THE CRISIS IN EGYPT THE REGIONAL IMPACT: A VIEW FROM SYRIA
"It is easy to see the nationalism that has taken hold of all the peoples of the Middle East as if it were an epidemic disease whose symptoms are recognisable but whose cause is unknown. This view may lead to a search for palliatives rather than cure. It may also give rise to despair in the onlooker; tempting him to stand aside until the fever has run its course....But another powerful source of xenophobia is the vast reservoir of hate engendered primarily by the social injustice so common throughout the Middle East. This gives rise to frustration and envy among intellectuals, minor officials, students, and all those who feel that the future should be, but demonstrably is not, theirs. It is nonsense to talk of the British , as such being hated. But when British policy can be interpreted as aimed at preserving the intolerable domestic status quo (emphasis in the original), then we and other Westerners become the targets of this hate, crudely manipulated by those who have themselves most to fear from it. Here the solution is much more difficult to find, for it does not depend on ourselves alone. Direct political interference is impossible, and will anyway react against us. Good advice can always be ignored. We can however see to it that we do not become too closely identified with personalities and policies that are clearly retrograde, whilst at the same time we use what influence we have in the direction of greater social justice....Sham democracies that are really dictatorships may tide over awkward moments in our relations with Middle Eastern states, but dictatorships are highly vulnerable regimes and most uncertain in their sympathies. We may have to put up with them when we must, but it would be fatal to become dependent on them."
P.E.L. Fellowes, "Memorandum: Nationalism and Policy in the Middle East," 2nd March 1952, in
F.O. 371/98244/E102/1. PRO, Kew.
The following interview with the Syrian strongman, Assad Fils in the American broadsheet, the Wall Street Journal to-day, is of interest I believe because it highlights the following fact: that if in fact the Mubarak / deep-state regime collapses or is negotiated out of power, the end result would seem to indicate a serious weakening of the American & Western power position in the Near and Middle East.The closest examples of such a drastic weakening of Western power in the region being the collapse of the Shah's regime in Persia in 1978-1979 and the violently quick and brutal coup d'etat which destroyed the Monarchy in Iraq in 1958. And while per se there is nothing which would mandate that any successor state to the current regime in Egypt will necessarily be anti-Western / anti-American, the fact of the matter is that current American policies in the region in particular are extremely unpopular. And with that in mind, it is difficult to imagine that with an Egyptian government which has to pay much, much more attention to popular opinion (or what is thought of as 'popular opinion') will be as supine in the future as Mubarak (and General Suleiman for that matter) have been in the past. For examples from the past, one merely needs to recall the verbal and other pyrotechnics of the Wafd party in its salad days under the Egyptian Monarchy. As former CIA Near & Middle Eastern analyst Bruce Riedel, noted earlier Friday:
"A more representative government drawn from the diversity of Egypt's political opposition will be much more inclined to criticize American and Israeli policies. The Egyptian street may accept the strategic logic of peace with Israel and alliance with America, but it bristles at the humiliation of being a de facto silent partner in the siege of Gaza, Israel's wars against Hamas and Hezbollah and America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which rely on transit via the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace)....In the event of another Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon — both very possible scenarios—a more democratic Egyptian government will have to listen to the voices of the street, both the left and the Muslim Brotherhood. Diplomatic ties could be broken, trade suspended and demands raised for renegotiating parts of the treaty like the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. A new question mark will be raised about the cost of military options in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in place of the certitude of the last three decades. Similarly no Egyptian government will want to cut ties with America lightly. American assistance runs close to $2 billion a year, Egypt's army is equipped with American gear (including the tanks and the tear gas used this weekend). But democracies have to pay attention to their people. Mubarak could criticize George Bush's Iraq War and still allow the U.S. Navy and Air Force to use the canal and Cairo west airport to supply it. That may no longer be the case" 1.
With the above in mind, is it any surprise that as per the Israeli broadsheet, Haaretz, the Israeli government has been sending out plus fort demarches to both Washington and to European capitals this week-end to support Mubarak and his regime 2. Something which is perhaps also explained by what Joshua Landis' online journal Syria Comment, refers to the jubilant mood in Syrian government circles over what they see as the coming downfall of their long-time arch-enemy Mubarak 3. Given all this, I for one notwithstanding the less entirely attractive motives of the Israeli government, am not prepared to gainsay their alleged demarches this week-end just past. It could very well be the case that theirs is indeed the right policy for now. For as Mr. Fellowes memorandum to the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office shows, the problem that we are dealing with, is a long-standing one, and was not invented tout `a coup aujourd'hui, as it were.
Please see below for portions of the Assad interview:
"Mr. Assad said he will have more time to make changes than Mr. Mubarak did, because his anti-American positions and confrontation with Israel have left him in better shape with the grassroots in his nation.
“Syria is stable. Why?” Mr. Assad said. “Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.”
Mr. Assad said he would push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations and establishing a new media law.
…Assad:“I can talk about the region in general more than talking about Tunisia or Egypt because we are one region. We are not a copy of each other, but we have many things in common. So, I think it is about desperation. Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger, but this anger feeds on desperation. Desperation has two factors: internal and external.
The internal is that we are to blame, as states and as officials, and the external is that you are to blame, as great powers or what you call in the West ‘the international community’, while for them, the international community is made up of the United States and some few countries, but not the whole world. So, let us refer to the latter as the ‘greatest powers’ that have been involved in this region for decades.
As for the internal, it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions. You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society. There must be something to have this balance. This is the most important headline.
Regarding the west, it is about the problems that we have in our region, i.e. the lack of peace, the invasion of Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan and now its repercussions in Pakistan and other regions. That led to this desperation and anger. What I tell you now is only the headlines, and as for the details, maybe you have details to talk about for days if you want to continue. I am just giving you the way we look at the situation in general.”…
His government already made adjustments to ease the kind of economic pressures that have helped fuel unrest in Tunisia and Algeria: Damascus this month raised heating oil allowances for public workers—a step back from an earlier plan to withdraw subsidies that keep the cost of living down for Syrians but drain the national budget. Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan have also tried to assuage protesters by lowering food prices….
“What pleases me is that this transition between the two [Lebanese] governments happened smoothly, because we were worried,” said Mr. Assad. “It was very easy to have a conflict of some kind that could evolve into a fully blown civil war.”…
“No, [the peace process] is not dead, because you do not have any other option,” Mr. Assad said. “If you talk about a ‘dead’ peace process, this means everybody should prepare for the next war.” The Syrian leader acknowledged his government is likely to continue to be at odds with the U.S. on key strategic issues…" 4.
1. Bruce Riedel, "The End of the Mubarak Era", 29 January 2011, The Daily Beast, in www.brookings.edu/opinions.
2. Barak Ravid,"Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt's Mubarak", Haaretz, 31 January 2011, in www.haaretz.com.
3. Syria Comment, "Syrian Authorities Jubilant about Prospect of Mubarak's Fall and shifting balance of power in the region," 31 January 2011, in www.syriacomment.com.
4. Wall Street Journal, "Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,"
31 January 2011, in www.wsj.com.