An Insight on Arab Politics

Posted in Other | 02-Dec-04 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

In accordance with the rhetoric of the United States, the main challenges in the Middle East are the threat of terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), authoritarian and oppressive regimes, instability and intolerance. The US promises to bring democracy, freedom and economic prosperity to the region. The only way to succeed in this quest is to draw people's attention to the benefits this region of the world would attain if a stable and secure environment were to emerge. An important part of this aim to reform the region from the outside is the war on terrorism. A motivating aspect of the terrorists' message is their appartent submission the to teachings and commandments of the Koran.

Yet, President Bush is resorting to the very same religious sentiments as terrorists do; according to the Bush administration, God has empowered the US to take selective action in the Middle East region and everywhere else in the world where its interests are not being respected. The terrorists use the very same rhetoric, the only difference being that their target is the US.

Given that George W. Bush is surrounded by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his newly appointed Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, there is no open forum for challenging or criticizing his views on the region. In the Arab world, many believe that this team may confuse their own personal and political agenda with the security interests of the United States. Needless to say, such an attitude could be fatal for US global policy and would bring undesired consequences for the Middle East.

Many Arabs are surprised by Washington's claim that it is concerned for the well-being of the Arab people while at the same time for manyy decades has supported and continues to support some of the most repressive, corrupt and highly non-democratic regimes in the region. If Washington truly wants to anchor its campaign for democracy to reality, then the Bush administration must change its attitude toward long-standing allies in the region, such as the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and others. Otherwise, a double-standard policy will persist.

The Bush administration's black list of countries in the region (the countries mentioned above are not on this list) includes Iran and Syria. Their sin is to have openly criticized and rejected the US vision of the Arab world.

The project for the New American Century and the plan for the Greater Middle East stand on the same premise: To emphasize US strategic and economic power in the region while trespassing on the sovereignty, political will and interests of Arab states. This policy weakens and already unstable region and leads to confusion, fear and the spread of violence. Both projects aim to establish an unrivalled position for the US in the world. The US has the greatest military strength of our time, has alliances with countries that share its goals and it has used the stick and carrots policy to advance its values and interests. However, something stood in the way of the US: Geographic borders. With the war on terror, the implementation of the Greater Middle East plan and NATO's expansion up to the borders of Russia, this one, single detail is history.

Since any action causes a reaction, the reaction of the Arab world has not been as hospitable as the Bush administration and his neo-con supporters had believed it would be. The massive presence of US troops in the region is supporting evidence for the mistrust and suspicion that Arab leaders sense with regard to the real agenda of the Bush administration.

While it is true that the Middle East needs an economic boost, needs to improve its human rights record and encourage political reform and democratization, it is equally true that by imposing its policy in the region Washington may get the opposite effect of what it desires. Iraq is a perfect example of this.

Genuine reform needs a call from inside. Arab leaders are aware of the need for reform; if some of them lack the motivation to advance change, their people are highly motivated to struggle for their rights. The only feasible solution is to engage Arab countries in constructive dialog with the US in order to find solutions together that address the region's problems.

At another level, the association made by the US between Islam and terrorism is dangerous. This analogy is perceived as a threat by Arabs. Terrorism is a slippery term, thus not recommended to sustain a whole political strategy - especially if this strategy only considers one side of the story. Those who subscribe to Islam feel that they are threatened, and they act accordingly. Many Arabs believe that the US is only using terrorism as an excuse for contining pre-emptive strikes and thus make it possible to remain in the Middle East for an indefinite period of time. Since terrorism has no geographic boundaries, can the US invade any country at its discretion based on the fact that a particular country might harbor or support terrorists? Such a deviation of the concept of foreign policy has no justification whatsoever.

The present state of conflict in the Middle East mainly exists because the Israeli-Palestinian problem has not been solved. If the Golan Heights are returned to Syria, the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon and the Palestinians form a state with the 1967 borders, there would be no other reason to continue the political and military clashes between Israel and the Arab states or between the US and Arab states.

Two years ago at the Beirut Summit, Arab countries proposed a peace plan that recognized Israel as a de facto neighbor and they reiterated their interest in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict in exchange for a Palestinian state. The very next day, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon authorized Jenin's invasion; his action has been interpreted by Arabs as a clear rejection of their peace offer.

US Middle East policy is causing a great amount of anxiety and mistrust. If Israeli Prime Minister Sharon chose to ignore the Arab peace initiative as well as the Road Map plan under the Quartet's auspices and is moving forward unilaterally, the US has adopted the same manner of handling its foreign affairs. With the second term of George W. Bush, the Arab world calls for a multilateral policy.

Currently, the US is placing pressure on Lebanon because of Hezbollah's actions. The West tends or prefers to forget that Hezbollah's engagement as a resistance movement was initiated by the Lebanese in the 1980s. It is true that Syria is a long-term supporter of Hezbollah, but it did not create the resistance in order to fight with Israel or just for the sake of annoying the West.

When discussing the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli triangle, some people tend to omit the fact that Lebanon only shares borders with Israel and Syria. If Israel is considered to be a foe, Syria is considered to be a trustful ally and friendly country.

Lebanon is a small country and it must choose its allies carefully. Should Lebanon confide in Prime Minister Sharon, or should the Lebanese trust Syria, a country with whom it shares a common vision of the region? Apparently, the Lebanese elite have chosen the latter, mainly because it suits their strategic interests.

The flaws of the Taef Accord that permitted Syrian military presence inside Lebanon and Syrian interference in Lebanese domestic affairs are due to be altered in the immediate future. From politicians to activists and average Lebanese, the Taef Accord has been openly criticised. If the Lebanese seem eager enough to rectify the document, the Syrians are also willing to accept the changes. However, this will not upset friendly relations between these two countries at the diplomatic, social and economic levels.

The Arab world is wondering whether the US is looking for friendly Arab leaders or merely Arab puppets. So far, some Arab countries have been dependant on the politics of relinquishment in order to avoid US pressure and warning signals. An improvement in Arab-US relations is a must. The cooperation cannot be done by imposing American terms; there must be a mutual accommodation of all parties' interests, values and aims. The alternative is an increase in violence and confusion inside the region. Such a scenario would damage everone's interests and would make it impossible for any peace plan to succeed.