Big Trouble in Tunisia for America's Mideast Raj
Oops! Something has gone terribly wrong with Washington's plans for regime change in the Mideast. Wasn't there supposed to be a US and British engineered revolution against Iran's mullahs, followed by installation of a cooperative pro-western government and a bonanza for western oil companies?
The revolution came, all right, but in the wrong place. The explosion of popular fury in Tunisia that ousted its dictator of 23-years is sending shock waves across the Arab world and has alarm bells ringing in Washington.
Pay no attention to President Barack Obama's pious bromides welcoming the revolution in Tunisia. The US, France and their Arab satraps are deeply worried that Tunisia's popular revolution could spark similar uprising against the dictatorships or monarchies in other members of America's Mideast Raj, notably Egypt.
It has come to light that Tunisia's ruling elite had dinners and wine flown in from Paris at government expense for lavish parties in their beachside villas. Shades of the Iranian revolution, when women of the ruling elite in Tehran used to send their dirty laundry to Paris for hand washing, or fly to Paris to have their hair done for a soiree.
In a zesty bit of irony totally lost on the US media, just as a people's revolution was ousting Tunisia's brutal US-backed regime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Qatar piously lecturing local oil monarchs on good government and the need to promote democracy.
Tunisia has not had much strategic importance since Carthage — whose ruins and great war harbor lie in a residential suburb of Tunis — fought Rome in the three Punic Wars. During World War II's North Africa campaign, Tunisia was battled over by the British, Germans and Italians.
Since then, little Tunisia has been a backwater, known mainly for sunshine, cheap beach vacations, and as a refuge for Italian crooks.
In 1957, Tunisia "gained" independence from former colonial master, France. But it was a sham independence. The French put their own stooge, Habib Bourguiba, in power, who ran the country for France.
After Bourguiba went senile in 1987, the army commander, General Zine Ben Ali, overthrew him and seized power with the blessing of Paris. Ben Ali as ruled with an iron first for the ensuing 23 years.
The US and France have always hailed Tunisia as a poster-boy for "moderation, stability, and democracy. "
Translation: 1. moderation: following orders from Washington and making nice to Israel; 2. stability: crushing all opposition, particularly Islamist-oriented parties, muzzling the media, and paving the way for US business; 3. democracy: holding fake elections every few years. The US media soft-soaped Ben Ali and gushed over Tunisia's "moderate" virtues. They did the same for Egypt's Anwar Sadat.
America's other "moderate" Arab clients, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman and some of the Gulf states, followed precisely the same model of ersatz elections, ferocious internal oppression, and absolute obedience to Washington.
Tunisia closely resembled other Arab non-oil states in having very high unemployment, social and intellectual stagnation, lack of free speech or expression, and no hope for the future unless one had links to the rapacious, self-serving, western-backed ruling oligarchy. On top of this, in most Arab states, over 60% of the population is under 25.
Gen. Ali's extended family and business cronies followed a pattern of malfeasance, nepotism and plundering public assets common to most Arab nations. In the Mideast, such oligarchies are commonly called "mafias." Their secret police are notorious for torture, murder, mass arrests and sadism. Arab armies are designed to cow their people, not protect the nation's borders.
After the Bush and Obama administrations felt obliged to make a token appeal to their Arab clients for the appearance of at least sham democracy, General Ali obliged by winning his most recent rigged election in 2009 by "only" a razor-thin 89% victory, rather than his usual 94% or 95% win.
Tunisians are known as an easygoing, even-tempered people. US and French aid was supposed to keep a lid on the country and defuse popular unrest. So just about everyone was caught by surprise when Tunisia went critical.
In a heartwarming finale to Gen. Ben Ali's brutal dictatorship, he fled to France seeking asylum. France's president, Nicholas Sarkozy, showing remarkable ingratitude even for this notorious ingrate, refused this faithful, longtime French servant refuge. Two other former western plantation overseers who were dying of cancer, Congo's late Gen. Mobutu and the ousted Shah of Iran, were similarly refused refuge by their American patrons.
As of this writing, Tunisia is in turmoil. There may be a military takeover, which would greatly please Washington, Paris and Cairo, or further convulsions.
The leader of the most important Islamic-oriented party that was outlawed, Rashid Gannouchi (not to be confused with the current figurehead prime minister of the same name), is due to return and is calling for genuine democratic elections. His party, Nahda, would likely win any free elections. So would Islamist parties in every other Arab country, if the west ever allowed them to hold free elections, which it won't.
In the only two cases in modern Arab history where truly honest elections were held, moderate Islamists won in Algeria, and the Hamas movement won in Gaza. The Algerian army, backed by Paris and Washington, crushed the election and imposed martial law. After Hamas won the Palestinian election, the US, Israel and Egypt locked up Hamas under siege in Gaza and sought to overthrow it using Palestinian mercenaries.
Mainstream Islamist parties in the Mideast have nothing to do with al-Qaida (which barely exists any more) or anti-Western programs. Their primary concern is getting rid of the western-backed oligarchies that keep the Muslim world backwards and in thrall. Their platform is sharing resource wealth, social welfare, education, uprooting thieving oligarchies and fighting endemic corruption.
The big question now is will Tunisia's dramatic events be a harbinger of other explosions across the volatile Arab world? All eyes are on Egypt, the home of a third of all Arabs. Egypt's 83-year-old military ruler, Husni Mubarak, is a giant version of Tunisia's Gen. Ben Ali.
Mubarak was engineered into power by the US after the killing of longtime CIA "asset" Anwar Sadat. Gen. Mubarak has ruled Egypt like a modern-day pharaoh ever since, crushing both violent extremist and legitimate political opposition. Mubarak's rigged elections, winked at by Washington, are every bit as egregious as Tunisia's.
So could the flames of Tunisia's revolution spread to Egypt? Mubarak's regime is tottering. Egyptians are as restive and disgusted as their Tunisian neighbors. Egyptians, too, are a famously passive, amiable lot, but Egypt's repression, grinding poverty and rapacious western-aligned elite have enraged most ordinary people.
Tunisia's neighbors Libya, Algeria and Morocco are similarly unstable and racked by unemployment, a high birth rate, and ferocious repression by their regimes. Col. Khadaffi's oil-rich Libya is particularly fertile ground for a major convulsion after five decades of eccentric government.
All these authoritarian regimes have crushed opposition, leaving only underground revolutionaries to replace them when revolution inevitably comes. Islamists will be the last men standing. By encouraging repression and thwarting the emergence of democracy in the Arab world, the US has sown the dragon's teeth of further violence and rises.
We are now seeing what the "stability" and "moderation" so beloved of Washington in the Arab world really brings. The mighty American Raj is built on such euphemisms that really mean dictatorship, corruption, torture, and subservience.
If Washington really wants to foster the democracy that it preaches, then it should help Tunisia's people create a truly democratic government rather than engineering yet another cooperative general and his grasping family into power as it has done so often since the 1950s.
January 18, 2011
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.