Early solutions in the Middle East are like mirages on the desert horizon
The Middle East’s depressing political landscape presents an opportunity for the EU to make a greater contribution
A man walks amid tear gas during clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Morsi following a demonstration in Cairo last Friday. Photograph: Mahmoud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images
A hundred years ago, an Arab spring was something in the suspension of a bicycle saddle. In a few years’ time its current incarnation may be just as obsolete.
Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria all had their moments in the sun but the spring has largely turned to winter. Iraq too continues to illustrate on an almost daily basis the folly and horrors of the 2003 US-UK invasion as Sunni-Shia antagonisms have killed at least 8,000 people this year alone to add to the close to half a million war-related deaths in the previous nine years. So much for George W Bush’s “mission accomplished”.
Syria has largely degenerated into a slugging match between the Assad government forces and various pro-al-Qaeda myrmidons, each vying with the other to perform greater atrocities and demonstrate maximum ruthlessness. One al-Qaeda group recently accidentally beheaded one of the other allied militia leaders, as he failed to realise he was in friendly hands and begged to be executed. They obliged.
It’s good to know that the Middle Ages are still alive and well in the Middle East. The prospect of an early political solution there seems to be receding like a desert mirage.
Egypt is a classic example of western doublethink and intellectual incoherence. While western countries raced to outdo each other in denouncing their former best friend in the region, Hosni Mubarak, for running a dictatorship (what did they think he had been running for most of his 30 years in power?), they remained largely silent as the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown in a military coup.
Only it can’t be called a coup in the US since that would mean the government would be obliged to cut off all aid. (An alternative reading which I favour is that Morsi came to power on a false prospectus, having been elected on a platform of ruling for all Egyptians but then laying the foundations of a theocratic state.
His cavalier attitude to democracy was best illustrated by his rewriting of the constitution after provoking the resignation or dismissing more than half of those who were supposed to be involved in drafting it, specifically women and representatives of the minorities.)
What US military aid ($1.3 billion) has been suspended has been replaced tenfold by contributions from the gulf states, who have not of course failed to notice that the West specialises in abandoning its former firm allies as soon as it deems it politically expedient to do so.
Russia has also returned to the frame. Its lamentable domestic human rights policies orchestrated by President Vladimir Putin stand in sharp contrast to foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s deft footwork both in putting together a package on the destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons endorsed by the UN Security Council after two years of deadlock (largely of Russia’s making) and in orchestrating a “historic” rapprochement with Egypt.