Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Arab world, the West's interests trump its values

Read the first part of chapter five of Marwan Bishara's latest book, The Invisible Arab.

By Marwan Bishara

"Editor's note: This article is the third of a series of excerpts that Al Jazeera will be publishing from The Invisible Arab: The promise and peril of the Arab revolutions. You can also read an excerpt from the preface, from chapter one, L'Ancien Regime and from chapter two, The Miracle Generation.

Since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Western military and political interference has had a role in all major transformations in the Arab world and the region in general. After European colonialism redrew the fault lines and contours of the new Middle East and North African regions, the Cold War reshaped the region with the United States at the helm of interregional and even domestic affairs of most Arab countries. The United States, guided by imperial security doctrines, put itself centre-stage as the most powerful player in the Middle East.

Since 9/11, the US presence in the region reached a new summit, deepening regional divisions that threatened to further breakup of the Arab world and its states, as witnessed in Sudan, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Somalia. During this period, Washington toppled regimes, made destabilising alliances with the worst human rights offenders, monopolised regional diplomatic processes, intervened in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, invaded unfriendly nations, and deployed the world's greatest military in the name of US national security.

In turn, Arab leaders were forced to devise policies that put US reactions first. Historically, those who dared oppose Washington's dictates paid heavily for it, either directly or by proxy. From Egypt's Nasser to Iraq's Hussein through Arafat in Palestine, all were defeated, sanctioned, or isolated. Most other dictators courted the West and selectively adopted the US' neoliberal dictates while rejecting its democratic model......

Dictator-friendly Europe

The United States wasn't alone, though, in its ambivalence toward the Arab dictators. European powers, perhaps more so. Europe's accommodation and embrace of Arab dictators had little to do with so-called European values and had more to do with classic European expediency and neocolonial paternalism. In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy commended Ben Ali for the improved "sphere of liberties" at a time when human rights abuses were rampant in Tunisia....

Ballyhooing democracy, promoting business

The United States and Europe advanced similar imperial visions for the Middle East in the post-Cold War era. The United States hoped for "A New Middle East" around the vision of Shimon Peres (who, incidentally, wrote a book titled the same) that foresaw a leading role for the Jewish State of five million in a region of 250 million Arabs. Because the United States remained hostage to Israel's continued occupation of Arab lands, this new Middle East never got off the ground.....

In reality, the Arabs could hardly trust US rhetoric on democracy, knowing all too well that truly representative governments would oppose the US-Israel axis. Countless US-commissioned polls underlined Arab antagonism to Washington's designs on their region. Almost 80 per cent of the Arabs polled believed US military intervention increased terrorism and decreased the chances for peace, while almost 70 per cent doubted its sincerity in spreading democracy and reckoned it was motivated by an ambition for regional domination, while also preserving Israel's....."

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