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Islamic world changing?


Does empty rage count as a reason to expose nations to unknown rulers and uncertainty? Unknown devils instead of known devils?

Widespread protests across the Islamic Middle East. Are they for real? (Image courtesy - Times Of India).

Widespread protests across the Islamic Middle East. Are they for real? (Image courtesy - Times Of India). Click for larger image.

Is this change for real?

After two months of protests, two regime changes, it may be time to take a 2ndlook at the developments across the Islamic Middle East. These protests were triggered when,

On Dec. 17, 2010, in the impoverished Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, a street vendor who had been slapped in the face by a policewoman confiscating his wares set himself on fire outside of a government building. The desperate act of the vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, led to protests in the town, which were recorded in video clips posted on YouTube. By the time he died on Jan. 4, 2011, protests that started over Mr. Bouazizi’s treatment in Sidi Bouzid had spread to cities throughout the country.

On Jan. 14, the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country he had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years. Less than a month later, Hosni Mubarak, perhaps the most powerful figure in the region, president for 29 years of the largest Arab country, was forced to step down after 18 days of massive demonstrations cost him the support of the military and the United States. (via Middle East Protests (2010-11) – The New York Times).

There has been gushing coverage in the mainstream media on these ‘protests (which) may have now acquired a life of their own’ and ‘sweeping changes … coming to the Arab lands, where authoritarian regimes are the norm’ and how ‘present protests, could be a game-changer’.

While quick to deny the role of the very same media in the West, for events like the Gifford shooting, Western media has been quick to proclaim that Western ‘technology’, especially, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook were behind these protests and regime changes. An overjoyed world of Twitterati, Chatterati, Bloggerati, Paparazzi went ahead and claimed credit for this ‘change’. This was seen as extension of earlier trend like when

Soviet Union collapsed soon after copiers and faxes appeared and information began freely circulating here. The problem, however, is that nobody has proved a cause-effect correlation between fax machines and the Soviet collapse. Nonetheless, leading Western media outlets can’t stop glorifying the Internet and social networks as the new tools for empowering grassroots resistance movements. As President Dmitry Medvedev said last week in Vladikavkaz: “Let’s face the truth. They have been preparing such a scenario for us, and now they will try even harder to implement it.” Medvedev’s reaction shows that the Kremlin is taking the threat very seriously.

After 30 years, a few days of rage will not make a real difference! (Cartoonist - Carlos Latuff).

After 30 years, a few days of rage will not make a real difference! (Cartoonist - Carlos Latuff).

Aladdin’s Lamp – Old despots for new

Covering this wave of protests, CNN correspondents Nadia Oweidat and Cynthia P. Schneider wrote of the ‘the vision articulated in protests, blogs, posts and tweets’ – a vision of a ‘new great awakening is unfolding across the Arab world’.

decades of brutal repression and lack of accountability, governments in the Arab world will be responsible and responsive to their people. They will foster individual freedoms, religious and ethnic diversity, enable economic growth and uphold fair judicial processes

Ringing words – but empty. Specifically, what exactly is the Arab world asking for?

Are Arabs talking of Western style’ democracy’ and ‘freedom‘? Like ‘freedom’ in the USA, with 20 lakh prisoners – the largest prison population in the world? Or ‘religious tolerance’ like single-faith Switzerland where a third mosque with minarets was not allowed? Is it political freedom, like Europe which believes that a two-party collusive democracy is better than one-party conspiring oligarchy?

Maybe, build on ethnic-diversity like the Danes who want to pay Muslims to leave Denmark. Why not even aim for a ‘fair’ legal-system like Britain, where hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested to build a DNA data-bank – ostensibly to help in criminal identification. To be like the West today, that has the lowest levels of diversity – ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. And makes the most noise about freedom and human rights.

How bad were these ‘despots’

Indeed, a case could be made for these stable despots who have sent packing in Tunisia and Egypt. Says Foreign Policy, a US magazine “Tunisia and Egypt have made particularly rapid economic progress in recent years.” In both these countries, people have seen economic progress, without dependence on oil – unlike most of Islamic Middle East. Compared to Turkey’s per-capita, with its imperial past, at US$ 11,500, or oil-inflated Oman’s US$ 25,000 or petro-daddy  Saudi’s US$ 23,300, Tunisia with US$ 9100 per capita and Egypt with US$ 5900 come out favorably. Tunisia or Egypt did not favor the beheading or amputation routine of Iran or Saudi Arabia – or mass-imprisonment regimes like USA, UK or China. Like all modern-State-nations, concentration of wealth is a ‘given’ – regardless of Europe, USA or Islamic Middle-East.

There was neither a shining vision, nor economic necessity, or relative oppression, which triggered these revolts. Instead of an ‘elected’ Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians got Army Rule. Was that a satisfactory or a desirable outcome? Does empty rage count as a reason to expose nations to unknown rulers and uncertainty? Unknown devils instead of known devils? Does a change in government without modifying governance-model make any difference?

Without a viable ‘reason’ for revolt, what made so many people come out in the open?

Translation - 'SoLong suckers!' ( Cartoon courtesy - cagle.com).Click for larger image.

Translation - 'So Long suckers!' ( Cartoon courtesy - cagle.com). Click for larger image.

The trail of the US Plan

We may need to look at Wikileaks to get some real answers. Specifically, a trail of US diplomatic cables. These cables revealed US Administration’s consensus to institute a non-electoral regime change in Egypt. Some of these regime-change organizers from Egypt met in USA, supported by USA, with funds and covert promises of diplomatic support at the right time. Coincidentally, a Google employee, Wael Ghonim, became a spokesman for the protesters at Tahrir Square.

Frank Wisner, former US ambassador to Egypt, an old hand in US Foreign Policy, was sent to Egypt to arrive at modalities of Mubarak’s ouster – “to deliver a specific, one-time message to President Mubarak”.

Wisner has been active on Egypt policy and is said by several Egypt hands in Washington to have pushed to create a group of scholars and academics in Washington to advocate for strengthening ties to the Mubarak regime. That group, which was never fully formed, was to be a counter weight to the bipartisan Egypt Working Group led by the likes of former NSC official Elliott Abrams and the Carnegie Endowment’s Michele Dunne. The Abrams-Dunne group had been pushing for a harder line against Mubarak in the months leading up to the current crisis.

Wisner’s father, Frank Wisner Sr., was the CIA agent portrayed in the film The Good Shepherd. Wisner was previously married to Christine de Ganay, former wife of Pal Sarkozy, the father of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. (via Is Obama’s new Egypt “envoy” too close to Mubarak? | The Cable).

Within days of Mubarak’s ouster, on February 21st, 2011, Frank Wisner’s boss, a senior US diplomat, United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns arrived in Cairo.

Time out

After 30 years in power and 82 years of age, Mubarak’s time was over.  Nearly, 2 years ago, Elliot Abrams, associated with shaping US foreign policy, wrote, “Mubarak is 81 years old, so placing all our bets on him–even for so short a time as the three years left to President Obama–is unwise.” Tactically, it was better for US to initiate and control the regime change than allow some ‘random’ political events to determine the outcome in Egypt. Similar logic would apply to  Tunisia. An important cog in the wheel, in each country, were the army establishments in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Tunisia, the refusal of an army general to back Ben Ali and fire on protesters proved to be the turning point. In Egypt, too, the world is waiting to see what the Egyptian army will do.

Egypt’s army is the 10th largest in the world, almost half a million strong, and one of the biggest beneficiaries (along with the Pakistan army) of US military aid. Since 1952, all Egyptian presidents have come from the military. So, even though Mubarak has not been sighted since the protests began, all eyes are actually on the generals. (via Tunisia to Egypt, an Arab upheaval – The Times of India).

The US probably will be able to change Middle East's rulers in the next 2-4 years. Howmuch blood is theonlyopen question? (Cartoon by drybones.com).

The US probably will be able to change Middle East's rulers in the next 2-4 years. How much blood is the only open question? (Cartoon by drybones.com).

Soon after his inauguration, President Barack Obama’s

interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Network on Monday was a dramatic piece of public diplomacy aimed at capitalizing on the new American president’s international popularity, though it balanced America’s traditional commitment to Israel, whose security Obama called “paramount”.

“I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”

In Cairo, Obama said ‘the time had come to “speak the truth” and “seek a new beginning.” With most Post WWII regimes at end-point, America needs to break-in a new generation of rulers in the Middle East.

These new rulers need to be better attuned to diplomacy instead of war; economics and alliances instead of revolts and revolutions; economy instead of ideology.

Having softened the Muslim world with a relentlessly aggressive campaign from 1992-2008, the West chose ‘Hussein’ Obama to speak softly – after the Muslim world had seen the big American stick in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia etc.

How important is the gold-holdings of all these Middle East rulers?

Some answers we know. Some we can guess.

But some answers, only time will give.

  1. Vinod
    March 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I do not think that there is a west conspiracy behind these uprisings. What happened in Tunisia was a popular uprising. Egypt was equally a people’s uprising. But US or west can take credit is that once they understood that end game of these dictators was near, they have tried their best to influence the out come. No denying that.. but they did not kick off the protests nor did any of the new technology faciliate it any better than any others. But west will try to market it.. you can’t prevent that. The truth is that west was surprised at the turn of the events as much as any one on. But I think they have caught up and are playing it.
    Libya may be different. An opportunity like this to meddle there wouldn’t come often and also get an outcome in their favour which they have not been able to engineer for many years. UK’s Tony Blair even gave in and started relations with Libya at the pressure of BP.
    Liek Egypt, Bahrain is also allied with west. It is not in west interest for the rulers to lose power. So, everything in their power will be done to prolong the govt there. US has a base there. Same can be said about Saudis. Spectre of high oil prices horrifies central bankers and governments worldwide. So the world will play along to maintain status quo.
    Oman is also on the verge. But like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi, west has wide interests there. So, all pressure will be maintained to get more favours from them.
    Iran is another country like Libya where the west would like to influence and generate a revolution. So, they will be ever watchful for a trigger event there.
    China knows too very well how west will play these events… so govt banned all the news related to this. Majority of chinese are ignorant of this. The chinese grip on the country is much stronger than any of the above states.

  2. March 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Vinod – The following points are from a book review of Niall Ferguson’s Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. Written by Vivek Chibber – an assistant professor of sociology at New York University.

    1. The steady stream of U.S. interventions in countries around the globe could not, of course, be denied; but they were commonly explained as defensive responses to Soviet or Chinese imperialism—as efforts to contain Communist aggression and protect our way of life.

    2. But America itself could not be cast as an imperial power. The United States is often described as an empire and proudly proclaimed to be in the company of the best, outshining its English predecessor and catching up with the standard-setting Romans.

    3. This semantic shift was not instantaneous. In the immediate aftermath of the Eastern Bloc’s demise, the terms most typically used to describe American supremacy were more benign—sole superpower, new hegemon, and so on. The real change came with the George W. Bush presidency, and especially in the aftermath of 9/11.

    4. Commentators and ideologues no longer shy away from the E word and, indeed, openly embrace it—as well as the phenomenon it describes.

    5. the work of Niall Ferguson—a Scottish historian now transplanted to Harvard—takes them further. In his recent and widely reviewed book Colossus, and in a series of other publications, Ferguson offers an extended defense of the imperial project, past and present.

    6. Ferguson does not cast his defense of imperial expansion in terms of its benefits for the United States—as a strategy of prevention against potential aggressors or as a mechanism to secure American dominance for the foreseeable future. Instead, he views an American empire as a boon to its subjects. it offers lessons on how to properly go about colonizing those who need it. And there is no shortage of needy nations. Ferguson mentions, in passing, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Liberia, Rwanda, Chad, Niger, Eritrea, Guinnea-Bissau, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and several others.

    7. United States seems unwilling to accept the challenge. It is chary to go beyond the imposition of informal control over its minions and hence is unable to provide the benefits of direct colonial rule. Ferguson’s large ambition is to persuade American elites to shed their hesitancy and embrace, for the good of the world, their colonial mission.

    8. Britain operated differently from the United States as a global power not because of a remarkable national capacity for sustained attention but because of the pre-nationalist world in which British colonialism operated. Given the changes in the world, the United States adopted a prudent and effective strategy of ruling through intermediaries, quislings, or friendly autocrats.

    Where I disagree with Vivek Chibber is his conclusion that the American Empire was effectively born during the presidency of George W.Bush. In fact it was born immediately after WWII. See the sequence of events.

    A new power, fueled by a growing migrant population, USA, took the place of tired, old powers – Britain, France and the Dutch. Instead of the openly-exploitative system of European powers directly running colonial governments in these Asian countries, the US installed an opaque system – which is equally exploitative. To impose its writ on the newly independent Asian countries, the US simply destroyed their economies by war. The USA, then instituted the innovative USCAP Program and ‘helped’ these countries. These countries (Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, et al) were now ruled by overtly independent regimes – but covertly, client states of the USA.

    US multinationals and home-grown oligarchs (keiretsus, chaebols, etc.) took over the economy – and sidelined British, French and Dutch companies. To impose this economic model, US armies, using nearly 1 million troops, killed 50 lakh Asians. The takeover of European colonial possessions by the USA was handled over 3 regimes of Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson seamlessly.

    It would be wise not to forget that in 1600, when the British formed the East India Company, they did not set out to create a British Empire and loot India. It happened step-by-gradual-step – from 1600-to-1840 – after the annexation of Punjab. Over a period of nearly 240 years.

    To help you understand this idea, remove the word conspiracy. Instead use the word consensus. Easier to understand. The other thing that you must do is read the Wikileaks cable that I have linked in this post.

  3. March 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    How different is this from what is happening in India – the west bats on both sides. The US supports the UPA (nuke deal) and the BJP (MNC deals). They have engineered a two party system in India which is easy to control. You channelise peoples anger. The rest were discredited or died of “peaceful” causes i.e., Rajiv Dixit
    India will stay outside influence if we have multiparty systems and enough heterogeniety to make it difficult for these colonialists to maneuver. They love large homogenous groups aka Dravidian, Dalit because it helps them pit one against the other.

  4. mpanj
    March 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Is it possible, US is trying to trigger a Shia-Sunni conflict. Too many benefits: Arms sales, redirect terror, revive US and global economy, possible counter to Chinese designs, keep the islamic youth bulge occupied with their own vietnam….leading to a much needed catharsis across the Islamic world.

  5. March 1, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Is it possible, US is trying to trigger a Shia-Sunni conflict

    Desert Bloc works on the principle of factions. Desert Bloc engenders factions, intense intra-Bloc competition between Desert Bloc factions, themselves. Hence the divide et impera strategy, does not work with the already divided. It works on societies like us – which believe in harmonious living.

    Too many benefits: Arms sales, redirect terror, revive US and global economy, possible counter to Chinese designs, keep the islamic youth bulge occupied with their own vietnam

    Of course, these benefits are well-known. You forget to add the most important -gold.

    a much needed catharsis across the Islamic world

    Good imagery. I would further say – empty catharsis.

  6. March 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    How different is this from what is happening in India – the west bats on both sides.

    What makes the Indian game different is our historical DNA. With our vestigial memories of Bharattantra, we still resist complete capitulation to the Desert Bloc.

    if we have multiparty systems and enough heterogeniety to make it difficult for these colonialists to maneuver. They love large homogenous groups aka Dravidian, Dalit, etc.

    I thought, heterogeneous teams can only be built on a solid foundation of homogeneous sub-groups.

    India will stay outside influence if we have multiparty systems and enough heterogeniety

    That is the idea!

  7. Vinod
    March 2, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I think we give too much credit and credence to what west says and apparently does. These kind of revolutions are like letting out a tiger out of the cage. Its easy to kick it off but difficult to control it and even less chance of getting it back in cage. So, the outcome at the end of all this may still not be to US’s liking and I doubt it they would venture for such an adventure. But once its started they will try and guide to a favourable outcome.
    All the wiki leaks indicate is that US is tapping up a lot of people. They have the resources to tap up a lot of people but to say that it was hatched and executed by US would be far fetched. This was very evident in their flip-flop talk during the course of events.

    As Noam Chomsky said,
    “Obama very carefully didn’t say anything… He’s doing what U.S. leaders regularly do. As I said, there is a playbook: Whenever a favored dictator is in trouble, try to sustain him, hold on; if at some point it becomes impossible, switch sides.”

    I’m not sure US would like a democratic set-up which is aligned to hardline Islamic ideaology. They would rather prefer an autocratic ruler that does their bidding. Israel is another neighbour who prefers that. Only time can tell how this ends up.

    I totally agree that US started the empire building after the world war II onwards. After the war, the US infrastructure was intact unlike all others. During the war much of scientific knowledge shifted center from europe to US. The leaps in military and space technology was further advanced after the war, with some captured german help. British was tricked to give away the pound standard and dollar became the standard. Other political and military interventions ensured that colonism ended in many countries and US continued their empire building. Bush-era was slightly blatant in their dealings, otherwise they were only continuing the earlier set policies. I believe unless a country is militarily defeated, that country would have influence in the international politics.

  8. March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I think we give too much credit and credence to what west says and apparently does.

    If you have a compelling alternative to 500 years of Western imperial ambitions, covert and overt, I am all ears. Tell me anything – except that the West has ‘reformed’, had a ‘change of heart’, kind of sob-stories.

    http://goo.gl/2tIUt

    Till such time, as you wish to believe in a story of a benign West (without basis in fact or history), I am afraid, my hypothesis stands – with or with your agreement.

  9. Vinod
    March 4, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Don’t get me wrong here. I do not think that west is benign or for that matter I don’t believe anyone is benign. Neither did they have a change of heart etc. What I’m saying is that for everything happening in the world, attributing it as conspiracy of west is an insult to many geniuine people behind them.
    Like I said earlier, west will try everything in their power to get an outcome that they think is favourable to them. In my humble opinion, that any country with enough rsources would do the same in that situation i.e. self interest rules supreme.

  10. saurav
    March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Anurag,

    Yes nice blog. I feel you are correct. You need to understand that the Desert religions and especially the Islam religion and its people neither have the ideology nor the philosophy to create a genuine peoples movement against any person ruling over them. Yes Karma does play a part in regards to Mubarak et al. but I still feel it is not possible for those Beduoins to carry out multiple revolutions.

    I am 100% sure this is the act of America, Britain, Western Europe and all the powers that be to maintain a Quad Status Quo on the situation.

    Several rumors were floating regarding the healths of both Mubarak and Ben from Tunisia. Both were definately not young and were seriously ill. So all the more sense to get rid of them before any such unintended eventually that could have occured in case they died.

    Now what purpose will it serve to America?. I think that is a difficult question to answer. But as per my understanding it is to maintain a status-quo in the middle east. (Meaning overt and covert CIA -America-Western Europe controlled puppet governments …Whether from the Army or a dictator).

    Genuine revolutions coming out of any Muslim land is a mirage really considering their backwardness and their ignorance.

  11. saurav
    March 7, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    About the talk of the American control over the politics in India…..I think anyone living in India and knowing its people and its democracy would realize that it is out of the control of even the most autocratic power or a most hideous country to control the democracy in India.

    The reason being:
    1. Vast population of 1.3 billion from Crores of Villages, Zillas, districts etc.
    2. Thousands of Castes (yes caste system decides votes) determining the outcome of elections.
    3. Relegious sects of various kinds present.
    4. Different levels of education penetration within India.

    So I think it is next to impossible for any external country to control the politics in India.

    And as far as the UPA or Congress is concerned. I really feel that their game is up and we should see new elections coming up in some time soon.

    I personally dont like both the BJP and Congress. So if the UPA government continues for the next 3 years it may turn out to be a boon for Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman party as they will get sufficient time for building their party and selecting candidates etc.

    Nishka was right with regards to BJP. BJP is more or less similar to congress in all its form and activities.

  12. April 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Excellent points Saurav.

    Except your bit about Baba Ramdev – who is completely ignorant of Bharattantra.

  13. samadhyayi
    April 28, 2011 at 5:58 am

    Anuraag Sanghi148 :

    Excellent points Saurav.
    Except your bit about Baba Ramdev – who is completely ignorant of Bharattantra.

    Baba Ramdev is a little too eager to hang corrupt politicians. But he doesnt mean to hang thousands of corrupt people through the decades. He only wants to hang a few big ones about 100 as an example. He thinks that would settle it for once and all. Ofcourse being a student of Indian traditions he is not too naive to think that Good or Bad can live alone without the other.
    Whether Ramdev knows bharat tantra or not. One thing is certain that he is the best alternative we got. and one capable of mass following. His following is significant and there are hundreds if not thousands who are ready to take a bullet for him.

  14. samadhyayi
    April 28, 2011 at 5:59 am

    I would like to see a detailed analysis from you on what points Ramdev is wrong. It would be a great article.

  15. June 1, 2011 at 7:33 pm

  16. June 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm

  17. June 1, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Anuraag Sanghi :

    Excellent points Saurav.

    Except your bit about Baba Ramdev – who is completely ignorant of Bharattantra.

  18. June 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  1. March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

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