Are you wondering why so little is being said by Obama and his administration about the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East? The fact is the US has painted itself into a corner as far as this part of the world is concerned.
For years successive US administrations have been telling the world that democracy is what they would like to see throughout the Arab world while at the same time they have been quietly supporting various styles of oppressive totalitarian governments with massive amounts of aid and cash to their leaders. All the while opposition in most of these countries is brutally crushed often with the clandestine support of the US who are anxious to preserve the status quo in the region.
Now the peoples of these countries have awoken and have had enough of being oppressed and abused. They are demanding the right to choose their own government. One would have thought that on the face of it the US would be supporting these demands for democracy but instead all the US have said is that leaders of these countries in turmoil, particularly Egypt, should now take the opportunity of making some political reforms. In other words, make a few concessions but whatever you do, don’t hand over power to the people.
Egypt is especially troublesome for Obama. It is one of the most influential of the Arab nations straddling as it does both North Africa and the Middle East and having a long border with Israel. Furthermore, Egypt’s biggest opposition party is the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that has a massive following quite capable of coming out on top in fair and open elections and which supports the Palestinian cause. The last thing the US and the Israelis want, therefore, is for there to be free and open elections in Egypt.
Both the US and Israel are mindful of the last time an Arab bloc had a free and open election; the Palestinian elections of January 2006 when Israel’s arch-enemy, Hamas, surprisingly romped home to win. The West then refused to recognise Hamas as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people. Hamas then asserted its power in the Gaza Strip by kicking out their opposition, Fatah, while Fatah consolidated its power in the West Bank with the help of the Israelis and the US.
An Egypt governed by a theocratic government would be intolerable to the Israelis. It would mean the already porous border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip would be opened up and even more arms and material would flow into the Gaza. A new Egyptian government would also open up trade and commerce to the Gaza bringing an end to Israel’s attempt to ghettoise and ultimately strangle the Gaza and Hamas into submission. Israel would be left with little alternative but to invade and militarily occupy the whole of the Gaza Strip.
The unrest among the other North African and Middle Eastern nations is also of a concern to the US and Israel. From Israel’s point of view, a successful overthrow of the various autocratic and totalitarian governments of the region would leave Israel surround by hostile nations whose governments will also now be hostile. From the Americans point of view, especially if such a revolution were to roll on into the major oil producing states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, etc., it would mean that hegemony and influence over the regions resources would be lost. That would be disastrous for the US. The idea of having to procure resources from a universally hostile region would be totally unacceptable to the US.
The US and Israel can only hope that the revolts quickly peter out and the status quo is restored. However, the more violent the various authorities crack down on the dissidents, then the less likelihood of peace being restored in favour of the repressive governments.
Any actions that Israel now takes against its enemies, Hezbollah and Hamas, will only inflame the situation further. However, Israel may feel compelled to take action, particularly against Hamas, if it feels that Egypt is going to fall to the Islamists. And if Israel takes action against Hamas, it may also feel that would also be the ideal opportunity to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The big question now is; where does all this leave Iran?
The fact is, if this develops into a war between the West and Islam then the much overplayed rivalries between Shia and Sunni Muslims will be put aside. Remember, Hamas is Sunni and Hezbollah is Shia, yet both are supported by Iran.
Middle Eastern and Arab politics are extremely complex but when the ordinary people take it upon themselves to exert their power – especially in multiple places at the same time – then those complexities are broken down into simplistic causes which have a tendency to unite rather split.
Whatever happens next, the US and Israel must bear responsibility.