Monday, May 19, 2008

Atwan: Don't hold your breath

Among widely-read Arab writers, Abdulbari Atwan is probably the most consistently critical of the so-called moderate Arab regimes for their dictatorial nature and their lock-step submission to US demands. He writes this morning about the insulting speeches by Bush on the weekend, and asks what Bush intended to achieve with this, and if he is likely to succeed.

His basic point is this: Experience tells us that these regimes will eventually submit to any and every US demand, but this isn't always without some resistance. By attacking these regimes at their weak points (human rights abuses and so on), Bush was applying the usual pressure for compliance in a number of areas where he has failed to get full compliance so far, and they include the following demands: (1) Apply more pressure on the Palestinians to accept a temporary state with elastic borders and permanent Israeli settlements; (2) Pump enough oil to bring prices down and rescue the western economies; and (3) Open embassies and send ambassadors to Baghdad to support the Maliki administration.

Atwan agrees that the attack enraged Mubarak, who had his official media launch a ferocious attack on Bush, but he says experience shows these outbursts have a way of blowing over. Imagine, he says: This is a man whose "democracy" has killed over a million Iraqis and displaced several million more, threatened the national unity of the country and plunged it into sectarian war, a man who will be known to history for the atrocities of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Instead of refusing to see this man, the Arab regimes continue to roll out the red carpet for him and they still habitually welcome him as a guest to be honored. The reason, of course, is they have no popular support, fear any criticism such as the Americans are capable of mounting, and actually rely on American support for their survival. So the question is: Will the new round of pressure announced by Bush's insulting speech at Sharm-el-Sheikh be as effective as similar pressure has always been in the past.

Uncharacteristically, Atwan seems to be a tiny bit ambivalent. He writes:
President Bush, who in his speeches in Jerusalem and Sharm-el-Sheikh failed to criticize a single settlement expansion, or call for the removal of a single road-block in the West Bank, has killed the peace process that he said he came in order to support; he has insulted his Arab allies and provided a rich harvest for the Islamist extremists whom he says he is trying to combat, without actually intending to. The question now is whether the Arab states will reply to this insult, by seeking out real national alternatives.

We are not convinced they will do anything at all. [We think] they will swallow this insult as they have swallowed others. They will send delegations to Washington asking for pardon and proposals for complete cooperation. They will tighten the cordon around the starving people of Gaza. They will strengthen surveillance of the border, and order the closing of the Rafah crossing. They will increase the offer of oil. This is what they have always done in the past, and there is nothing to indicate that they will do the opposite this time.

We hope we are wrong.


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