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A Feeble Middle East

The rise of Shi’ite Islam under Iran’s leadership necessitated encouragement to Sunni Islam, to step into the breach versus Iran. The conclusion was simple: From the Arab world – which is mostly Sunni – no salvation will come either for the Arab world or for the Western world.
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Salman Masalha

A Feeble Middle East

The king of terror is dead. He has many heirs in this region. They will crop up on the backdrop of the Arab world’s continuing failure to cope with modernity. This is a world that has been raised on the recitation of tales from a glorious past, but when it looks around it is astonished to find it is now somewhere near the lowest rung of the ladder. The point of contact between the imagined past and the degenerate present is the bottomless source of terror.

When the dust of battle has settled, everything will get rolling in the region again. Something interesting is happening here. On the one hand, NATO aircraft are killing Gadhafi’s son and some of his grandchildren. They have come to the aid of the Libyan people – that is what they all say. On the other side of the Mediterranean the “enlightened” world is not lifting a finger in light of the slaughter Bashar Assad is perpetrating among his people.

What does Gadhafi have that Assad doesn’t have? Why is he getting pressured personal treatment and the deployment of crushing force? Is this because Libya is Europe’s backyard and has lots of oil, whereas Syria has hardly any black gold? Is this the way of the hypocritical “enlightened” world?

Gadhafi is not a worse dictator than Assad. The difference between the two is like the difference between bubonic plague and cholera. Compared to those two Arab tyrants, Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Egyptian president, will be considered a pussycat and a pacifist.
And maybe there is something else here. In the Western world they’ve learned a thing or two during the past decade about the ways of life in the Arab world. This world, with all its types of regimes, has utterly failed the test of creating a nation state worthy of the name. The failure is seen on every screen. The revolts do not testify to a new Middle East at the gates but rather to a feeble Middle East. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are only three strong nation states in the Middle East: Iran, Turkey an Israel. The common denominator shared by the three is that they are not Arab.

The West learned on its own flesh that this region conducts itself by other codes. Iran has continued to entrench its standing by means of its religious ideology. The toppling of Saddam Hussein shattered the illusion of the existence of a unifying “Iraqi identity” and gave an encouraging shot in the arm to Iran, which is forging ahead.

Thus in the West they realized it was necessary to rethink the region and act accordingly. The rise of Shi’ite Islam under Iran’s leadership necessitated encouragement to Sunni Islam, to step into the breach versus Iran. The conclusion was simple: From the Arab world – which is mostly Sunni – no salvation will come either for the Arab world or for the Western world.

Thus the way was paved for the rise of Turkish Sunni Islam. This was accomplished by weakening the power of the Turkish army, the guardian of Ataturk’s secular constitution and by Europe turning its back and posing obstacles to Turkey’s entry into the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party were glad of the role that became incumbent on them to fill. This is because the Turkish Islamists dream of the restoration of Ottoman glory. The slogan of concern for the Palestinians has always served as opium for the oppressed Arab masses. The Turks learned this method. The Turkish flotilla that set out for Gaza and the one that is planned are means for improving Turkey’s stature in the eyes of the Sunni Arab masses. And all this is in order to position Turkey as a counterweight to Iranian influence.

In this way it is possible to understand why United States President Barack Obama decided to address the Arab world through Turkey in his first speech. These days he is making a point of contacting Erdogan and expressing his concern about what is happening in Syria.

At the end of March a secret meeting took place in Ankara between the head of the Central Intelligence Agency and his Turkish counterpart. The two discussed the future of the Syrian regime, the situation in Libya, the relations between Israel and Turkey, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters of mutual interest. The head of the Turkish intelligence agency met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Erdogan, too, went on a visit to Iraq and discussed the status of the Sunnis there. He met with the Shi’ite leader ‘Ali Sistani and discussed the uprising in Bahrain.

It appears the world has come to the conclusion that there is nothing new in the Arab world. This is a weak and irremediable world. Only an Arab reckoning of conscience will distance the region from the danger.

published: Haaretz, May 6, 2011
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