THE narrative of the west in the Middle East is that dictatorships had been rife in the Middle East for a long time, causing a quiescent and an unhappy people, with no rights, subject to a ruling oligarchy or aristocracy that was rich and corrupt. Even so, some parts of the Middle East especially North Africa had pleasant holiday resorts for Europe – Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria etc. The spirit of freedom was beginning to stir in these areas: it blossomed fully in Tunisia where an unemployed bread maker set himself alight. Since repression, lack of political rights, unemployment among the masses were common in North Africa and the Middle East, that singular act in Tunisia reverberated throughout the region – regimes were tottering; the Arab spring had been born.
Democracy was soon to be established everywhere in Moslem North Africa and the Middle East. The Government of Tunisia fell, replaced a moderate democratic regime, Algeria, Morocco promised reform; Egypt was already on the way to democracy characterised by – rallies daily in Tarique square, elections were soon to be held in Egypt. General Mubarak, the strongman supported by the West, lost the election to the Moslem Brotherhood’s Morsi who was regarded as radicalised and fundamentalist. The Muslim Brotherhood was classified in the West as a terrorist organisation.
In Libya, Ghadaffi was accused of suppressing his own people; there was no democracy, no civil rights. Moreover, the Lockerby affair still rankled and many in the West believed Ghadaffi ordered the hit on the Panam plane which crashed. In Lockerby, Scotland freed the only person jailed for the Lockerby bombing; the man flew into Tripoli, was met by the son of Ghadaffi and this “murderer” was treated as a hero.
Meanwhile, Ghadaffi continued his baiting of the West, causing instability in virtually everywhere he could, especially in Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea: he invited Russia to Libya to exploit oil, and resupply his army etc. That the West could not stand Ghadaffi and his antics was a well-known fact. He returned the sentiment in full measure, but both needed each other – because of oil.
When Ghadaffi started flirting with Russia, the West had had enough. Dissidents were armed in the East of Libya at Bengazi. Ghadaffi was about to smash the opposition in Libya when the West decided that the flow of freedom in Bengazi must not be allowed to die (in reality the West did not want the Russian fleet – commercial or military in the Mediterranean). Arms poured into an already over-militarily supplied Libya, the West destroyed the Libyan Airforce, imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and watched a prosperous country descend into ruinous anarchy and civil war from which it had not recovered. Ghadaffi was killed, one son imprisoned, two other sons killed, his government abolished without leaving any institutions to govern the country. Each warlord grabbed a territory, sold crude for what he could get, sometimes as low as US$ 10 per barrel, bought even more guns in an area over- supplied with arms: the result was pure anarchy: the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed; Libya became a failed State.
Arms from Libya moved into virtually every country east and south of it; fundamentalist radicalised Moslems arrived and started causing mayhem in Nigeria (Boko Haram) in Mali, Guinea, and Chad etc.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood had been declared a terrorist organisation earlier but, just like Hezbollah, won the election in Egypt. The West did not like Morsi’s victory at a democratic election anymore than they liked Hezbolloah’s electoral victory in the West Bank. The West engineered Morsi’s overthrow and replaced it by the Chief of Defence Staff, Sessi, for whom they organised an election. Was Sessi’s election a democratic one or a farce?
North Africa was desperate for stability; Algeria remained in the hands of a quasi – military dictatorship; Morocco is a kingdom again with little or no democracy. With Ghadaffi gone, there was no one to prevent hordes of migrants from Eritrea, Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan etc. from crossing the Mediterranean into Europe – Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal.
The West went to war in Iraq on a false premise – to stop Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction against his people who were beginning to organise a nascent democracy. On entering Iraq without any evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. and its allies in the West disbanded the Iraqi army. The West preciposteriously walked out of Iraq when the institutions to run a state were weak and just starting or not there: the ancient divisions of tribes and religions took stronger grip of the people; the two leaders that have so far been chosen for Iraq have been unable to lead. But Iraq, Libya, Egypt all have oil. Once there is no government – once you create a vacuum, warlords or radicalised groups – ISIS, Al Qaeda and variations or combinations of both, seize power and what is now new, seize territory. On top of the old rivalry between Bathist/Sunni Versus Shiites in Iraq, there is the added complication of the Kurds who want their own State carved out of both Iraq and Turkey.
Syria had promised democratic reforms – some say too little, too late. President Bashir must go, before meaningful talks about peace can begin, the Syrian opposition demanded. In the meantime, the country was rent into a thousand groups fighting each other and systematically destroying the country, town by town. Several millions have fled into Jordan, Turkey and now to Europe causing the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
In all these places, a virulent form of Islam named ISIS – has taken hold. But the geopolitics of the Middle East is even more complicated by Iran where the Shiites look up to as their protector. Iraq and Iran have had a long-standing hostility. Iran sees itself as the bastion to defend the millions of Shiites all over the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemeni, the UAE, even in Nigeria. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has little tolerance for Shiites who form the bulk of their population. The Saudis and the other ruling houses of Kuwait, UAE, fear that any attempt at religious populism would spell their doom hence the only way to behave is to be strictly fundamental Sunni – women in burkas cannot drive cars, must get permission of husband before travelling, public execution, public stoning for adultery etc. Iran, while strict, is relatively liberal – has an educated middle class, a sophisticated industrial economy.
Unfortunately, where Shiite interests are threatened, Iran behaves as a bull does to a red flag. Saudi Arabia behaves in much the same way when Sunnis feel threatened by Shiites as in the case in Yemen, hence there is this unending proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemeni, West Bank, Lebanon and Syria.
To be continued tomorrow.