A news presenter once told me that the Middle-East has been the most dependable fall back story for channels in this decade. One could almost chuckle if the ‘stories’ weren’t so grim. But on closer reflection you realize that it’s not true just for this decade – I can’t remember a time of relative peace in the last 30 years, save for a brief period in the mid 90’s. No sooner had things piped down after the First Gulf War when Iraq irked the NATO powers by refusing to heed to a UNSC resolution, Operation Desert Fox was launched in ’98 to bomb the hell out of them. At the turn of the century Bill Clinton passed on the baton to G.W.B. and we all know what followed.
The first golden rule of foreign policy is that no nation is immune to circumstances, and everyone has a stake. That being said, the present conflict involves primarily four countries – Egypt, Syria, Israel and central to them all, Iran. (That the US plays a role in any conflict in the Middle-East is a safe assumption and needn’t be mentioned explicitly.) To understand the present situation better let’s roll back about a year, when Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt.
In the ensuing elections, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammad Morsi just about managed to beat Ahmed Shafiq, who was Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak. He won by about 51 to 48, making him Egypt’s first democratically elected President – apparently. The international media has made this their slogan for defending Morsi’s position at present – but what they failed to mention with the election results were the circumstances surrounding it. The election was rife with documented incidents of rigging and intimidation – the Coptic Christians who account for almost 10% of the population were kept from voting altogether. However, the most critical point is that the total turnout of voters was less than half the registered voters, about 43%. In light of these facts, I’m not sure in which world would Morsi be considered the true representative of the Egyptian people. Now take a moment to consider the margin by which he beat the opposing candidate.
The disquiet was always there with the election results, it just needed a little provocation to erupt which came in late 2012 when Morsi effected a declaration which granted him unlimited power. The anti-Morsi crowed came out thundering and finally in July this year, the army decided to put its foot down and ceased power.
Now the hilarious bit is that the US has been providing Egypt with economic aid since the Camp David accords back in ’79; and from ’87 onwards, they supplemented this with military aid to the tune of $1.3 billion annually. So if they were to accept this as a coup, they would by definition be accomplices, having funded it! What I would pay to see Obama’s reaction when the army called his bluff to stop military aid and went ahead with their plan anyway and being surrounded by blithering idiots doesn’t make his job any easier – one such, Secretary of State John Kerry, said that when the army removed Mohammed Morsi on July 3, it was “restoring democracy”.
On the other side of the Suez, Syria has been embroiled in an internal strife for more than two years now, a war which is being very closely monitored by Israel, US and Iran. The reason why its outcome is important is because of the strategic relationship between the Assad regime and Iran. Were the Ba’ath party to flounder, Israel would instantly gain an upper hand in the region as opposed to Iran, which is why both parties are funding their respective sides in that strife.
Anybody remember the cartoon illustration Israeli Prime Minister Netahanyu brought along with him to the UN General Assembly meeting last year? Well this is what the whole mess boils down to – Iran’s nuclear program and growing strength in the region.
The illustration refers to Iran’s uranium enrichment program which Israel claim, is almost sufficiently pure, to use in a nuclear warhead. Even though Iran is a signatory to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and is enriching uranium for civil purposes, which is permitted, the US is jittery. That is the reason why they enforced economic sanctions on them and prodded the media to make a song and dance about it. The fact that the media is tired of reporting of its ‘imminent economic collapse’ is proof enough that they’re happily carrying on. So now it is the leadership change in Iran, which the US is banking on for further dialogue and negotiations.
Bringing Egypt into the equation – part of the reason why Hosni Mubarak was ill in favor with the US, was because he was opposed to their plan of creating a United Sunni Arab front along with Israel to confront Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah. The Camp David accords signed with Israel had lost them many friends in the region and thus, being used for cannon fodder was not appealing to him. Morsi was expected to be more compliant given his relative closeness to the US – he did his graduate studies and was also teaching in the US – but then he may no longer be around.
The situation as it stands is a practical stalemate. The crises in Egypt and Syria have to be dealt with before any further engagements can be made in this region. With the new leadership in Iran, it seems there will be more of practical dialogue than provocative gestures like Netahanyu’s cartoon. In any case, the US has far too a tainted image at present to take any aggressive action – hounding out Snowden hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Putin’s curt refusal to hand him over has drawn a round of raucous laughter.
Featured image credits: Peter Milo/Peter Ito