Blog Archive

Blog Archive – May, 2011

New Leaders of the Middle East, Part 2

May 24, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Barack Obama’s recent speech… Uh, which speech? The one to AIPAC where he essentially capitulated to Israel? Or the one two days earlier at the US State Department?

On May 19th Mr. Obama revealed what was billed as major policy initiative, a new vision of the Middle East and North Africa. There, the American president confirmed that the country is determined not to be left out of the so-called Arab Awakening.  His declaration on what will be the American role across the region has been eclipsed by the issue of Israel. Put Israel aside (sic) for the moment.

 Let’s consider what Obama spelled out for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) on May 19th. The US president may have appeared to establish a new link – no vision, be sure--between US policy and today’s political realities there. We will support you in your reform movements (and threaten [some] leaders who do not give way); we’ll  provide funds for civil projects. We will…, he said. 

Look again. Obama’s US policy is simply a dry blanket thrown over a fire. It’s a cloaked policy to channel and administer events which outside powers initially had no control over. And it is well underway.

US diplomats and economic advisors have been lining up with various sides in the revolutions following spontaneous uprisings last December. But long before, key institutions that will execute this policy were already in place. The GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council), Gulf-based Arab media networks, established 15 years ago, and a host of American university centers which are implementing US policy at an aggressive pace. The first two have been especially active in recent months.

The positioning of the GCC reveals its growing role as a diplomatic/military arm of US policies. This body of steadfast US allies conducts summits to affirm the US position vis-à-vis various junior (and by definition, unruly) Arab states. Witness the arrival of Saudi forces in Bahrain and GCC support for NATO strikes in Libya.

GCC is a notable club of royal non-democracies. Two new members—Morocco and Jordan, fellow monarchies and solid US allies, have been invited to join the group, at the same time offering yet another example of Washington’s double standard on democracy. Changes in those regimes are highly doubtful. Also unnecessary, in Washington’s eyes. 

It is this club of monarchies which is groomed to help the US manage the Middle East and North Africa.

One of GCC’s strongest assets is its media. The professionalism, popularity and ubiquity of the Arab TV networks is well established. Arab media, from sports and business to 24-hour news, is supplemented by an abundance of American features and action films. Together they now project the success of US policy in the Middle East, patiently nurtured by the State Deptartment over the past two decades. Their influence is most notable in the power of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV. Both its 24 hour Arabic and English news channels are widely respected; the former holds sway among Arab public and its intellectuals, the latter among American liberals.

With a few billion additional US aid dollars promised by Mr. Obama, we can expect to see more women’s conferences, jazz concerts,  media workshops, children’s art, poetry and literary events in designated countries. This gift presents a symbolic gesture by the US in ‘democracy building’. But the main investment will continue from the Gulf States through their powerful Arab networks. Although civil liberties are limited in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, their media networks (MBC from Riyadh and Al-Jazeera from Doha) define public opinion across the area, including positive views of the US.

Today Al-Jazeera is outshining the BBC and CNN in offering the Libyan rebels enthusiastic support, championing NATO strikes with astonishing candor:-- through Al-Jazeera we learn how noble are the Benghazi rebels; along with NATO, those pro-democracy agents are unquestionably heroic; and Gadaffi is a fool whose doom is assured. Note that Qatar (founder and sponsor of the Al-Jazeera networks) is most active among GCC members militarily assisting NATO attacks on Libya.

Consistent with its bias in support of US policy, Al-Jazeera and to a lesser degree (Saudi controlled) Al-Arabiya channel have been aggressively reporting on Syrian dissent and Yemeni opposition to their leaders. Al-Jazeera Arabic is taking a leading role in giving voice to western-based spokesmen for what it defines as pro-democracy movements there. Commentators on both sides of the Syria dispute are so polarized that Al-Jazeera’s coverage is hardly helpful. At the same time, their attention to Jordan and Bahrain has been muted. Why have democracy movements in these monarchies been marginalized?

Over the past decade, with the rise of Al-Jazeera, the establishment of American universities and other investments in the UAE, Qatar and nearby friendly states, and the creation of Abu Dhabi as a center of luxury art, culture, and high sport, this region has taken on a new and attractive image for western consumers. Abu Dhabi is now a glamour capital-- the ‘in’ place to play and shop. It’s also a significant employer of western consultants, professors, and entertainers. Who says culture and knowledge is not a political tool?

[ New Leaders of the Middle East, Part 2 ]

Oh, What a Lovely War!

May 12, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Was this the title of a British film? or a popular song of the 40s?

Either way, I know the phrase originated in the imperial West, the humanitarian West, the West that monitors human rights and establishes international criminal courts to try all but its own citizens.

Our latest image of a ‘lovely war’ is not the sleek and silent bombers flying over north Africa. Not the political accord rammed through the UN by a club of self-interested nations.

No. It’s the sight of night revelers in American streets after their noble president announced the extra-judicial killing of the Al-Qaeda leader. Public cheers which met this attack proves what I have always argued and few will accept: namely, Americans adore war.

First, the death of Osama Bin Laden does not mark the end of war. It only allows Washington to claim success with a totally failed strategy it launched 10 years ago to capture the man they blamed for the 9/11 attacks. More significantly, what has this one death cost the world? Unknown trillions of dollars in government expenditure, the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Yeminis, and Muslims in the US’s undeclared war against Al-Qaeda. Not to forget the 6,000 plus American soldiers and the tens of thousands of maimed veterans.

Add to the calculation of ‘success’, the total devastation of two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, with the future of millions of their citizens swept away in the chaos. Then there is the cost in American principles: Washington’s policies in its terror war betrayed a once respected standard of justice; it exposed how routinely torture is practiced by American authorities; it made racism against Muslims part of everyday American life; it gave us the infamous Patriot Act and other legalized means of curbing US civil rights. The USA beefed up its CIA and other intelligence agencies to fight non-existent threats represented by Bin Laden.

Significantly, as Washington is quick to assure us, this celebrated murder does not end the terror war; rather it raises new threats. Thus the need for continued vigilance and heighted security measures.  Instead of being reprimanded for their failures, US intelligence services are hailed for their success. And, according to May 12’s Washington Post, applications to join the American intelligence services have skyrocketed following the murder of Bin Laden, an act which some denounce as a war crime.

What success? Ten years and incalculable losses in the effort, these agents are champions of justice? Yes, believe it. And the war-loving American public is pressed to demonstrate its pride it its intelligence work and combat efforts. “We got him. We won.”.

The phrase is burned  into Americans from childhood, whether watching Tom and Jerry cartoons, cheering Bruce Willis-style heroes, or playing computer games. “We got him.” No other activity consumes the American public from childhood to death like war: whether our toys, combat sports, Batman fantasy figures, mafia and espionage thrillers, Nintendo games, novels, or intellectual productions like the celebrated ‘Civil War’ TV series. War is part of entertainment for Americans, fundamental to conditioning the concept of heroism. War defines who is a ‘good guy’. War offers everyone the thrill and glory of battle.

Don’t tell me you marched against the war in 2003. Or that you did not vote for George W Bush. It doesn’t matter that (at the most).02 % of the US public doesn’t support war. All Americans, including lofty-minded university ‘liberals’, are beneficiaries of the US war machine and war culture. All share similar heroes, all celebrate war literature, and all benefit from an economy dependent for growth on constant war.

Spontaneous cheers erupted when the US president—‘leader of the free world’-- announced Bin Laden’s murder. Think about it and you surely must agree how this exposes the true nature of Americans.

Note how the raw emotional pleasure of war has its corollary in intellectual debates. Witness the days of media commentary on that ‘military operation’. However eloquent the speeches, it is part of war’s enduring entertainment value.  Admit this and you open the door to change. Not Obama’s “Change” but real change, change we can believe in.


[ Oh, What a Lovely War! ]

New Leaders of The Middle East? Part 1

May 01, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Who could have imagined the Saudis offering more than oil and being a lucrative market for US arms? Part 1

Today we see Emirati princes in the company of sexy American celebrities, Qatari planes over Libya, Saudi tanks rolling through Bahrain, Al-Jazeera selectively cheering protestors. A cynic would view it as a pre-planned realignment of the region, the successful expansion of expedient, proven friendships. 

A dominating role of the Gulf States in negotiating the various uprisings seems to have emerged by chance in the wake of the ‘Arab Awakening”. Tunisia and Egypt ousted their dictators and set in motion spontaneous demands for liberty across the region. There was plenty more to do—with dictatorships in all directions in need of change, rights to be recognized, and boundless dignity to be restored.

The ‘uprisings’ continue. But by the time Hosni Mubarak had been forced out, a new scenario eclipsed the movement symbolized in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Public awakenings in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Libya are not following the same script.

Did the two early revolutions (Tunisia and Egypt), while emboldening other Arabs, also alert the remaining dictators and their Western friends to sharpen their strategies.

Did Washington and Britain decide: “This can’t go on; things are too unpredictable; these people will create instability (for us)”; we have to get involved. Let’s move on Libya; it offers new horizons across all of North Africa.  A perfect chance to rout that bothersome criminal, Ghadaffi.  END OF PART 1

[ New Leaders of The Middle East? Part 1 ]

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