When the first spontaneous explosions of the Arab democratic revolutions erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, many were hoping that this revolt might usher in a new beginning for the whole region. When Egypt joined Tunisia a few weeks later, hopes mounted and everyone started to think that the long-awaited moment had finally arrived. This feeling further intensified with the Yemeni revolution and the early stages of the revolutions in Libya and Syria, and a new order was anticipated. Nevertheless, the trajectory of events took things in a completely different direction. Some opted to see the recent downward spiral as a conspiracy, while others saw in these events a natural outcome of an ignorance planted by corrupt rulers over decades.
In fact, every Arab, except those who were benefiting from the toppled regimes, was happy and had hope in the so-called Arab Spring, Arab thinkers started to draw optimistic scenarios for their future. On the other hand, despite initial hesitation and falling into the trap of duality – i.e. interests versus morals – the West ostensibly began to cheer and support these revolts. Even the staunchest critics of the Arab world saw these revolts bringing the region into the democratic club.
Nonetheless, with the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya, the picture was distorted somehow. That is, people started to question how far violence can justify the fulfilment of democratic aspirations. Similarly, in Syria violence escalated to an unprecedented level as regional and international actors tried to use the Syrian scene either to counter others’ influence or to find a foothold in the region.
To that end, there were no objections whatsoever whose hands the money and weapons fell into, as long as Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was weakened and as long as they maintained some sort of leverage in the ongoing action in Syria. This fact refutes, without doubt, the allegations of some states that accused others of financing and funding the jihadists in Syria, because simply, everyone paid and funded everyone and anyone who fought against Al-Assad.
The conflict in Syria revealed the divergence and the convergence in the policies of regional regimes concerning Arab revolts. While the Saudis were in favour of the regional status quo except for in Syria and Libya (who it did not have good relations with). The Iranians were in favour of a revolutionary change in the region, aiming to re-clone their experience, except for in Syria – the ally. Turks, on the other hand, were in favour of a gradual transition in the region in order to maintain their economic interests, but again with the exception of Syria in which they opted for a drastic change and toppling Al-Assad.
With the emergence of Al-Nusra followed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the whole Arab Spring was fully hijacked. In other words, with the number of atrocities committed by these two groups, not one single Arab is left with the luxury of thinking of democracy or fighting their dictatorships, lest they suffer from similar troubles.
Although there is a consensus on the grave threat ISIS is posing, there has been no real agreement among regional and global powers on fighting or eliminating the group. Some powers believe that weakening ISIS would not only mean that Al-Assad will remain, but would also give him the opportunity to retrieve lost territories in Syria.
Other regional powers believe fighting and weakening ISIS would empower other groups like the Kurdish PKK and other Shia guerrillas, while some superpowers think eliminating ISIS would remove any reason for regional countries to seek support and assistance in fighting those radicals.
Again, as the notion of the US was what provoked many Arabs to revolt against their regimes, which were long accused of being American stooges, the moment the United States launched its airstrikes against ISIS, the number of new recruits in ISIS increased dramatically – it is claimed that more than 6,000 new recruits have joined the organisation since the beginning of the US campaign.
With its quick rise and control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria, ISIS inspired many conspiracy theorists to draw the certain and undoubted role of the US in these events. Although critics of this conclusion refute this, claiming that the US is currently leading a campaign against ISIS, I tend to see the latter argument as both erroneous and illogical.
Aside from the document revealed by former contractor at the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden, which said British and American intelligence and Mossad worked together to create ISIS in order to attract all extremists of the world to one place, there are still other signs.
First, all observers have concluded that these strikes are not really harming ISIS. US Senator John McCain himself told CNN on October 7 that the ISIS advance shows the “ineffectiveness and fecklessness” of the airstrikes.
Second, the US’ tardy decision to launch airstrikes took months, despite all the atrocities committed by the group, during which ISIS was expanding and gaining power day by day. Third, attacking ISIS does not necessarily mean that the US has no role in the formation and the rise of the group. To illustrate, throughout history, many US administrations attacked former allies when their interests conflicted, e.g. Manuel Noriega of Panama.
However, one should concede that without the widespread ignorance among the Arab population – due to decades of malevolent policies by corrupt regimes that were allied with the US – such groups would not have found ground to propagate an austere interpretation of Islam and such violent acts. This fact does not, however, rule out a foreign imprint in the ongoing chaos in the region, and several incidents do support this argument.
For instance, in a letter sent from Patriarch Gregory of Greece to the Tsar of Russia at the end of the 18th Century, he said that abolishing the Islamic Ottoman Empire militarily was impossible. He suggested weakening the empire from within, mainly through ending the discipline and morale and importing Western ideas (from the French Revolution) of liberation and freedom.
Tracking the ensuing developments, not only during the demise of the Ottoman Empire, but also in modern times, one can notice that this policy has been implemented perfectly and has used non-Islamic culture as a cover, either by importing the values of liberation and equality from the French Revolution or the values of US globalisation, human rights and democracy in order to penetrate Arab and Islamic societies. Confronting such foreign infiltration occurred through recalling historical exploits and sometimes adopting radical agendas.
Another example is a strategically important document: the 1907 Campbell-Bannerman Report. Although the report was suppressed and has not been officially released due to its gravity, several sources revealed a number of its conclusions, which included that the Arab countries and the Muslim-Arab people present a very real threat, and it recommended promoting disintegration, division and separation in the region; establishing artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries; fighting any kind of unity, whether intellectual, religious or historical; and finally a “buffer state” to be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence that would be hostile to its neighbours and friendly to European countries and their interests.
That said, in his article “Planned Chaos in the Middle East – and Beyond“, Ismael Hossein-zadeh suggests that the “incoherent”, “illogical” or “contradictory” policies of the United States are in fact chaos that represents the success, not failure, of those policies – policies that are designed by the beneficiaries of war and military adventures in the region, and beyond.
“The seeds of the chaos were planted some 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Since the rationale for the large and growing military apparatus during the Cold War years was the ‘threat of communism’, US citizens celebrated the collapse of the Wall as the end of militarism and the dawn of ‘peace dividends’ – a reference to the benefits that, it was hoped, many would enjoy in the United States as a result of a reorientation of part of the Pentagon’s budget toward non-military social needs,” Hossein-zadeh said.
Unfortunately, with the intercalation of new elements in the scene, including the Kurds, all regional players succumbed to a form of paralysis with few options at hand, and thus the whole region is susceptible to further schism and deeper ordeals until everyone realises that no one will be immune from the ramifications of this scourge.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.