Change is happening in the Middle East, much more than is reflected in a fifteen minute phone call between Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
All the signs over the past three months, from the military coup against President Morsi in Egypt to Obama’s decision not to follow through with his threat to attack the Assad regime after its use of chemical weapons in Syria, suggest that something big is happening. Whatever it is, it will benefit the West’s strategic interests following the apparent failure of the Arab Spring.
The emergence of strong Islamic parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Arab Spring countries was feared by the West. It has been working against such an event by allying itself with repressive, corrupt and tyrannical regimes, some of which have been functioning under the false flag of democracy nourished by Western support.
The decision to isolate President Morsi was taken after the West could ensure that the resultant and inevitable violence would not be too devastating for Egypt. It was taken in coordination with several regional and international powers that are influential in the Arab world such as Russia and Iran, which began to meet due to the West’s fear of Islamic rule. In order to consecrate the sham of distorted democracy, Western studies, research centres and intellectuals, such as Kepel and Fukuyama, fostered the false thesis that Islam and democracy are incompatible instead of criticising the counterfeit democracies. Their illogical argument places the religion of Islam alongside a political mechanism such as democracy. This is aside from their understanding of Islamist politics, which is seen as the antithesis of democracy.
Nothing in Western accounts can explain this prevarication towards the Muslim world and the true democratic strength exhibited by Islamists except that perhaps Western strategists actually believe that Islamists are capable of democracy and decision-making in their own lands and that this ability will lead to a massive change in the global political system in a way that is detrimental to western civilisation. This is the only thing that can explain western prejudice towards Islamists and why the West sees “democracy” in the Arab world as something that is essential for the region’s salvation, but on the West’s terms.
Thus, the military coup against the President of Egypt cannot be regarded as a purely Egyptian affair; it was agreed by a raft of international powers. With Russian and Iranian involvement, it is no coincidence that the media in both countries has been broadcasting coverage of the events in Egypt which portrays the Islamists in a very negative light.
Add to this the West’s suspect position regarding the Syrian regime, embodied by America’s lack of seriousness in confronting Bashar Al-Assad even after his use of chemical weapons, hints at strategic plans to re-arrange the region upon the ruins of the Arab Spring. With the aid of illegal international interference in national affairs, Islamist political parties will be reduced once more to being providers of cultural and political programmes on a local level, with no involvement in government.
As has always been the case in contemporary Arab history, the people will again be the losers in this rearrangement. We saw this with the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement which divided the Middle East into British and French spheres of influence and now, almost 100 years later, we have the Obama-Rouhani rapport. All of this is undoubtedly a consequence of the ill-advised conflicts promoted by Arab regimes. These weaknesses are not a result of poor economic, historical and cultural resources. Indeed, nothing is standing in the way of these political systems except for the fact that they have been turned into puppets of the West and play that role to the full.
What can help to explain the current state of the Arab reality is that after more than half a century of nominal independence from colonial powers we are still unable to form a true political entity in the region. The Turks have managed it, and so have the Persians; even the Jews have been successful politically and strategically in the region since the establishment of their state in 1948.; but the Arabs have not broken away from tribal loyalties. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised at the current geopolitical dynamics of the Arab world. We are still acting as a group of Arab tribes presenting ourselves to the world as nation states when, in reality, our countries are little more than client states created by Western colonialism.
The Americans clearly have no qualms about abandoning their allies in the Gulf. After all, they are not really allies as much as they are geographical fragments, especially when compared with a country such as Iran, which has a rich and deep-rooted history. As explained by Dr Abdullah Nafisi, the Gulf States were designed by the West to play a specific strategic role in the region; easy come, easy go.
Although people claim to be surprised by the US-Iran rapprochement, they shouldn’t be. Former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi referenced American-Iranian cooperation in a speech he made in 2004: “Were it not for Iran, Baghdad and Kabul would not have fallen.”
It is wrong to picture Iran as a sectarian and religious state; it is a pragmatic Persian nation-state, which seeks to restore its former historical glory and influence. Looked at in this way, we can explain Iran’s current politics, which seek to free the country from its isolated state even if it threatens what is claimed to be sacred to Iranians, such as the re-interpretation of Imam Khomeini’s teachings. According to Dr Fatima Smadi, Khomeini was against storming the US embassy in 1979 and he preferred to avoid anything to do with America altogether.
The rapid changes in Iranian political discourse have led Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to move from economic resistance to bold and courageous diplomacy. We have also seen Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif using Twitter to explain that Iran does not deny the Holocaust and that those who did are no longer in office in Tehran, a clear reference to the comments made by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Greater emphasis was given to this point when President Rouhani took a Jewish member of the Iranian House of Representatives, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York for the UN General Assembly.
Moreover, what Iran achieves on the diplomatic front is the result of its many successes and breakthroughs in the Arab region, which were achieved by using Arab Shia minorities to build bridges that make it easier for Iran to play on the big stage. We all witnessed the historic meeting between Iran and American in Baghdad in 2007, which determined the fate of Iraq by placing it under Iranian tutelage as barrels of oil continue to flow to America.
Today, Iran’s influence stretches to Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and all of the Gulf States. It even has a hand in Egypt after the military coup. Thus, it is natural for the West and America to knock on Tehran’s political door to discuss Western security interests that are threatened by Iran’s expansion. They will be able to protect these interests if they form a strategic alliance with Iran.
In an effort to influence the US back towards the Gulf States, media outlets with close ties to regional decision-makers and the Saudi king have said that America’s recent reconciliation with Iran is the root cause of the chaos in the Middle East. This has not only influenced public opinion in the Gulf but also contributed to turning politics in the area into nothing more than a boring skit.
Over the course of the past two years, since the outbreak of the Arab revolutions, money and media from the Gulf have been working towards distorting the image of the Arab Spring by casting doubts about its validity. This has been done to prevent the expansion of the revolutionary movements into the Gulf countries which, according to the late Professor Edward Said, are marked by the presence of oil and chaos.
The lack of any ability to visualise a concrete state of mind in Gulf countries increases the potential for them to be displaced. Hence, we see Gulf leaders channelling resources into fighting the wrong battles and spreading chaos, to the benefit of the West and Iran.
Thus, it became easy for the West to create an enemy in the Muslim Brotherhood by framing them as a threat to “Sunni” Gulf regimes. With the Brotherhood as the new bogeyman, governments across the Gulf sought to get rid of them at any cost, with scant consideration for the regional implications of such an illogical act, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood has embodied the most important pillars of cultural, political and intellectual components of society. In fact, the movement has played an active role in balancing the political equation in the whole Middle East for decades.
After the West succeeded in aborting the Arab democratic dream by disposing of the Islamists – who are, ironically, the real representatives of democracy in the region there is no longer any fear for Western political interests except for the threat posed by Iran. The West is now working towards striking a deal with Iran in order to eradicate the country’s potential in that respect.
Faced now with Iran-US reconciliation, the Gulf States have no choice but to reconsider the mistake of plotting against the Muslim Brotherhood. They should repair the damage by forming an alliance with this political movement, which will soon represent the majority as the true guarantor of political stability in the region. Failure to do this will see them coming under Iranian protection when it emerges as a superpower in the region backed by the United States. That will be a huge price to pay for their political stupidity.
The author is a Yemeni journalist. This article is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera Net on 19 October, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.