Ladies and gentlemen,
To watch US mainstream media misleading and being misled by its narrow discourse about what happens is painful. And discourse, what you look at, through what lenses and words, shapes action.
There is a simple, linear discourse, heard again and again. It started in Tunisia on December 17, 2010 when Mohammed Boazizi set himself on fire. And it spread from one country to the other, like falling dominoes, thanks to social media. The common theme is autocracy, political rights deficits, secret police, torture, killing, and the basic question is who is next in line, moving from North Africa to the Middle East-MENA-and where does it end.
The discourse is not wrong, but very incomplete in its time and space narrowness. Expanding time and space into a broader discourse, deeper understanding and a better basis for action.
Expand time to understand the Arab situation. Centuries under Ottoman but Muslim rule ended with the first Arab revolt, betrayed by Sykes-Picot, English and French foreign ministers, colonizing them (Palestine-Iraq, Syria-Lebanon) instead of the freedom promised for rising against Turkey. Italy got its part, Libya, after state terrorist aircraft bombing of oases in 1911.
Enters the second Arab revolt, against Western colonialism and secularism in North Africa and the Middle East, riding on decolonization. Egypt plays a leading role under Naguib-Nasser, nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956, then the French-English-Israeli attack on 29 October, 1956 when Hungary was aflame to reconquer the canal; then the lost war on Israel in June 1967, a failed union with Syria and the successful Nonaligned Movement.
Enters USA under Eisenhower-Dulles, canceling support to Israel, reproaching England-France; they withdrew. Why?
Because confrontation with the Soviet Union over Hungary had top NATO priority, and genuine anti-colonialism with England reminding them of the War of Independence 1775-1812, and to step into their shoes, expanding the US empire. And they stayed, in the Middle East more than in North Africa, till today.
Enters the third Arab revolt, essentially against the USA and local allies, mainly a shah installed by the West–CIA-MI6–in 1953, and other sustained kings and emirs. In 1969 Gadhafi followed Nasser, like him overthrew a corrupt kingdom, turned against Israel and the West, but then was counteracted by the West-King/Emir alliances. Ten years later Iran followed suit, replaced by Egypt by the USA. And Palestine, fighting a strong enemy, believing against evidence in USA as honest broker, while PLO is corrupted by Israel as shown by what Al Jazeera leaked.
What now happens may look like a political tsunami from Tunisia, but is filling in gaps, knocking out corrupt regimes.
Expand space, to understand where. Not only MENA but most of Asia had been colonized-modernized-secularized, with Islam in the shadows. Hence, USA is dealing not with 22 Arab countries with 350 million but with 57 Muslim countries with 1560 million. The US Embassy in Baghdad paid Saddam Hussein and his secular Ba’ath party, supported Turkey’s secular military dictatorship and a Western-Zoroaster dictatorship in Iran. So Khomeini, AKP, Al Qaeda, Hizbollah, Taliban all have Respect for Islam!, out of the shadows, Dead against secularization, in common. Not new.
How do USA and Israel operate? By letting Arab-Muslim elites repress and exploit if they deliver obedience; corruption is a small part of the iceberg. Ben Ali was useful to the USA as a link between the CIA and Solidarnosc as ambassador; and Gamal Mubarak was Bank of America representative. Two examples out of very many.
For the general population in many countries USA and Israel are remote but massive repression and exploitation are close. So the revolt in the Arab street, the Arab square! is primarily against autocrats and inequality-misery. Mainstream discourse picks up the political rights so we are fed one factor and not the economic rights and the USA-Israel global and regional empires.
From this broader discourse we can draw two conclusions.
First, the revolts will be strongest in countries lagging on all three; Tunisia, Egypt, Arab kingdoms-emirates (not Qatar) and others; they are under water or will be. Constitutional monarchies? Libya had a revolution so that revolt will not succeed. Had Nasser or his spirit been alive nobody would have fled from autocratic Egypt either; nor Syria (Lebanon testing waters), Turkey, Iran, but from Iraq-Pakistan-Afghanistan. The UN should mediate, respecting Libya’s 1969 revolution but not autocracy.
Second, empires explore fall-back positions, sacrificing top figures, leaving the oppressive body intact, with Camp David betrayal of Palestine and joint strangling of Gaza. Democracy without “islamists”, with Tzipi Livni’s “democracy code” that Israel would be the first to fail, is another. But more likely is US economic penetration through investment in oil contrives, to secure supplies, beat China, and make badly needed money. The USA might want the $70 billion Mubarak profit for themselves arguing that democracy is more efficient than state autocracy.
Mainstream discourse is buoyed by interests and the usual anomalies of the media. The focus is on events, not permanents, no sense of history-geography, and a philosophy of cause-effect, not of dialectics inside complex systems. No dismantling empires or coming to terms with islam, but lousy one-country-at-the-time politics. And USA not on the side of history, but out of touch.
14 March 2011
Speech delivered at George Mason University – Fairfax, VA, USA