Henri J. Barkey
One of the less memorable international events of the Christmas sea-
son was a Euro-Arab conference held in Paris. Twelve foreign ministers
from the European Community sat facing 20 or so of their counter-
parts from the League of Arab States. Advisers sitting behind them
passed forward freshly deciphered telegrams from Bucharest, which
traveled from hand to eager hand along the European side of the table.
Finally the French foreign minister, who was in the chair, interrupted
the proceedings to announce that Ceausescu had been overthrown. At
this news the Europeans burst into a spontaneous round of applause.
The Arab ministers, on their side, stayed silent and stony-faced.1
THE STONY SILENCE WITH WHICH ARAB FOREIGN MINISTERS REceived the news of Ceausescu’s fall was a reflection of the general ambivalence with which many Middle Eastern states and their leaders welcomed the demise of the Soviet bloc. For many the Soviet Union was a patron of primary importance. it could be relied upon to supply them with weapons, provide political support, and act as a buffer against U.S. interests or intentions. For others, including even those who despised the USSR and what it stood for, the USSR was a necessary evil that challenged the U.S. and, thereby, ensured continued U.S. interest in them and in their regional affairs.
As far as the states of the Middle East were concerned, immediately preceding and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow was an ally of the United States and of Western interests. Starved for funds and preoccupied with its transitional problems, the new Russia acted, at least for a while, more as a client of the West than a superpower. Although Moscow has decided to reassert itself in the region and is no longer as amenable to U.S. solicitations as before, it must achieve this from a weakened position; it has definitely lost its superpower status. Russia cannot afford to be generous, either with economic or military aid, toward the countries of the region. Perhaps more importantly, it also confronts a