Jordan and Egypt) and to reward Israel with extra territory into the bargain. Another is to ensure that the newly created states are loyal to the US and Israel. With these two objectives safely under their belt, Washington and Tel Aviv will then hold the pursestrings of the ”new Middle East–. They will be able to control the mineral wealth of the region and ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil and gas supplies, free of any threats of cut-offs in supply. The dismantlement and rearrangement of Israel’s neighbours will also work to ensure the security of the Zionist entity. As the article suggests, the strategy seeks to capitalise on Egypt’s currently precarious situation. Strategic planners in Israel have set their sights on severing the Sinai from Egypt in order to turn it into an autonomous entity ruled by the Sinai Bedouin. Israeli intelligence operatives are already active in promoting this end, one tactic of which is to induce Palestinians from Gaza to move to Sinai via the Rafah crossing and set in motion the creation of networks of contacts, communications and mutual interests that would link the Bedouin on both sides of the border.
OUNTER SCENARIOS FOR THE ARAB REGION: It is to be hoped that Egypt’s revolutionaries are alert to the appalling scenario that has been hatched for the region and that they will do their utmost to help forestall its implementation in Egypt in particular. It is to be hoped, too, that the Arab revolutions will continue to shine and that they will encourage all national forces to stand alongside them, for while many of these forces are weak, they nevertheless constitute an important barrier to the realisation of the scenario described above. The traditional political elites may be too old or too feeble to carry the torch of the national struggle, but this is not an excuse for the youth movements to ignore the pan-Arab and national dimension in their handling of domestic problems. Indeed, perhaps the youth movements’ very lack of awareness of this dimension may be related to their own movements’ lack of a political project or manifesto. All their attention was focussed on toppling the regime, but they had no clear vision of what should come next, domestically or regionally. The lack of such a vision is precisely what has enabled the youth movements’ political opponents, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Wafd Party and the remnants of the former ruling party, to attempt to hijack the revolution and steer it towards their own agendas. All of us were thrilled when the Arab revolutions rocked one government after another, and we rejoiced at many of the changes. But in the midst of the euphoria we may have forgotten certain central questions about the future of these revolutions and their lack of a project in particular. Perhaps some among us imagined that this lack of a project was a positive and even praiseworthy aspect: had not the movements that championed Arab revival in the second half of the last century led us to a dead end? Had we not experienced how those projects had failed to remedy our countries’ and region’s most urgent problems, from economic and social development to the confrontation with Zionist expansionism? Instead of the promised economic progress, social justice and democratic freedoms, those projects had brought unemployment, a growing gap between the rich and poor, political repression, and the stifling of innovation and creativity. Nor had they fared any better in their handling of challenges from abroad. Surely the time had come for the younger generation to take over the reins of power. The Arab peoples had every right to feel relieved that the youth movements had done more than merely ripple the stagnant waters of the former political order. However, subsequent developments have brought certain facts to the fore that should compel us to reassess recent developments even as they continue to unfold. Above all, we need to look again at the role played by such social networking sites as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Should they be credited with the historical transformations that have swept the Arab countries over the past three months or so? To claim they should would be a huge and dangerous oversimplification of the way history works. The history of political revolutions long antedates the IT revolution, and it demonstrates that collective acts of this nature are the product of a cumulative process that does not proceed in accordance with any particular mechanism or order. In other words, it is impossible to take one experience of collective dynamism and repeat it elsewhere ï to clone it in a different environment using the same steps and mechanisms. Without a doubt, the youth revolutions took a consummately pragmatic course: there was no political posturing, no ideological sloganeering and no political agendas overt or otherwise. To an extent, this must be due to their lack of historical experience. They were captive to the rush of the events of the present. The result was that the parties that did negotiate with the transitional authorities and that reaped benefits from the events were old and identifiable political forces, some with ideologies and agendas that first saw the light over eight decades ago. These parties and forces are the ones that scored the lion’s share of the vote in the referendum on the constitutional amendments. They are also the ones that entered into accommodations with the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) over the past 30 years or so, following through on a tradition they established in the 1940s when they made a pact with the Ismail Sidqi government against the liberal trend represented at the time by the popular Wafd Party, and then again with King Farouk and later with Nasser’s government in the early years of the 1952 Revolution. Their counterparts are stirring in Tunisia today, taking the name of the Nahda Party. They are manoeuvring to capitalise on the results of the Tunisian Revolution and are leapfrogging their way into decision-making positions in that country. In Libya, as in Egypt and Tunisia, it is no longer the youth who set the revolution into motion who are now leading the way. Instead, it is the Salvation Front, the Libyan Justice Party and break-away groups from the Gaddafi circle. Most of these groups have clear links with outside powers. Some have worked as advisors in Western organisations, not least among them being the International Criminal Court, and this has enabled them to cooperate with the international coalition ranged against Gaddafi’s forces. The same types of forces have ranged themselves behind the banners of reform and revolution in the hope of leveraging themselves into power in Jordan and Syria. Meanwhile, in Yemen the map of political forces and their regional and international alliances is so obvious as to require almost no mention. It is certainly no secret that the US administration was involved in mediating talks between the revolutionaries and the Saleh regime in order to promote the peaceful transition of power. The winds of change have been blowing, and in their turmoil familiar chants like ”Death to the USA– and ”Death to Israel– have been conspicuous by their absence. Is it not odd that this has become the rule rather than the exception? Not a single one of the Arab revolutions has deviated from this rule, even those bordering on the Zionist entity. And this even as the Israeli army continues to mete out brutality against our fellow Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza and continues to threaten war on Lebanon. However, ever since the original Arab renaissance project, with its focus on development and economic integration, the promotion of justice and democracy, the construction of the modern Arab state, and the confrontation with Israel, have been existential issues. It will not be long before this project reasserts itself and shines again. Our hopes are vested in the consciousness and vigilance of the young men and women who were the beacons of the Arab revolutions.
"Shortly after the end of the Gulf War the US imposed a no-fly zone over Iraq, which was a prelude to the ”new map– of the ”new Iraq–. More precise features of this map emerged when US president Bill Clinton expanded the no-fly zones to include the north and the south of the country on the pretext of protecting the Kurds and the Shia. For all practical purposes, therefore, the northern Kurdish areas of Iraq were removed from Baghdad’s control in the early 1990's