International

Arab Double-Standard takes Inspiration from American Model

Those naive enough to have been impressed by Obama’s rhetoric on Arab uprising, and believed that traditional American double-standard is a thing of the past, need to revisit their knowledge of a long history of US deceptions in the Arab world.

 Washington’s chameleon-like postures on currently the three major uprisings hogging the stage of global attention and concern-namely those in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain-is a case in point and should be used as a refresher by the more gullible of observers of the Arab scene.

Expectations and hopes of a casting-off of the American policy of taking one step forward and two steps backward in regard to Arab aspirations-a policy endemically practiced with impunity since the birth of Israel-may have been whetted, momentarily, by what was no doubt a bold and categorical stand Obama took-and took it early-in the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship.

Egypt was important. It was sensitive. Not because Obama had suddenly felt a pang of remorse or tinge of empathy for the Egyptian people oppressed by Washington’s favourite tyrant among the Arabs. No, it was none of that. But the neo cons and empire dreamers who have taken control of the Obama White House just as they had expropriated it under his clueless predecessor felt nervous about the fallout of an extended Egyptian ferment on Israel and its security, something sacred and sacrosanct to them. So Obama wasted no time in pulling the plug on Mubarak in order to gain the goodwill of those in revolt against him, and thus ensured that there would be no threat in foreseeable future to the status quo on Israel.

But the habitual double-standard has come back roaring in the three crises now riveting the attention of the world, on Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.

Libya has long been fair game to Washington for adventure. Qaddafi’s maverick and erratic behaviour on the international stage made the task of going after him easy for any adventurer looking to whack him. Ronald Reagan, a cold-warrior par excellence, clubbed his compound with bombs back in 1986 to teach him a lesson. Qaddafi got the message but not entirely, it seems in the light of his unmitigated repression of his own people.

So Qaddafi’s monumental folly has played right into the hands of a Washington where the hawks had just been waiting for such a chance to have another go at Libya, this time, of course, with the Arabs under the Arab League themselves pleading for it.

Washington’s initial foot-dragging on a ‘no fly zone’ over Libya was entirely tactical. Giving it time was meant to add to the sense of disquiet and unease of those concerned with the suffering of the Libyans at the receiving end of Qaddafi’s wrath. The Obama administration cleverly used the rising angst over Qaddafi’s relentless persecution of the rebels against his repressive regime to play for a wider scope of operation against the tyrant. In the end they got it just the way they wanted it from the beginning: a free hand to use whatever coercive means necessary to put an end to Qaddafi’s murderous forays against the lightly armed and little-organised rebels.

The military strikes US has launched, with UN Security Council resolution 1973 safely tucked under its belt, against Qaddafi’s targets and military installations are clearly disproportionate to what was the intent of the Arab League when it made what many are now interpreting as the ‘error’ to ask for western military intervention against Qaddafi to check his murderous raids against the ill-equipped Libyans gathered at Benghazi and other pockets of resistance.

It’s too early to say how long the western military assault-spearheaded by US, Britain and France, the traditional imperialists-would continue against Qaddafi’s hobbled and shaky regime. The maverick has lately been showing signs of having gone completely insane, so much so that he doesn’t seem to have any inkling of the long-term designs of those currently masquerading as friends and sympathizers of the Libyan people.

Libya was and is a safe bet for western imperialists to have a go at for more reasons than one.

It’s a country with enormous mineral wealth and its proximity to Europe adds to its value as a long-term source of oil and gas. But much more than that, for Washington’s Israel-friendly policy planners Libya is no threat to Israel-never was even when Qaddafi was splurging his vast resources on bank-rolling insurgencies in far-off places like Northern Ireland, the Philippines et al. Qaddafi’s rants and bombastic never caused sleepless nights in Tel Aviv or Washington.

However, when Qaddafi goes-and it’s only a question of time not if-and a grateful new regime beholden to the west takes hold in Libya, it wouldn’t simply be a new beach-head of western hegemony in the region but would also help in keeping a check on a hopefully democratic Egypt that may not be as accommodating to Israeli belligerency in the region as a puppet like Mubarak was.

Yemen, which has been in ferment for several weeks, is a more blatant example of American double-standard than Libya.

Ali Abdullah Saleh is no less a tyrant than Qaddafi and his rule over Yemen no more tolerant of civil liberties or human rights than, say, Saudi Arabia. But Yemen has trimmed its sails since 9/11 to float under the American winds. Saleh has been a valuable ally and asset of some consequence to what was the ‘war against terror’ to Bush but has been re-christened by Obama as a ‘long war.’ He’s a lynch-pin of US crusade against Al-Qaeda in Yemen and thus worth his weight in gold to Washington.

No wonder that Obama hasn’t, to date, deployed the rhetoric against Saleh that he has been using with relish against Qaddafi. No demand against Saleh to go or listen to the loud yearnings of the Yemeni people, who have obviously had enough of Saleh’s brutal rule, has been heard with any consistency from Washington or other western capitals..

Security concerns, so vital and uppermost in any policy preference or projection to the neo cons, is still ruling the roost with the Obama planners and trumping the Yemenis’ hankering for freedom and liberty. They want to get rid of Saleh’s yoke but Obama doesn’t want Saleh to go unless there’s another strong-man waiting in the wings to furnish guarantees that Saleh’s gamesmanship in the war on terror would be his strongest suit, too. To Obama, apparently, Saleh’s repression is kosher while Qaddafi’s is unpalatable.

But the worst-case scenario is in Bahrain, which, by implication, represents the most appalling example of Washington’s double-standard in regard to Arab uprisings in various countries of ME.

The Shiias of Bahrain, 70 percent of its population, have lived for decades under a repressive regime, led by the Khalifas who hailed from the same desert region of the Arabian Peninsula which has been the provenance of Al Sauds of Saudi Arabia.

The Khalifas have relentlessly persecuted their majority Shiia population. Such is the extent of their abuse that although they make up a clear majority of the populace their share in government jobs is an abysmal 13 %, that too of insignificant positions.

The Shiia representation in the largely-nominated (by the king) Bahraini Assembly is a pittance of what should be their stake in terms of their numbers in the tiny state’s population. The Assembly is largely a cosmetic thing, or rather a tool in the hands of the ruling cabal.

For years, Shiias of Bahrain have been denied permission to build new mosques. So treacherous is the ruling clan of Bahrain that the entire top tier of the Shiia leadership, some recently allowed to return from years of exile, has been quickly rounded up and consigned to the dungeons on spurious charges of sedition.

For US, Bahrain is a prized asset, in terms of its logistical value, as home to the US 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf to guarantee US domination of the countries around it, especially Iran.

Iran’s being a Shiia state and its historical lien on Bahrain is a thorn in the side of not only US and Bahrain but, more significantly, for Saudi Arabia. Iran’s alleged interference in Bahrain also comes in handy as an alibi for repression.

The induction of a thousand-strong Saudi military brigade into the Bahraini cauldron is a clear violation of Bahraini sovereignty and a blatant attempt to snuff out the Bahraini people’s resistance to repression. Peaceful protests of the people are being put down with brute force. Al Jazeera has been showing graphic scenes of violence perpetrated against the protestors by security forces; even doctors and ambulances aren’t spared.

The Saudi angst over the deteriorating Bahraini crisis is understandable. One concern is about the political mileage that Iran clearly stands to make out of any loosening of the ruling elite’s grip over a restive Bahraini populace.

But a more troubling scenario for the Saudis is the fallout of the Bahraini ferment on their own eastern provinces, abetting on the oil producing Gulf coast, where the Shiias predominate. Ever since the founding of Saudi Arabia 80 years ago, the Shiias of the eastern provinces have been given a rough deal and relentlessly denied the freedom to fashion their lives according to their beliefs and values. The Saudi ruling elite apparently dreads the ripple effect of the Bahraini uprising on their own Shiias and are desperate to pre-empt the development of a similar movement on their side of the Causeway built by the Saudis years ago to link up with Bahrain.

It’s obvious that for Saudi Arabia Bahrain is a first line of defence against ideas of freedoms and democracy alien to the Saudi lexicon. As such, for the Saudi ruling cabal a red line must be drawn underneath Bahrain which must not be allowed to be crossed or ignored. Hence the justification, in their convoluted perception, for Saudi Arabia responding to the ‘call’ from Bahrain for military help to put down the popular uprising of the Bahraini people.

Washington is at one with the Saudis in their efforts to put out the fire of people’s discontent. Once again the untenable argument of security trumping human freedoms is being bandied about and put in force to the chagrin of those who may have thought Obama had made a commitment to the Arabs, in his 2009 speech from Cairo, to help usher in an era of democracy and liberty in the Arab world.

Appalling as Washington’s palpable double-standard is, it’s not the only one presently hogging the political stage. Arab leaders are also in the market hawking their own double-standard with little shame or remorse. They were quick to raise their voices in support of the Libyan protestors because Qaddafi of Libya is obnoxious, uncouth, and has been a gad-fly for long. They thought they’d at last been given a chance to get equal with him and pay him back in his own coin.

But there’s none of that concern or alacrity to defuse a crisis in evidence in regard to the oppressed Yemenis or the persecuted Bahrainis. The Arab League Secretary-General Amer Mousa-who has already announced his intent to run in the next presidential election in his native Egypt-tilted at all the windmills to ram a resolution through the League in support of a no-fly zone over Libya. However, he or anybody else in the League establishment hasn’t shown any appetite for a similar move in regard to Bahrain or Yemen.

No observer of the great uprising of the Arab peoples against their repressive and autocratic rulers can afford to not comment on the yawning gap between the people and their rulers still getting wider despite so much upheaval and turbulence. The rulers are still relying on brute force, and its unrestrained use, to cow down the people demanding their human rights and freedoms. This can only exacerbate the people’s frustration and lead to more violence and blood-shed. The massacre of 50 demonstrators in Sana, the Yemeni capital, in one day, could just be the first fire from an exploding inferno.

What these myopic Arab leaders don’t seem to appreciate or understand is the price the Arab world as a whole will eventually be paying for their cupidity. The mileage and extra clout, in power and influence over the Arab world that their insensitivity to the legitimate demands of their people would yield to the western powers is obviously something beyond their abysmally limited geo-political comprehension. The western powers seem quite happy to let these out-of-touch-with-reality Arab rulers stew in their own juices.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2011 on page no. 26

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