Vying for Power in the New ‘Middle East’ Order

By Hamid Chaudry (NEW Blog Contributor)- The scenes from Egypt and the Middle East are unfolding before our very eyes, almost too fast to scribe. These momentous events will do more to shape the future of not only the Middle East, but also global politics, consigning the previous despotic thirty year rule to a postscript in history.

What is apparent is that each of the players in this crucial game has her own interests, and each is attempting to influence events to her advantage.

Hosni Mubarak has vowed to ‘die on his own soil’; brazenly challenging those elements who would like to see him join Ben-Ali in Saudi. This eerie prediction may still prove to be true, but is unlikely to be in a manner of his choosing, especially if the anti-Mubarak protestors get their way. He is stubbornly clinging on to power, and responding in the way he knows best, unleashing his secret police and cronies to physically challenge the hereto peaceful protestors.

He has shown his hand….initially blocking communication networks to try and disrupt the peaceful protestors, progressing to harassing journalists and the media, then to releasing convicted criminals and thugs to attack the unarmed crowds. To date, all these strong arm tactics have failed.

The European powers have shown their hand, and faced with ever-growing protests, have chosen to act collectively in calling for an ‘immediate transition’, i.e. code for an immediate stand down by President Mubarak. No doubt they are hoping to force the United States to show her hand also, rather than trying to manipulate events behind the scenes.

Israel has also expressed her unabashed stance, not difficult given that their one true ally in the Arab world has been Hosni Mubarak. Dan Gillerman, former Israeli ambassador to the UN said Israel feared ‘…the prospect of, God forbid, an autocratic, fundamentalist, Islamic organisation taking over in Egypt…’ Although proud of its own democracy, Israel is not so keen on what democracy could deliver on its doorstep.

The poor US, hitherto superpower, has been caught with its proverbial pants down, and finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unable to deny her support for the tyrant for the last thirty years, the US tacitly approved the oppression, incarceration, torture and murder of any credible political opposition (particularly Ikhwani Muslimeen, the Muslim Brotherhood). This has been justified by her wider interests in the region, such as stability, peace with Israel etc. However, given the legitimate and peaceful stance the Egyptian masses have adopted, the US is in no position to deny them their right to peaceful protest, and free and fair elections. No doubt the ongoing private discussions between US, Israel and Egypt differ from the sanitized message the US diplomats deliver publicly.

What is now apparent is that Hosni Mubarak’s tenure as dictator is coming to an end. Whether this is next week or in September later this year remains to be seen. What is less clear is the nature of the succeeding government. Given Mubarak’s no frills style of government, he, and his western allies, have actually unwittingly ensured that there is no credible opposition to take the helm at this hour of need.

So who are the protestors? What are their demands? Who do they represent?

The reality is the protestors are ordinary Egyptians, who, after thirty years of harsh repression and having witnessed the overthrow of a dictator in nearby Tunisia, have found the courage to stand up and demand their basic rights. The right to safety, security and peace. The right to education and progress. The right to work.  The right to earn an honest livelihood for their families. The right to choose their own destiny. They are Muslim. They are Copt. Young and old, male and female.

They demand the same as their Arab brothers across the Middle East, in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi, Syria, Morocco and Bahrain. They want an alternative to the oppressive regimes that have fostered poverty and backwardness in the same lands which were once the centres of learning for the entire world. That alternative is justice. That alternative is dignity. That alternative is progress. Some may try to give the alternative a label….freedom, democracy, human rights. Slogans will no longer suffice. They have heard these slogans for more than a generation without tasting the fruits. Now is the time for tasting.

Whatever system can deliver these, that is what they are calling for. Perhaps these people have realised that only Islam can truly fulfil their aspirations? The will of the Muslims, to live by Islam, the religion of their choice, is a prospect the foreign powers are not willing to entertain.

What the last thirty and more years has taught the Egyptians and their fellow Arabs is that the so-called independence they gained after the withdrawal of their European masters in the 20th century has been an illusion. Their bondage has continued, albeit in another form. Their new masters are supported by those same foreign powers who physically exited the lands, however left behind the structures that would ensure subservience continued. The protestors voice their hatred not only for Mubarak and his regime, but also for America and Israel, who they realise are equal partners in perpetuating their suffering.

Today, we hear the same language. Blair (sorry for the typo) is openly calling for ‘…partnering this process of change and help manage it….’ This is from someone who feels Mubarak has been a ‘…force for good….’ Do you think the Egyptian people feel the same, Mr Blair?

In reality, the consequences of their policies are now bearing its fruit. These popular uprisings across the whole of the Arab lands are those fruits.

The ‘foreign forces’ continue to make the same mistake. Their allegiance is only to their interests, not their purported values of freedom, democracy, human rights. All these are dispensable to secure their battle against the implementation of Islam in the Muslim world, achieved through ensuring Israel remains the regional superpower amongst a subjugated and divided Arab population.

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