Big Trouble in Tunisia for America’s Mideast Raj
by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis: Will
Cathay Rule the Waves in the North Pacific?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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