Arab people power, the US, and al-Qaeda

Posted: January 24, 2011 in al-Qaeda, Arab people power, Barack Obama, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, United States

Mila Aguilar, a Facebook friend,  wants to know if the US government played a role (if any) in the ongoing Arab people power struggles. She was obviously reacting to an earlier blog entry on the same subject.

Let’s take the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan.

The government of Ben Ali in Tunis was pro-Western and among the political forces it suppressed through a pervasive police apparatus are the local Islamists as well as those who called for political liberalization.

Down with Ben Ali


Given such an alignment of forces, it would be foolhardy to expect the US government to play an active role in undermining the Ben Ali government. In fact, its junior partner and former colonizer of Tunisia, France. was conspicuously silent during the one-month Tunisian process and went out of its way to soften criticism of Ben Ali.

What the US government will try to do (if it can, which I doubt much) is to try to influence the course of events in post-Ben Ali Tunisia so that a anti-Western government does not take power. Unfortunately for Washington, it will most likely be placed in a bind because democratic elections in the region usually install anti-Western regimes because of the US’ unequivocal support for Israel.

Remember Washington’s opposition to the anti-US, anti-Israeli but democratically-elected Hamas government in the Palestinian Territory.

Hamas parade


With Obama at the helm, the US may shy away from applauding the installation of another pro-Western authoritarian regime in Tunisia.

It is the same situation in Egypt with the long-lived Hosni Mubarak government. Egypt in the last years of Anwar Sadat has longjoined the US band-wagon which was why Sadat was assassinated by Islamist military officers.

Given a worst economic growth record in Egypt (relative to what was accomplished in Tunisia), the country has a small middle class and the strongest opposition comes from the Islamists, who again would most likely win in a fair electoral contest.

Jordan is another pro-US state currently facing people power resistance.

If ever, the US would be interested in supporting popular struggles against authoritarian regimes in anti-Western states such as Libya and Syria and the remnants of proto-Soviet and pro-Russian states such as Byelorussia, and Hugo Chavez’ government in Caracas.

A defiant Hugo Chavez


It will also be interested if the Green Revolution against the sitting government in Teheran and the Saffron revolution in Burma could be re-ignited after they were crushed in 2007 and 2009.

Unfortunately for Washington, it does not have sufficient human assets in Baghdad, Teheran, Yangon, Caracas,and Minsk for it to influence significantly the trajectory and chances of anti-regime popular struggles.

Be that as it may, a key question remains.

Should one’s opposition to US imperialism be reason enough to deny support for a genuinely-popular (even if supported by the US government in some way) anti-dictatorship struggle?

Saffron Revolution in Burma, 2007


Doesn’t the laws of politics tell us that the enemy of your principal enemy is a tactical friend?

Shouldn’t the proper political stance be to support the struggle while warning of and warding the pernicious effects of association with the Americans?

Green Revolution in Iran, 2009


In the Arab world after all, getting too close to Washington is a kiss of death and will alienate a political movement from the people it seeks to win over to its side.

Mila also wants to know if the popular struggles are led by or stimulated by elements associated with the al-Qaeda.

I may be wrong but the apparent sub-text of the question is that the al-Qaeda is a negative political force.

This is my response to Mila’s second query. I don’t have sufficient data from the ground. I would say I am not even a Middle East expert. However, I am a political scientist and a student of international politics and people power movements and struggles.

What I can say is that not all Islamists are receptive to the al-Qaeda line. It is not even clear what the al-Qaeda line is at the moment. Is it still the creation of a pan-Islamic global state?

Should we consider such groups and movements such as the Hezbollah, Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood logo


as national detachments of an Islamic International devoted to that purpose?

Hezbollah militants


Or wouldn’t it be better to see the anti-authoritarian movements in the Arab world as populated by secular groups, sectoral groups such as labor and students, and Islamists alike–and that the character of an individual movement is to be determined by the concrete conditions prevailing in each country.

In Tunisia where previous economic growth produced a large middle class and where human capital was developed through major strides in mass and tertiary education, the liberal-trade union opposition is apparently stronger than the Islamists in the post-Ben Ali interregnum. That is not the case in Egypt where economic growth has not been as robust and where the middle class remains small.

My final word: the people power processes in the Arab world are still ongoing. They are works-in-progress that are open-ended. It is too early to make conclusions about them. The only thing to do is to study them, and to study them well, even from a distance.

My instinct however tells me to support these anti-authoritarian movements having been active against Marcos authoritarianism for much of my youth

  1. […] side. Mila also wants to know if the popular struggles are led by or … See the rest here: Arab people power, the US, and al-Qaeda « bong mendoza's blog Share and […]

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