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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/29/12

Assessing the Arab Maze - Contemplating Recent Events in the Middle East

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As soon as talk of NATO-US intervention began a heavy, covert CIA presence was evident on the ground and the Libyan Transitional National Government was greatly assisted. To cite just one example, 30-year U.S. resident Ali Tarhouni, a Libyan economics professor at Washington University, miraculously returned to assist the rebel regime equipped not only with comprehensive plans for a private central bank but while simultaneously negotiating an immediate deal with Qatar to take rebel oil to market.  He and other former U.S. and European residents now play a predominant role in their U.S.-backed secular party which recently won a majority in Libya's new parliament. This represents the only real secular alternative to Islamists in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and was to be the model for counterrevolution.

Developing the oil-rich nation's new government was to provide a counterbalance to Islamist regimes rising in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. In reality, post-Gaddafi Libya was to be the Democrat's version of the "social engineering project" initiated unsuccessfully under Bush's plan for democratization at the barrel of a gun.  The actual objective of liberalizing economies, civilizing populaces, and imposing regimes loyal to U.S. interests' remains however, but this time liberals must skillfully craft a democratic Islam that preserves western dominance.

The situation should remind serious onlookers not of an actual embrace of democracy but rather as similar to the transition from direct to indirect rule that marked European colonialism and then the U.S.'s own support for decolonial authoritarianism throughout the Cold War. Today, by necessity, western powers have been forced to embrace a role for an Islamism they helped suppress for decades and must be careful to portray accepting support for the choice that accompanies democracy while intervening to make sure that choices inside Islamic democracy produce outcomes that sustain the present international order. That social engineering project has been only partially successful and, if decoded, the massive protests that raged across the Muslim world may prove precursors for what is to come.

The Economic Dimension

Dominant coverage of the protests may have assisted in dwarfing a seemingly unrelated story that may cause mush more turmoil in the months ahead.  On Friday September 14, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announced another round of quantitative easing, or QE3.  Such policy will ultimately insert billions of new U.S. dollars into the international economy and exert tough inflationary pressure on the economies of the developing world. The last round of quantitative easing (QE2) occurred just before the Arab Spring. While mostly unrecognized, the immediate inflation it spurred in staple food prices across the globe was a significant factor in sparking the initial protests of the Arab Spring.

This third round of quantitative easing may prove particularly damaging for it comes on the back of international global droughts that already pushed the price of food up 10% in July. Add that reality to QE3's inflationary pressure, which may prove particularly turbulent if speculative investment flows into the Middle East, and the conditions for a food crisis followed by massive future protests are set for the future as well. Attach that awareness to a widely reported study showing that Americans throw away 40% of their food each year and it becomes quite evident that yet another round of Arab rage lingers on the horizon. If that occurs, publics will blame not only America but the moderate Islamists they claim to support as a preference to ultraconservatives.

The ramifications are potentially dangerous for America's economy as well and not just because its central bank is running out of ways to stimulate the domestic economy. The Obama administration has continued to emphasize that, "the tide of war is receding" in the Middle East specifically because they hope that economic investment and growth there can help prevent a return to global recession. That is why after promising 16 months ago to relieve Egypt of $1 billion of its 3$ billion U.S. debt, the U.S. and Egypt recently neared a deal that will make debt forgiveness contingent on a $4.8 billion dollar loan from the IMF. U.S. representatives have sought to modify the billion in flat debt forgiveness into "debt swaps" - where debt would roll over and go to training and infrastructure projects to help liberalize the Egyptian economy.

President Moursi has been supportive so far. His recent meeting with representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and leaders of 50 U.S. multinationals was classified by the New York Times as, "one of the largest trade delegations ever." His party originally rejected IMF loans on the grounds that they were essentially a violation of the country's sovereignty but he has acquiesced under deteriorating economic conditions. Adopting such measures will probably not prove popular with Arab publics. The liberal activists that played a predominant role in the Arab Spring protested earlier efforts to sign World Bank- IMF loans and the working class population has already lived through neoliberal reforms induced under Mubarak.

These reforms sent massive profits to the elite, further suppressed worker's rights and wages and even empowered many wealthy members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Many forget massive Tunisian protests that followed IMF structural adjustment in 1983. These protests eventually spread to Algeria and Morocco. The non-resource rich Tunisian government is seeking assistance with advanced liberalization as well. However, the economic background suggests future turmoil that could advance animosities and thereby extremism in both the West and Muslim world.

An Ultra-Right Wing Reaction

And so, with the Obama Doctrine endangered, right wing commentary filled the void with tough talk and a heightened sense of extremism. The mainstream media's coverage led many Americans to question Obama's embracement of the Arab Spring. Fouad Ajami called protests in 20 Muslim countries, "a grand personal failure for Barack Obama and a case for hubris undone." Right wing Islamophobes boldly put forth their proposition to deliberately sabotage any and all collaboration with Muslims in the Middle East. Their sweeping generalizations forced Obama to show his own right wing side and set the path for further resentment. rage and conflict.

In the days that followed his initial criticisms, the Romney camp lessened their attacks on Obama's response but continued to reveal a neoconservative perspective that would mark their candidate's presidency. "A strong America is essential to shape events," he said while his foreign policy director explained that Romney believes in, "peace through strength" - a slogan that uncannily resembles the Orwellian euphemism that 'peace is war.'

The Obama campaign would not be outdone in an election season. "No act of terrorism will go unpunished," he remarked on the campaign stop in Colorado, obviously not noticing that he was essentially returning to the rhetoric of his predecessor who waged an unsuccessful global war on terror that Obama worked so hard to rebrand as a war only on Islamic extremism. It is important here to mention that for years America has been waging world war on an abstract tactic while refusing to identify a specific definition for the term under international law for fear that a consensus definition may label U.S. foreign policy as the largest terror network in the world. Irrationality certainly dominates the day.

Publics in the Muslim world will certainly be made all too aware of these contradictions in the coming period, when Salafi jihadi propaganda skillfully selects from a fresh array of new imperialist and Islamophobic quotations. For example, Ayan Hirsi Ali, vehement anti-Muslim bigot, was granted Newsweek's front page for her story, "Muslim Rage - How I Survived it - How we can end it." The title was emblazoned on top images of irate Muslim protesters. Yet her solution pulls more so from the pages of right wing fascism than the libertarianism she claims to uphold.  It is the antithesis to the liberal's indirect neocolonialism.  Her solution? Rather than accept Islamist regimes and democracy the West should simply orchestrate the entire region's failure, or as ancient anti-Arabism Bernard Lewis put it to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, "let the region lapse into insignificance."

For Ayan Hirsi Ali and the millions of Americans and Europeans that sympathize with her, the new Islamist regimes, "will begin to fail as soon as they set about implementing their philosophy: strip women of their rights, murder homosexuals, constrain the freedom of conscience and religion of non-Muslims, hunt down dissidents, persecute religious minorities, pick fights with foreign powers, even powers such as the U.S. that offered them friendship." Instead this widely popular perspective argues that Muslims should be made to suffer through economic hardship.  "After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson," she writes. "In one or two or three decades we will see the masses in these countries take to the streets - and perhaps call for American help to liberate them from the governments they elected."

The sad thing isn't so much that this argument ignores that Islamist regimes have thus far rejected any ultraconservatism but that her position is an absolute rejection of the principles that underlie support for freedom and the democratic process. She and those like her fail to recognize that in an interconnected world of globalization, failure in the lands of the Arab Spring could cause failure in all nations. Hers is a position not unlike the bigoted, ultraconservative one that preceded previous world wars. She concludes, "If we take the long view, America and other western countries can help make this happen in the same way we helped bring about the demise of the Soviet Union." 

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Younes Abdullah Muhammed is a Muslim American and Master of International Affairs. He is presently incarcerated in the U.S. Federal Prison system. He is the founder of Islam Policy and can be contacted at
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