Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Allies Fall as Arabs Demand Freedom and Justice

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Allies Fall as Arabs Demand Freedom and Justice

Article excerpt

Is the cost in human dignity for 80 million Egyptians an acceptable exchange for Mubarak's imprimature on the so-called "peace process?"-Prof. Charles Hirschkind, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2011.

All the regimes are shaking now. This is just the beginning.-Fawaz Traboulsi, Lebanese journalist, Feb. 11, 2011.

The neocons who masterminded the U.S. invasion of Iraq predicted that once Saddam Hussain was ousted, other Arab regimes hostile to the U.S. and Israel would fall like dominos and be replaced by free market states friendly to Israel and the West. The theorists were half right. Dominos were blown over in a storm of protests that began in Tunisia and swept through the Arab Middle East-but they were not falling in the direction the neocons hoped.

Instead, people who had suffered too long from crushing poverty and humiliation were able, by pressure of their numbers, to topple two powerful U.S. allies, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Although both were autocrats who presided over corrupt regimes, they were regarded in Washington and Jerusalem as dependable allies.

Other Arab rulers closely allied with Washington felt the ground shake as well. Demonstrations in Jordan and Yemen forced King Abdullah to broaden his government to include members of the Muslim Brotherhood and vow to give the public a greater role in decision-making. Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised he would not run for re-election in 2013, as demands that he leave continued. Mass demonstrations are taking place even in normally quiet Bahrain, the home port of the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet.

The mostly young crowds that gathered in the streets of Middle East cities in late January and February were calling for democracy, jobs and an end to corruption and police brutality, including torture. In rejecting their rulers, the protesters were challenging U.S. Middle East policy as well. While Israel was promoting itself as "the Middle East's only democracy," the U.S. was supporting and arming any Middle East dictator, no matter how brutal, as long as he posed no threat to Israel

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described the dilemma facing President Barack Obama: "The problem for America is, you can balance being the carrier for the Israeli agenda with Arab autocrats, but with Arab democracies you can't do that." Larry Diamond, director of Stanford University's Center on Democracy and the Rule of Law, disagrees. "Most protesters resent Israel's treatment of the Palestians and want an independent Palestinian state," he wrote in the Feb. 19 San Francisco Chronicle. "But mainly they want to transform their own country, politically and economically." Argued Diamond, "a democracy will produce a much more reliable partner for peace."

Because the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies failed to foresee the seismic shift about to take place, the Obama administration was caught off balance when the uprisings began. As the crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square grew steadily larger and more angry, the Obama administration wavered between sympathy and alarm. White House officials who talked daily with the Israelis shared a mutual concern that if the Egyptians held free elections the Muslim Brotherhood was certain to be part of the new government. It is an outcome that pro-Israel groups in the U.S. and their allies in Congress bitterly oppose.

The Brotherhood renounced violence years ago, but in any case Egyptian polls show it with only a 15 percent approval rating, and their spokesman said the party would not seek a majority in parliament. According to Shadi Hamid, a fellow of the Brookings Center in Qatar, the Brotherhood hates al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda hates the Brotherhood. "So if we're talking about counterterrorism," Hamid said, "engaging with the Brotherhood will advance our interests in the region."

Israel and its supporters, however, were prepared to suspect any replacement of Mubarak who enjoyed popular support. …

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