Full refund within 30 days if you're not completely satisfied.
I S ORGANIC FARMING TURNING INTO INTENSIVE AGRIBUSINESS? – Pages 12-13
MARCH 2011 No 1103
THE NEW ARAB AWAKENING
Could Iran be next?
by SERGE HALIMI
The targets for the lethal bullets may be varied – Shia or Sunni, moderate or radical, pro-western or anti-imperialist – but the regimes that fire those bullets against their own people are identical. The Libyan regime in Tripoli used to call for world revolution before it opted to patrol the EU’s borders (1).
Governments of very different shades find common ground in the same disinformation. Iran has claimed that the Arabs’ democratic revolt heralded an Islamic revival, inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution. Israel repeated this claim, and pretended to be alarmed. But when the Iranian opposition gathered to celebrate the demonstrations in Cairo, the ruling theocracy opened fire on the crowd. The Israeli army does not massacre unarmed civilians – unless they are Palestinian (1,400 dead in Gaza two years ago) – but Binyamin Netanyahu does not welcome young Arabs’ demands for freedom any more than Iran does. Israel fears it might lose excellent partners in power, autocratic but pro-American. Its only recourse then would be to cry wolf against Iran.
But tensions with Israel and international sanctions enable the Iranian regime, emboldened by the weakening of regional rivals Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to play the nationalist card. It sees this as useful, since the 2009 Green Movement has not succumbed to ceaseless repression. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hoped the vaccine of hanging and torture had eradicated the virus of opposition. Sadly for him, the Arab revolt and the humiliating contrast between a highlyeducatedpopulationandanarchaicpolitical system undermine the dubious legitimacy of his regime. Rather than follow the Libyan example and order the air force to machinegun the crowd, the ruling elite has unleashed the murderous demands of its followers. When the opposition mustered its forces, 222 of the 290 members of the Iranian parliament called for Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, former government dignitaries under house arrest for opposing the Supreme Leader, to be brought to trial. On 18 February, Tehran staged a demonstration where people could “express their hatred, wrath and disgust against the savage, repugnant crimes of the leaders of sedition and their hypocritical and monarchist allies” (2). As “Zionist agents” or “hooligans”, they face the death penalty.
The regime may lack imagination but it is not without supporters. And western condemnations carry no weight. Nevertheless, it may not survive long-term. As the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, observed during a visit to Tehran last month: “When heads of state do not pay attention to the needs of their nation, the people take over.”
Translated by Barbara Wilson
(1) See Alain Morice and Claire Rodier, “The EU’s expulsion machine”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, June 2010. (2) Notice published by the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, Tehran; quoted by AFP, 16 February 2011.
MOHAMED ABLA – From the series
‘Street scenes’ (detail) (2007)
‘Neither with the West, nor against it’
The upheavals taking place across the Arab world have implications not just for the region but the world. As the United Nations attempted to calm the situation in Libya, the US told Gadafy it was time to go. While the EU fears mass immigration from Libya, the US faces the impact on the regional order of the fall of Mubarak, pillar of US policy across the region, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran
Alarge Muslim country is overwhelmed by strikes and demonstrations. This pillar of US regional policy is damaged by authoritarian rule and its resources are looted by the president’s family; there is social and economic crisis; Washington abandons an old ally and the US Secretary of State calls on a dictator to stand down and allow for democratic transition.
This may sound like Egypt in 2011. In fact, it was Indonesia in May 1998, and the call for President Suharto to stand down came from Madeleine Albright, not Hillary Clinton. He had seized power in 1965 with the help of the CIA in a coup in which half a million communists, or suspected communists, were killed. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Indonesia was no longer needed as a bulwark against communism; the US decided it would rather support democratic movements, and direct them to suit its interests. President Bill Clinton wanted to project a more open image of the US. It turned out to be a wise choice, and Indonesia has maintained close relations with the US, even though, as an active member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, it has taken an independent stance on the Iranian nuclear issue.
What do we learn from this? No dictatorship lasts forever, even when it rules the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Internal changes influence foreign policy, but the extent of evolution depends on the context: Egypt is not Indonesia, and the Middle East is not Southeast Asia.
It has been commonplace for western politicians and diplomats to sneer at the “Arab street”; they asked if we really needed to listen to hundreds of millions of people with their Islamist and anti-western slogans when we got on so well with their leaders, who were so good at maintaining order, and extended such warm hospitality. (Between 1995 and 2001, 400 French government ministers spent their holidays in Morocco.) These leaders maintained the fiction of the Israel-Palestine peace process, even as Israeli settlements spread.
The fantasy that the Arabs are passive and unsuited to democracy has evaporated in weeks.
Arabs have overthrown hated authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. In Libya, they have fought a sclerotic regime in power for 42 years that has refused to listen to their demands, facing extraordinary violence, hundreds of deaths, untold injuries, mass exodus and generalised chaos. In Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Iraqi Kurdistan, the West Bank and Oman, Arabs have taken to the streets in vast numbers. This defiance has spread even to nonArab Iran.
And where promises of reform have been made but were then found wanting, people have simply returned to the streets. In Egypt, protesters have demanded faster and further-reaching reform. In Tunisia, renewed demonstrations on 25-27 February led to five deaths but won a change of prime minister (Mohamed Ghannouchi stepped down in favour of Beji Caid-Essebsi). In Iraq, renewed protests led to a promise to sack unsatisfactory ministers. In Algeria, the 19-year emergency law was repealed amid continuing protests. The demands are growing throughout the region, and will not be silenced.
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprising in Libya, and all the other popular movements that have shaken the region are not just about how people want to live and develop, but about regional politics. For the first time since the 1970s, geopolitics cannot be analysed without taking into account, at least in part, the aspirations of people who have retaken control of their destinies.
This is certainly the case with Egypt. Even if it is too early to predict foreign policy, Washington has lost an unconditional ally: US regional strategy has relied on Egypt, along with Israel (with which Sadat signed a peace treaty in 1979), for the last 30 years. Egypt took part in the 1990-91 Gulf war against Iraq, and Mubarak was at the forefront of the fight against the “Iranian threat”. He maintained the
Continued on page 2
inside this issue Divided loyalties pushed Gadafy’s tribal allies to turn against him Page 3 Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood readies itself for party politics Page 4 Conventional forces? The Middle East’s armies redefine their role Page 6 Georgia: for thousands of refugees, there’s no place like home Page 8
Pushing the button: look who’s behind the Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran Page 10 IBSA’s ambitions to be greater than the sum of its parts Page 11 Heart of Algiers: why the regime is neglecting the Casbah Page 14 Dissident dramas: fringe theatre in Ulster’s Loyalist community Page 16
lain Gresh is vice president of Le Monde diplomatique