Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A troubled legacy

Barack Obama, in reality, continued the legacy of the Bush administration, just differently. But Trump appears set to escalate, and Egypt should have no part of it, writes Hussein Haridy

On 20 January, the United States and the world at large will witness the dawn of a completely new era with President-elect Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States of America. No one today could venture and try to fathom what lies ahead for international relations. The international system is about to enter into unchartered waters. The Middle East, in particular, could be in for some big surprises. Not necessarily in favour of Arab countries and the Palestinians. Speaking of the Middle East brings to mind, unsurprisingly, Egypt. A big question mark hangs over the position it will adopt to deal with the newcomer to the White House. Judging from historical precedents in recent times, the pattern has become familiar by now. Great expectations, borne out of great disappointment with outgoing administrations, and then, the truth comes, gradually but certainly, to wake up everyone in the country, from top to bottom, to the harsh realities of the limits of American involvement in Middle Eastern politics in regional and Arab questions that do not impact American national security concerns and interests directly.

Two contemporary examples come to mind. The first goes back to 2001 with the Republican administration of President George W Bush whose legacy in the Middle East by the time he left office in January 2009 was nothing but invasion and chaos in the heartland of the Arab world. Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were all destabilised and devastated. The second example is the successor Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. Not only the first black American president, but with a Muslim middle name, Hussein. By sheer coincidence, I guess, Hussein is one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohamed (may peace be upon him). Almost six months after his swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill on 20 January 2009, he travelled to Cairo to address the Muslim world from the Egyptian capital. Little did we know then that this address was the firing shot in an unfolding drama across the plains, deserts, rivers and seas in the Middle East. The welcome he had received in Cairo was highly unjustified, then and now. Let us hope that both Egyptians and Arabs will not repeat the same mistake this time around.

Less than one and a half year later the Arab world was aflame, and still is. President Obama’s legacy in the Middle East is no different from the one the region had inherited from the Bush administration in 2009. Devastation, destruction, mayhem, and, on top of all that, the eclipse of the nation-state and the emergence of pseudo-religious entities within Middle Eastern nations. The Obama legacy in the Middle East is nothing but the emergence of the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh. It is true that the administration of President Obama set up an international coalition to degrade and destroy this organisation back in September 2014, two months and a half after IS had taken the Iraqis, the Arabs, and the world by surprise in seizing Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, by force without the slightest resistance from four military divisions.

Some 80,000 officers and soldiers from infantry to armoured brigades fled the city. It was a major blow to the American-supported so-called “Arab Spring”. A major Arab country, one of the three mainstays of the Arab-Islamic civilisation, had been invaded twice in less than a decade. In 2003, by the Americans and the British, with the connivance of some Arab countries. In 2014, by a group, well-armed, well-trained, well-funded, and with plenty of recruits. For the first time in the history of terrorist groups, the world has come to deal with a terrorist group that succeeded in controlling large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territories in blietzkrieg attacks unopposed, also with the tacit consent of some Arab countries, the same who had not opposed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

President Barack Hussein Obama will leave the White House for the last time in few days, leaving behind him a historical indictment, to the effect that his policies in the Middle East were nothing but the other side of the coin of the policies of the Republican president who had preceded him. The latter used naked force to impose a failed regional order, and the former relinquished military force to replace it by destructive calls for another failed regional order.

From January 2001 to January 2017, under two US administrations, one Republican and the other Democratic, the United States turned the Middle East into quick sands on which Al-Qaeda and its offshoots — and IS is one of them — have thrived and nation-states have almost crumbled. The two beneficiaries are, ironically, Israel, on the one hand, and the terrorist organisations who aspire to destroy the Jewish state, on the other.

What will the coming US administration do about that?

Judging from the statements of the President-elect Trump, whether prior to or after his election on 8 November, or his nominees to occupy the higher echelons of power in the Trump White House and administration, it seems that he is going to support the former against the latter in a “grand fight” against what he likes to call “radical Islam”. If this will prove true, and I hope not, then the Middle East will not witness any promising departures from the last 16 years of failed US policies. Egypt should not be a party to such a confrontation. It will never be a winner if it comes to happen. In other words, Cairo should not allow anyone to use it as a cover to pursue policies that will ultimately fail its national interests in the medium and long terms.

Even if this someone is called President Donald Trump. We should keep our distance, diplomatically, from such a plan.


The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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