Facts of friendship
As long as Arab regimes guarantee US interests in the region, Washington supports them. This rule of thumb appears to be holding for Islamist regimes too, writes Galal Nassar
The way the US treats the Islamist movements now in partial or full control in more than one Arab country depends on how the latter accommodate its strategic needs. US strategic needs in the region have not undergone much change since the Americans inherited British and French influence in the region following WWII.
After the Suez Canal War of 1956, British and French colonialism receded fast from the scene. As the French pulled out of Algeria and the British from Aden, a dual superpower game began, with the Americans and Russians trying to nudge each other from across the Arab world. The Cold War, which was played out to one extent or another in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, and Libya went on until the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. Even then, little changed when the Cold War ended.
The Americans want four things from this region: oil, security for the Zionist state, free market economy, and the absence of any form of pan-Arab unity. They have a well-established pattern of pursuing these goals.
When it comes to oil, the Americans control oil production, prices and transportation, ensuring that the flow of oil to the West is uninterrupted and that vital sea-lanes, including the various straits and gulfs, are unhindered. They also keep any political competition on the part of Russia, China, or Iran away from the oil-rich Gulf countries.
As for Israel's national security, the Americans supply it with all the technology and weaponry it needs, defend it in the UN, and crush any perceived threat to its well-being (from Iraq, for example). The Americans also sponsor any number of treaties or normalisation deals that allow Israel to survive unmolested in the region.
To advance the case of free economy, the Americans harass any Arab country that seeks to develop along socialist, centrally planned lines, denying it finance and slamming restrictions on its trade.
To keep the Arabs divided, the Americans encourage secessionist movements, border disputes, civil disturbances and sectarian strife, all of which impede any attempt by the Arabs to take any steps towards unification.
The Americans like to have friends around the region, apart from Israel. The job of these friends is to facilitate the abovementioned goals, and stave off any threat to US interests from inside or outside the region.
Since the 1950s, the Arab elites that tried to challenge US policies in the region received convincing, and sometimes lethal, punishment. Those who were good to the US, promoting its policies and defending its goals, fared a bit better. But even with its close friends, the US never compromised on things that really matter. Not for once did the Americans put pressure on Israel, for example, to withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967, or even backed international resolutions in this regard.
So where do the Islamists fit into this picture? Are they going to promote the policies of the US and stay on its good side, or are they going to have a mind of their own and risk the ire of the world's mightiest nation?
To answer this question, we have to ponder the position of the Islamists on the four main goals of US policy in the region.
The Islamists don't seem to be opposed to US oil -- or other economic -- interests in the region. In their election programmes and subsequent statements of their leaders, there is no hint that they intend to interfere with American-controlled oil franchises or with any of the US military bases that pose a clear threat to Arab national security. In fact, American officials have bragged repeatedly to their European friends about how trustworthy the Islamists are in such matters.
With regard to market economy, the Islamists are capitalists par excellence, totally committed to free market policies and opposed to any hint of socialism. In fact, the Islamists keep telling everyone that Islam protects private property and adheres to free market economy.
You would have expected the Islamists to put their food down on matters related to the Arab-Zionist conflict, but so far they have reassured everyone of their commitment to "peace" arrangements.
As for pan-Arab unity, the Islamists seem to despise the concept. The Islamists, who speak so highly of a Muslim nation, look down on anything smacking of Arab nationalism.
No wonder therefore that the Americans and their Western friends have been so amenable to the Islamists taking over in various Arab countries. The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the military bases, safe passage through the Suez Canal, and the wide range of business operations in the region are all that matters to the Americans. Anyone who guarantees all of the above is their friend, while anyone who doesn't is not. This goes for all regimes in the region -- past, present and future.