Saturday, 10 May 2014

Absolute power in the Middle East is beneficial to the West

by Farooq Sumar

Monarchies, particularly the absolute kind are anathema to most of us, but political realism induces their acceptance even in this day and age. The muted and symbolic ones, mostly in the European Union, are a matter for the countries where they exist to see the cost-benefit ratio of their emotional needs. Our concern is with the absolute Monarchies, most of them exist in the Muslim Middle East, that adversely impact the fundamental rights of their people, the migrants that work for them and their actions in global politics that affect the region as well as the rest of us.

The Middle East’s present political and geographical map was carved by the British and French after defeating the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, according to the Sykes—Picot Agreement of 1916. Its aims were to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, divide Turkey, strip it and abolish the Caliphate and eradicate as much of its Islamic zeal as possible; In order to weaken Islam artificial countries were formed in the Middle East bereft of logical borders but with future possibilities of discord and each one was given a “King” or a “Ruler” dependent and firmly allied to its master’s interests, or a direct Mandate as in Syria and Palestine. Since the Crusades this was the only opportunity to tame the Muslim world and it could not be wasted. The British and French performed a thorough job that pays dividends even today for the Western alliance.

The outcome of the Second World War established the U.S.A. as the leading western power therefore the control of the Middle Eastern fiefdoms also passed to it. However with the Soviet Union’s emergence as a competing Superpower and the Cold War scenario from the 50’s to the 80’s some changes also took place in the Middle East, starting with the toppling of King Farouk’s debauched rule in Egypt by a left leaning military coup in 1952 and the emergence of Nasser, in Iran the nationalist Mossadegh was the first democratically elected Prime Minister in 1951 who nationalized the Anglo—Iran oil Company, followed by the Syrians entering into a pact with the Soviets.1958 brought an end to the Kingdom of Iraq as army officers took power inspired by Nasser, Later in 1969 Gaddafi toppled King Idris’s government.

Therefore between 1951 and 1958 the West had lost control of Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. While the return of Iran to the western fold was quickly managed through a MI6 and CIA organized coup which brought the Shah to power for an oppressive 25 years as the staunchest western ally and regional bully, the reclaiming of the others has taken up to half a century.

The debacle of 1967, death of Nasser in 1970 and the losses of the 1973 war ultimately led Sadat to betray the Arab stance on Palestine and make Egypt’s peace with Israel along with the inflow of billions from the Americans. Thus one more of the prodigals had returned with relatively little cost; however the suffering and oppression of the Egyptian people was to multiply under the draconian rule of Sadat and then Mubarak. After a very brief experiment of democracy with the elected President Morsi, Egypt’s Army is back in the saddle, with the blessings of the West, in a bloody coup that has cost around 3,000 lives.

Iraq’s pendulum kept swinging between the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1958 and 1990, however Saddam had been instigated, supported and armed by the West in the Iraq—Iran war of the 80’s. The Gulf war of 1991 brought the relationship to an abrupt end and finally culminated in the illegal occupation of Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. and U.K. that has led to almost a million Iraqis dead, gross human rights violations and war crimes by the occupiers. Iraq’s infrastructure and economy are destroyed, a sectarian divide fostered by the west has torn the country asunder and its prospects of recovery are at least a few decades away. So at great cost to Iraq it is back in the fold.

The wily and unpredictable Gaddafi could neither be trusted by friend nor predicted by foe therefore was considered unstable and dangerous by all. After openly supporting freedom movements in South Africa, Palestine, Northern Ireland and others throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s he cooled down to mending fences with the West from around 2003 and was on track. Probably the Arab Spring provided the cover and the excuse for engineering an “uprising” in Benghazi in 2011 which finally murdered Gaddafi and destroyed Libya leaving it in the hands of a weak pro-western regime grappling with unruly and armed militias. But the west finally had Libya in its bag, regardless of the misery and suffering of the Libyan people, not to mention the immense loss of lives which still continues.

That left two of the hardest nuts to crack in the Middle East, Syria and Iran. An “uprising” against the Syrians was invented again under the garb of the Arab Spring and saboteurs made the sleepy border town of Darra (on the Jordanian border) as their launching pad in 2011, thus began the last three years assault and near destruction of Syria for achieving a regime change. Over 150,000 deaths, proliferation of extremists of all shades brought in by the West and its allies committing brutal murders and barbaric executions. The regime change may not happen as the Syrian government is regaining control, but Syria has been sufficiently damaged politically, economically, socially and infrastructure wise that it will spend a few decades licking its wounds without a regional or global political role.

Iran broke loose in 1979 to become a theocratic state with a resolute policy of independence in domestic and foreign affairs that was staunchly anti-west. Many attempts, overt and covert have been made by the US and Israel to destabilize Iran with no success. Now the nuclear issue is awaiting a nail biting race for peace or an excuse for the west to wage war.

The compliant and mostly complacent Monarchs and Rulers of the Middle East have often been a colourful lot, not always competent and many of them more interested in enjoying the splendours of life that their wealth puts at their disposal. The incompetence and profligate lifestyle of King Saud almost bankrupted the Kingdom when he was finally ousted by his brother King Faisal in 1964. The most famous of all the playboy royals was Prince Fahad, soon to be king, found in all types of casinos squandering his millions with a bevy of women on each arm and a drunken stupor forcing clubs to remain open until he was done. Immense wealth expropriated from the energy resources of the state and personal business empires meant that anything could be bought from women to palaces anywhere in the world, from jet planes to corporations and $ 100 million yachts.

 What a life! Not a care for the people they ruled and oppressed, not a care for the women they enslaved under archaic customs and traditions. Not a care for God and His Prophet’s (pbuh) clear instructions and teachings that they pay lip service to at least five times a day.  For a playboy King to take on the self styled title of “Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques” is a mockery of Islam. And now the Saudi royal family is using its wealth and brandishing the sword to push its largely rejected sect of wahabism posing as some kind of custodians of Islam. Such audacity and hypocrisy cannot be tolerated.

Created, protected through treaties, nurtured and pampered by Western powers, not to forget foisted and maintained on the people also by them. All the Monarchies and Emirates, namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain owe their thrones to western support. In return the immense natural resources of the Middle East are put at the disposal of the West, while a great majority of purchases including defence are from the West. It is quite laughable that these small countries are made to buy such quantities for their relatively small populations. It is difficult not to think of the Al Yamamah arms deal of 1986 with Britain, also known as “the biggest and most controversial arms deal of the century” worth $ 90 billion. These funds were diverted from allocations made to building hospitals, schools, universities and roads. Why did the Saudis need such immense quantities of arms? There were serious allegations of bribes paid to some royals and an investigation in Britain was abruptly halted after Saudi threats. One presumes some amount of fooling and cheating the buyer and greasing of the palms is standard practice for the British government and its corporations when it comes to dealing with their creations. It would not be wrong to say that over the decades the Middle East has been robbed of trillions of dollars in two way trade—the price the people of the region pay for the relationship between the West and their rulers.

Therefore once again the Middle East is compliant, except for Iran, by the umbilical connection of its friendly rulers or the crushing of the foes which provides the west control over its energy resources ensures its dominance as a trade partner and removes obstacles in its plans for getting its way on the Palestine issue. Of course such compliance is not possible with independent and/or democratically elected governments, therefore the West prefers absolute and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East.


The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.