By Sharmine Narwani
Note: The Arabic “Irhal,” which means “Leave” or “Go away,” is the most powerful slogan of the Arab Awakening that has emerged through much of the Middle East and North Africa since January 2011. It has been chanted against dictators in street protests in every Arab nation facing popular discontent.
The Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday demanded the immediate departure of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa amidst growing international criticism of mass human rights violations in Bahrain.
Iran announced it is taking the lead in pushing through a binding resolution by the 118-member state Non Allied Movement (NAM) to sanction the import of oil products and pearls from the Bahraini island state and has leveraged its web of global relationships to sanction members of the Khalifa family and their closest financial and political allies in order to squeeze the nation’s economy and hasten the demise of the ruling clan.
For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed a joint initiative by the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard (IRRG) and the country’s armed forces to position Shahab and Fajr missiles in Iraq and Syria, and to train opposition forces in all six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to mount defensive and offensive strategies to undermine the Bahraini regime.
Sounds familiar? Hint: Yee-haw.
As popular, street-based movements to force domestic reforms sweep through the Arab world, the only fixed criteria in this widespread social “experiment” is the dogged interventions of the United States and its allies.
From Tunisia to Bahrain to Syria to Yemen to Egypt to Libya, US footprints mar the otherwise indigenous Arab political sandstorms hurling through the region.
Noble initiatives to hasten much-needed political reform and economic stimulus would be welcomed with open arms by most Arabs. But the United States has shown little interest in these developmental essentials, instead focusing entirely on a strategic holy trinity:
1) Unfettered access to cheap oil
2) Advancing Israeli hegemony over its Arab neighbors
3) Regime-change in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Why is this ham-fisted shortlist the only driver of our Mideast foreign policy? The core of our problem is that the halls of policymaking in Washington are filled with ideologues, not area specialists. Our decision makers therefore follow political agendas — usually attached with an umbilical cord to pro-Israel interest groups – and not nuanced diplomatic imperatives that could foster positive relations based on universal values and respect for national sovereignty.
There is not one thing on this list that seeks to promote a better life for Arabs. In fact, in order to achieve its goals cost-effectively and efficiently, Washington must dig into the bag of old colonial dirty tricks:
1) Nurturing and establishing an elite class/regime to administer US interests. There is no better recent example of this than the creation of the Palestinian Authority, but one could just as well look to the regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to understand why we are still stuck repeating the Washington-born narratives that characterizes these nations as the “Moderate Arab States.”
2) Divide-and-rule. The US and its “moderate” allies are frequently caught fanning the flames of what I call the Arab world’s three “Stinkbombs” — Islamism versus secularism, Shia versus Sunni, and Arabs versus Iranians.
3) Weaponizing our loyalists. The US’s regional allies are provided with everything they need to quell domestic discontent and deter the imaginary Iranian “expansionism” without posing any military threat to Israel.
4) Create dependencies. The goal here is to ensure that regional states are never economically self-sufficient and remain active marketplaces for US goods and services. Washington also leverages its global political clout to train local regimes to seek its good favors and not challenge US hegemonic interests.
Washington will vote against the establishment of a Palestinian state shortly, even though its 20-year-old “peace process” distraction promised just that. Washington has over $100 Billion in arms sales pending with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies, some of which have used weapons against their own populations. Washington has sought to piggyback Arab revolutions to lessen their impact (Egypt) or force its own regional agenda (Syria). Washington has spearheaded an international tribunal to legally define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization — the only Arab forces to have ever forced an end to an illegal Israeli occupation. Washington has used economic sanctions to force strategic regime change in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Iran — “collective punishment” sanctions that have and will kill hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims.
How exactly is any Arab progress and democracy expected to emerge from more of the same old shenanigans?
In order for Arabs to reach the goal of genuine representative government and viable economic reform, the US needs to be drop-kicked out of the Middle East. That means halting all our weapons sales to despots. That means, barring emergency humanitarian aid, ceasing all our military and financial assistance in the region.
And we should shut up too. So much of the Middle East’s political discourse is infested with language created in Washington, that it is hard to separate truth from our fictions sometimes:
Ask yourself why we blindly followed a 20-year peace “process” which by its very nature suggests something that is ongoing, instead of a peace “solution?” Ask why we think it is kosher to financially and militarily support a colonial-settler state like Israel whose very existence is dependent on the elimination of indigenous peoples? Why did we start calling the Libyans “rebels” while they were still only “protesting” in the streets? Why is Iran a “threat?” Why is Saudi Arabia “moderate?” Why do we tacitly accept killing hundreds of thousands of “them” when a mere handful of their outcasts killed 2,750 of “us?”
If the Arab Street is not shouting “Irhal Amreeka” today, I can assure you that this moment looms not far ahead — even in a soon-to-be-liberated Libya. Let us not credit a “Libyan victory” to ourselves — we could not even dare to lead this effort because of who we are and what we do. Doubt not that we will try our level best to pollute their new government – or alter it if it has independent designs.
But Libyans this week had a harsh reminder of our treachery. A recently-released WikiLeaks cable discloses that until protests erupted in the African state earlier this year, we were working overtime to try to sell arms to Ghaddafi and cement that cozy relationship.
Ugh. How do they stomach us?
On February 11, the day that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in power, Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who had been a pivotal youth figure in Egypt’s uprising, sent a telling Tweet: “Dear Western Governments, You’ve been silent for 30 years supporting the regime that was oppressing us. Please don’t get involved now.”
Divide and rule. Sow discord. Reward corruption. Ignore human rights abuses and gender inequalities among our allies. Militarize the region. Defend the vile despots. The list is endless.
Question: Why do we think that peace, progress and prosperity in the Arab world will foster regional contempt for us?
Answer: Because we are worthy of it.