The fallout from the coup in Egypt includes a number of answers to questions regarding political and security issues since the fall of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact was a historic turning point in the strategies adopted by the US and the capitalist West.
America, for one, had to find a replacement enemy “other” instead of the Soviet Union. In his book “The Rise and fall of the Great Powers”, Paul Kennedy says that no empire can maintain its political stability and remain a superpower unless it directs its energies towards an enemy, real or imagined. Without the external bogey to focus on, such energies are dissipated internally leading to cracks in the façade of unity, followed by the fall of the empire.
Kennedy’s theory is consistent with the roots of Western thought. The German philosopher Hagel believed that without the prospect of war and the sacrifices it requires people become absorbed in themselves and society deteriorates under the rush to fulfil their selfish desires, resulting in the collapse of society.
Philosophical theories aside, America was also aware that as a result of the Warsaw Pact’s demise, Europe could have gone its own way. Posing a threat to US national security, this could have seen America unable to persuade European countries to join it in its wars; even NATO could have been hard to manipulate.
In the decade or so between the fall of the Warsaw Pact in 1990 and the events of September 11, 2001, an image of the new enemy was being prepared by Western decision-makers, who enlisted the help of writers and intellectuals. The purpose was to restore the tactical and strategic position of the US Army as the strongest in the world.
Samuel Huntington’s book, “The Clash of Civilisations” and Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” represent the most important theoretical literature on what became known as the “Green Menace”, a new enemy for the West to focus on, replacing the communist “Red Menace” of Eastern Europe.
Huntington noted that the upcoming struggle between nations would be a cultural struggle between the Islamic East and the Christian West. According to Fukuyama, liberal capitalism as a governing system in the West will be the last example of human intellectual creativity and that through capitalist values the West will prevail and impose them on the entire world.
Coinciding with the announcement of these theories, the Western media was spreading its carefully selected terminology associated with what it called radical or fundamentalist Islam. These and other terms were welcomed warmly by security agencies and state media in the Arab world before being repeated maliciously and somewhat foolishly. Such Arab regimes were overjoyed that their interests met with the West’s in creating a bogey out of terrorism and extremism.
Thus was the West able to create a new avenue for international conflict under the guise of a “war on terrorism” in which anything and everything concerning Islam was a target.
Following the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, a vicious civil war afflicted the country in the absence of a unified national project and vision among the disparate groups who had been victorious against the invaders. This internecine conflict amongst the Afghans has become an object lesson in what can happen to one-time comrades in arms who are left without clear leadership.
There was a difference of opinion among the jihad leaders in Afghanistan, with a number suggesting that the Arab fighters should return to their countries to contribute to the political developments taking place there. This was an idea backed by the doyen of the Arab fighters, Abdullah Azzam. The intention was to give support to peaceful change through democratic means.
The first test for this point of view was the Algerian Islamist Party’s victory in the municipal elections, followed by the parliamentary elections in 1992. As soon as it was clear that the Islamists would win, the election was cancelled by the army. A bitter armed conflict followed. The architect of the victory, though, did not live to see this happen; Azzam was assassinated in 1989.
Osama Bin Laden was among the first to agree with Azzam and went back to Saudi Arabia and his life in business. He’d majored in Business Administration at King Abdul Aziz University and was following in his father’s footsteps.
It is claimed now that Bin Laden was engaged in the type of political affairs prohibited by the Saudi government. In any case, events took a turn for the worst with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the deployment of American troops on Saudi soil ready to invade and liberate the small, oil-rich state. This complicated the political situation in Saudi Arabia, with many people condemning the decision to allow American troops into the land of Makkah and Madinah.
Bin Laden, like other Islamists opposed to the Saudi policy at the time, was put under house arrest before being allowed to return to Afghanistan to put his affairs there in order; he then went into self-imposed exile in Sudan in early 1991. He invested heavily in Sudanese construction and agricultural companies. This coincided with his announcement of the establishment of the “Advice and Reform Committee” based in London, through which he would oppose the Saudi regime that expelled him from his country due to his political views.
Neither the Saudis nor the Americans liked this, so they put great pressure on Khartoum, which was willing to hand over Bin Laden to either side; both refused. Back in Afghanistan he formed the “World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” with Ayman Al-Zawahiri in 1998.
The membership increased as the Arab “Mujahideen” fighters followed Bin Laden to Afghanistan having found only prison cells and oppression waiting for them in their home countries. The same agencies which had recruited them to go and fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan now demonised and persecuted them.
The September 11, 2001 attacks on the American mainland were preceded by attacks against US targets such as the American embassies in Dar Al-Salaam and Nairobi. The USS Cole was also targeted off the coast of Yemen in 2000. However, 9/11 remains the biggest and most damaging attack against the United States in living memory. It was this which prompted George W Bush’s “war on terrorism”, leading to US invasions of Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11 and Iraq in 2003. Both countries and their regimes were accused of harbouring terrorists and supporting terrorism.
It is often forgotten that “Al-Qaeda” was a name given by the Americans to a list provided by the Arab fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan to keep track of those killed and those who survived. It has since become the generic term for any and all “Islamic terrorists”.
With the outbreak of the peaceful demonstrations in 2011 against decades of repression, marginalisation and despotism in the Arab world the Arab Spring was born. As regimes were overthrown in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the common factor was the clearly peaceful intentions and nature of the demonstrators. This changed the minds of those who felt that only armed solutions were possible, although the situation in Libya and now Syria has further altered perceptions considerably. Nevertheless, the Islamists won free and fair elections but the democratic experiment faced a major setback with the coup against Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. It is now feared that the gains of the Arab Spring will be lost, not least because the coup leaders were given a clear green light to proceed by the supposedly democratic West.
This poses several questions regarding the extent of the West’s involvement in what is happening, not only in Egypt but also in Syria. The new terrorism is backed by the West in its efforts to overturn any possibility of Islamists coming to power in the Arab World. Once again, the Arab despots are behind the West, cheque-books in hand.
The Islamists who have gained most from the Arab Spring have been proven to be the most effective democrats in the region. Hence, a great deal of effort has been expended on dragging them into violence and demonising them as “terrorists”. It is clear that the West wants to eliminate democracy and Islamists in one go. They forget, however, who created Islamic “terrorists” and terrorism in the first place to do the West’s dirty work against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. These things are all linked and now form part of one long chain of events with no foreseeable end in sight.
The author is a Yemeni journalist. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al-Jazeera net, 12 September 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.