As the Arab Spring turns into summer, the counter-revolution is winning. Tyrants – but not systems – are down in Tunisia and Egypt. The Libyan “revolution” is a sham: North Atlantic Treaty Organization air war plus Western spooks/special forces helping dodgy defectors/exiles on the ground. Bahrain, Yemen and Syria have been popular defeats.
As far as Washington and selected European capitals are concerned, “stability” prevails; as in Israel and Saudi Arabia, as pillars, now that Egypt has wobbled; and the oil-drenched Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club, also known as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is solid as Himalayan rock. No revisionism allowed. “Democracy”, yes – as long as it is not a threat to “Western interests”.
And yet what lurks in the shadows tells us more about what’s to come. Call it the secret life of Arabia.
Unfit for the guillotine, so far
Take Qatar – in the spotlight, again, because non-Federation Internationale de Football Association (football’s governing body) sources swear the emirate bought the 2022 World Cup. Yet Doha has some more pressing balls to kick – as in the emir of Qatar visiting Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to gently ask him to refrain from resupplying Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya with scores of tanks and armored vehicles.
It all depends on who’s really running the show in Algeria – Bouteflika or “rogue” weapons merchants, tempted by Gaddafi’s oil funds and a 1,100 kilometer-long desert border perfect for smuggling.
The GCC is unanimous; it wants Gaddafi gone. Qatar is the face of GCC in Libya. Qatari fighter jets are part of the strike force of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Qatari advisers are deep inside Misrata alongside the “rebels”. Qatar is also maneuvering its soft power towards Assad’s Syria; an infuriated Damascus has just cancelled more than US$6.4 billion in Qatari projects in Syria.
And this while the number of Syrians killed by President Bashar al-Assad’s repression machine has now surpassed the number of Egyptians killed by Hosni Mubarak’s repression machine. By the body count law that draws the difference between “rogue” regimes and “our” bastards, Assad should be ready for the guillotine. The problem is the Anglo-French-American consortium has not found an “acceptable” alternative to Assad (there isn’t any); thus the bland sanctions, and the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, Qatar is convincing the GCC to open a Middle East Development Bank – inspired by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) – to, essentially, support Arab Spring-practitioner states to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually. No GCC bigwig will remark on the irony that the bank won’t deal with the zero-democratic GCC itself.
The House of Saud is now cool, calm and collected – confident it will soon fully enjoy its $60 billion weapons deal with Washington while the United Kingdom already trains its National Guard, deployed to maxim repression effect in neighboring Bahrain.
According to the British Ministry of Defense, it’s all about “weapons, field craft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”. All of the above very handy in Bahrain.
Saudi King Abdullah may hate Gaddafi’s guts, but as far as Syria’s Assad is concerned – no matter the body count – he’s moving one sand dune at a time, savoring the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syria. In Libya, the House of Saud cannot but relish the heavy Islamist contingent featuring in the “rebel” transitional council, which by the way has refused to reveal the identities of most of its members.
The House of Saud went directly to Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Central Asian “stans” for diplomatic support – and perhaps the odd weaponry – to crush the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. How not to relish the dark prospect of hardcore Wahhabis discussing with their good friends of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence how to go from crowd control to kidnapping and the odd target assassination.
Or maybe the juicier part is the American reaction – that this perpetual, ultra-reactionary Pak-Saudi alliance is interfering with Washington’s push to “guide popular uprisings” towards a “democratic conclusion”. Who’s fooling who?
Trojan Horse in da house
The Syrian uprising is by a measure of at least 80% a youth movement, mostly secular, with a motto that could be summed up as “all united without displaying party, confessional or ethnic symbols”. The top rumor in Damascus is that everything one hears is rumor.
What is certain is that these youngsters are being shot at in droves by the Assad repression machine; the Alawites are scared to death; pro-government militias are inciting chaos even by attacking the army and the police; and the bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo has not made their move yet – they know this is a slow burning process.
In Bahrain, professional women, many in their early 20s, are being arrested at their work places. Many have disappeared into military-style prisons. Those few who have been released denounce hardcore sexual harassment and even torture.
Talk about a GCC member using torture against its women to crush a pro-democracy movement. That’s a certified upgrade on Saudi Arabia being routinely described as the world’s largest women’s prison.
The House of Saud has its hands full with Egypt as well – now that the Egyptian Military Council has been handed a cool $4 billion by Riyadh. It’s enlightening to know that Field Marshall Tantawi – the current, “transitional” strongman in Cairo – was the Egyptian Defense Attache in Pakistan during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s.
So Tantawi is an ISI darling, as well as a Saudi Prince Bandar darling. With Tantawi as a House of Saud Trojan Horse, his bet for Egypt is much more Muslim Brotherhood than secular Tahrir Square.
That happens to square off beautifully with Washington’s own (not so secret) burning desire: a Pakistani model for Egypt, with the army in the background and a facade civilian government run by Islamic parties who won in the ballot box. But this mildly Islamic regime would only be acceptable if it were to kowtow to neo-liberalism and the Camp David accords with Israel.
The House of Saud subscribes to this project for a very simple reason. The House of Saud knows its supposed hegemony in the Arab world only holds as long as Egypt is kept politically insignificant. And the way to accomplish this is via an islamicization – the Wahhabi way – of the state and politics as a whole. Tahrir Square, hopefully, will fight it to death. At least there may be a few reasons to expect not such a bleak, upcoming Arab Summer.