Why do I follow the mainstream news media? It’s simple. I know they are trying to con me. I know they are telling half-truths, and hiding important information from me. Reading between the lines, however, gives me important clues as to what questions I should be asking to find the answers I really need to know.
So . . . This week I learn that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are cutting ties with oil rich neighbour and former friend Qatar over “alleged support for terrorism”. Well, good for them, you might think. Great to see high profile Muslim countries taking initiative to stamp out this curse currently plaguing the world.
But wait up. Who exactly are the “terrorists” those dastardly Qataris are “allegedly” supporting? The terrible Taliban? ISIS/Daesh? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Apparently not. In fact it’s far more likely those groups are funded by Saudis. The object of Qatari affections seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, ok. They’re just as bad, aren’t they? With a name like that, they’d have to be terrorists. Certainly movers and shakers in the USA and Israel think so: the Clarion Project, the Gatestone Institute, and Israeli Stand With Us express strong opinions on the subject. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up their case with a simple, if inelegant sound byte: “It seems to me, by and large, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck.”
On the other hand, the people at Brookings say no, and there seems to be debate on the matter within Trump’s administration. Back in March, the Big DT was on the verge of issuing an executive order adding the Brotherhood to Washington’s official list of terrorist organisations – but decided to postpone the decision. Apparently cooler heads in his team were arguing that affixing the “terrorist” label would unnecessarily upset some of America’s allies in the region. Clearly, however, other “allies” are strongly in favour, especially the Saud family, the UAE (Dubai etc) and Egypt. So who’s right?
According to a BBC backgrounder, the movement (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic) was founded in 1928, and “initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.” It’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, did create “a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.” Sounds nasty, but you have to remember that, in those days, Britain was fighting a losing global war to hold on to its rapidly shrinking empire. Their plan to wipe Turkey of the map had been foiled by Kemal Atatürk; and MK Ghandi led India and Pakistan to independence in 1947. In 1956, after President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, the Brits, French and Israelis actually invaded Egypt – but were ordered out by US President Eisenhower.
You might think the Muslim Brothers had some cause for indulging in a little active resistance. Not everyone is as patient and peaceful as Mahatma Ghandi. When Hosni Mubarak stood down as President of Egypt in 2011 as a result of “Arab Spring” protests and the (probably reluctant) urging of US President Obama, he had held the position for 29 years, winning “elections” where 70-80% of his citizens didn’t bother to cast a vote. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from putting up candidates, but in the first genuinely democratic election in June 2012 they won a comfortable majority. Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected (and non-military) president. He lasted just over a year. In July 2013 he was ousted by Egypt’s armed forces and his place taken by military commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Subsequently, the United States and its Western allies have been twisting their tongues into breathtaking contortions to avoid calling the military coup a military coup.
Did the US government’s henchmen have a hand in Morsi’s ousting? Of course they cover their tracks, but we do know that the US had supported Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his abysmal human rights record. US funding made Egypt’s military the world’s 10th largest, and Egypt reversed its earlier implacable hostility to Israel. It was unlikely that Morsi would have been quite so accommodating to US Middle East policy. US aid was cut off but resumed as soon as Egypt returned to military dictatorship. Go figure, as my North American friends are fond of saying.
Well, Qatar’s tiny population (2.2 million) has the world’s highest per capita GDP, its capital, Doha, is the location for TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and the country was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. It’s not exactly a paragon of democratic freedom, but that doesn’t seem to be a major stumbling block to finding favour with US administrations. It does seem that their crime, in the eyes of their neighbours, is lending support to those Muslim Brothers.
Now don’t you think it’s interesting that just after President Donald Trump returns home from a successful visit to his country’s friends in the Middle East, a gang of those friends suddenly decide to pick on a neighbour that has been causing difficulties for the Trump administration? DT wants to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but some of his advisors are blocking him. Is it possible he suggested to King Salman and the rest of his Arab buddies that now might be a good time to put the screws on Qatar to fall into line?
Whatever the failings of their foreign and domestic programmes, putting the screws on other sovereign states to fall into line is something United States governments are especially good at. We’ve seen what happened in Egypt. We are witnessing (again) what happens to South American nations (Brazil, Venezuela) that think serving their own people takes priority over the interests of US corporations. For all the talk about bringing American-style democracy to the world, we have seen that US administrations are far more comfortable dealing with military dictators than with elected leaders who may have to listen to what their own people are saying.
And whatever may have been said in private, President Trump was only too happy to trumpet his success in clinching a deal to sell $110 billion worth of military hardware to the Saudi rulers. In case you were wondering what the Saudis are doing with all those tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Time Magazine tells us that it is mostly being used to slaughter people in neighbouring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, currently racked by poverty, starvation and a cholera epidemic. As if the Saudis can’t do enough damage by themselves, the US military has been making its own contribution to peace in the Middle East with commando raids and drone strikes. Tell, me please, who are those poor Yemenis threatening?
Meanwhile Turkey is struggling to persuade its own so-called Western allies to support its struggle against terrorism. Military personnel known to have been involved in the unsuccessful July 15 military coup attempt have taken refuge in EU countries, notably Greece and Germany – and those NATO friends are refusing to hand them over. Fethullah Gülen, believed by Turkey’s government to have been a key figure in efforts to overthrow them, is safely ensconced in his Pennsylvania retreat, while the US government spurns all requests to extradite him. The Pentagon, in open defiance of Ankara’s wishes, is unabashedly supplying military hardware to Kurdish separatist groups in Syria closely allied with the internationally recognised terrorist PKK.
I read an interesting book review the other day. ‘Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East’ is a collection of academic articles apparently arguing against Barack Obama’s simplistic assessment of Middle East strife that it is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. So far, so good. The Ottoman dynasty ruled a multicultural, polyglot empire embracing Muslims, Jews and mutually antagonistic Christian sects for six centuries without major sectarian conflict.
Unfortunately, it seems the writers have lurched from one flawed interpretation to another. The reviewer summarises the book’s theme thus: “Behind the current turmoil lies a toxic brew of authoritarianism, kleptocracy, developmental stagnation, state repression, geopolitical rivalry and class dynamics. . . Many of the contributors,” we are told, “make the key point that lethal sectarianism and politicized identities are often manipulated by authoritarian regimes in pursuit of political gain.”
Well, it is undoubtedly true that Hosni Mubarak, for example, made good use of his 29 years as dictator of Egypt to enrich himself and his family. The academics in “Secularization” might have noted, however, that courts in Switzerland and the United States have resisted all attempts by Egyptian authorities to repatriate the tens of millions of dollars stashed by Mubarak in their banks.
The articles seem to attribute the rise of the phenomenon purely and simply to power-hungry “autocrats” in the region stoking internecine hatred for their own purposes. One writer even blames the current lawless chaos in Iraq on neighbours Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, who allegedly sabotaged Washington’s genuine attempts to create “a stable and democratic Iraq”.
Well, I guess we saw in Afghanistan just how genuine was the American desire to bring stability and democracy. After using the Taliban to evict the Russian military from Afghanistan, the United States walked away and left the locals to sort out the mess by themselves – and we’ve seen the result of that. When it suited the White House, they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Iran itself had experienced its Islamic revolution as a result of 27 years of US-supported dictatorship by the puppet Shah, installed after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1952. The Saudi royal family gained and retain their power by working with, first the British, and subsequently the United States. Much of the current conflict in the Middle East stems from the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations aka the United States, which has subsequently supported that government’s expansionist aggression against all objections by the international community.
Is this current business with Qatar just another example of local thieves falling out? I don’t think so.