Secular dictators back in full swing

We live in interesting times, unfortunately.

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Not long ago, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘democrat’ seemed conjoined, at least in some capitalist countries.

But not in the Middle East. Not before, and not now.

Today, Middle Eastern secularists are back to old form and busy themselves with:

– violently rejecting outcomes of elections they lose, as was the case in the 2009 Iranian elections

– attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government in Turkey

– And now deposing an elected government – the first and only in Egypt’s history – in collusion with remaining elements of the previous regime in Egypt. Some revolution!

Let’s stay with Egypt.

Morsi certainly has mismanaged his opportunity. His biggest failure was perhaps in not being inclusive in how he managed the transition. And he did not see the military coming. Plus, his stance on Syria was awful. Don’t even mention the economy!

Still, he inherited a total mess to sort out with a four-year term through popular elections, and the time to judge his performance was agreed by all who participated in the elections to be 4 years later, not 1 year later.

Who exactly had the authority to make such a decision? Did the votes of over 50% of the Egyptian electorate not count? That’s the wishes of several million people trampled on by a minority.

They have put the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in a situation where they have to either accept total defeat and humiliation by the military (as they have on several occasions in the past since the time of Nasser), or to resist, peacefully or otherwise.

There certainly is no rule of law for them to appeal or resort to.

Worse still, the violent Islamic groups that have shown no trust or belief in democratic methods will feel vindicated. By showing no respect for the rule of law, the Egyptian military is in effect bolstering the cause of the region’s jihadists. And it’s driving members of the Muslim Brotherhood toward greater radicalism, right across the region.

And the implications may go deeper. We are living in a period when a large section of secular actors in the Middle East show a disdain for democratic ideals, and the most democratic Middle Eastern actors appear to be the moderate religious parties. Not to mention their obvious popular appeal through the ballot box.

What will be the future slogan of such secularists? “I’m superior!”?

Will they be trying to divert political discourse in the same racist direction as their American and Israeli counterparts have already? Razzmatazz and ‘god’s-own-country’ and ‘them-commie/muslim-b’stards’, and self-obsessed, terminal exceptionalism?

Without the requisite moral fibre, what will become of the region’s secularists?

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An illegitimate romance: a CIA-MOSSAD-Al Qaeda threesome

An interesting point about Salafi jihadists — such as Al Qaeda — is that at the same time as they have declared Israel, USA and the Shia sect of Islam as “enemies of Islam’, their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have been consistently in service of US, Israeli and Saudi ‘interests’.

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In September 2001, ‘Al Qaeda attacks’ against the US mainland (9/11) provided the US with the ‘Pearl Harbour’ moment that Cheney and Rumsfeld had pined for back in September 2000 when they published “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century“.

In a chapter entitled ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force’, the publication states:

“Moreover, the Pentagon, constrained by limited budgets and pressing current missions, has seen funding for experimentation and transformation crowded out in recent years. Spending on military research and development has been reduced dramatically over the past decade…Further, the process of [technological] transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.“ (pp 50-51)

The document was produced by a ‘Think Tank’ (more like a ‘Think WMD’) established in 1997 with the name: Project for the New American Century or PNAC. It would be no exaggeration to say that PNAC’s vision for the 21st Century was fully reflected in its name.  

Members of this “Think Tank’ included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, all of whom were noisily pushing for regime change in Iraq during the Bill Clinton presidency in the 1990s, and all of whom were members of the Bush Administration.

Not only did the US bomb Taleban-led Afghanistan deeper into the stone age eagerly and remorselessly in 2001 and at the same time established a ‘strong’ military presence in the country, it went ahead and demolished Iraq starting in 2003 on the pretext of destroying weapons that Iraq did not possess.  

Al Qaeda and the Taleban consequently strengthened their own support base in Afghanistan, and on top that spread their influence deeper into Pakistan. Al Qaeda then established a stronghold in Iraq in tandem with the 2003 US invasion of the country. Similarly, Al Qaeda moved into Libya, riding on the back of a NATO bombing campaign in 2011.

Al Qaeda had no presence or any meaningful influence in either Iraq or Libya before the US and NATO wars there. 

Today, Al Qaeda, under the name of “Jabhat ul-Nusra‘, has got itself a firm foothold in Syria, while devouring its infrastructure and destroying its wealth and resources. Their cultural fascism is winning in Syria, and, as an example, Homs has already been ethnically cleansed of its Christians, at a 90% rate.

The violent destruction of non-subservient regimes in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) was certainly no loss to US, Israeli and Saudi ‘interests’, or at least it seemed so before the outcomes were known, especially in Iraq, where Iran emerged as a clear winner of the war without firing a single shot. 

After the loss of Iraq and an unclear outcome in Libya, the Saudis, Israelis and Americans would certainly love to see Iran (and Russia) lose a strong ally in Syria. At this juncture, Al Qaeda certainly helps their short-term geopolitical ’cause’.

While it is not suggested that there is any evidence for direct collusion between these parties, it is quite likely that Al Qaeda, including Al Nusra mercenaries in Syria, is infiltrated by CIA and MOSSAD agents, and manipulated into the required direction with full Saudi intelligence support. This has been standard operating procedure for both the CIA (for example in infiltrating Hezbollah) and MOSSAD (for example in the recent case of Prisoner X). And Saudi Arabia, is the original home of Al Qaeda, and the birthplace of Salafism.

And it is precisely the Saudi Salafi Jihadists who represent the most potent internal challenge to the Saudi regime, as Salafi ideology can only accept an Islamic state led by a supreme religious as well as political leader known as a ‘Caliph’ ruling over all Muslim lands. What better way for the Saudi monarchs to deal with such an internal threat than to pay them to fight for years to overthrow various foreign foes such as Qaddafi or Assad? This strategy has the added ‘advantage’ of getting many of the same Salafi Jihadists killed in the process: two birds killed with one stone, and never mind the cart full of ‘collateral damage’ in a foreign land.  

And all the while, US hegemony is ‘maintained’ as the ‘true religion’ of this unholy alignment of ‘interests’ raining death on the region. 

Rather ironically, this rain of death is precisely the reason why this ‘axis of convenience’ is gradually but surely losing influence in the region, including for the US’ traditional allies, as the events of the past few years clearly show: 

– Iran continues to grow in influence and stature, resisting all sanctions and other machinations;

– Saudi citizens are increasingly demanding reforms and uneasy about their country’s subservient and destructive role in the region;

– Israel has lost all control of events in its neighbourhood, and is laden with a bomb-cartoonist Prime Minister who was publicly forced to apologize to Turkey by the US recently (unprecedented in Israel’s short history);

– Yemen has been plunged into long-term chaos;

– Bahrain’s oppressive regime has been exposed to the world;

– Jordan’s monarch has become a source of embarrassment to all of his own allies and paymasters, and looks increasingly weaker against Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood;

– Egypt has drifted toward a more independent role with a Muslim Brotherhood government that is clearly at odds with the Persian Gulf’s Arab monarchies as well as Salafi Jihadists;

– Tunisia and Morocco too have moved toward greater independence;

– Turkey has lost a great deal of its credibility on the Arab Street through its warmongering actions against Libya and Syria; and

– Libya has plunged into chaos following the 2011 NATO bombing campaign that ousted Qaddafi. 

The fall in US credibility and influence is clearly tangible at a time of economic troubles for the not-so-super power today, as shown in the latest Arab public opinion polls.

 In the longer-term, the US and its allies will have to contend with a growing band of Salafi Jihadists looking for more wars against their stated enemies, namely USA and Israel, as well as the Shia. By the time they finish with Syria, they will be even more battle-hardened and perhaps even emboldened. And their numbers may grow larger, as repeated cycles of war, economic stagnation and growing poverty in the region will provide them with yet more fodder.

As far as the Salafi Jihadists are concerned, the longer-term interests of Iran, Israel, Syria and USA are currently aligned. It is surprising that there is no apparent cooperation in this area. The only real obstacle that seems to be in the way, is the American and Israeli determination to act like regional hegemons in Iran’s backyard. This is simply unacceptable to Iran.

Why Syria’s militias may implode

There are signs of significant rifts among Syrian militias trying to overthrow Assad.

This is particularly the case with the 2 main Islamic groups: On the one hand there is the ‘Jabhat al-Nusra‘ militia (hereafter referred to as ‘Nusra’) who are Salafist jihadists backed by Saudi and Qatari funds and political support, and closely linked to Al Qaeda and the Taleban.

Welcome to 'free' Aleppo - eight year old child sodier
Photo: 8 year-old child soldier in ‘free’ Aleppo

Nusra fighters are among the fiercest and regularly use suicide bombings as standard operating procedure. A large part of this force is foreign, and includes mercenaries for hire from previous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. They are highly effective fighters, and constitute one of the most important ‘rebel’ factions. Information on their numbers is scant.

However, this group has no other aim than to grab power for the sake of establishing a fundamentalist Salafist state. Their level of intolerance for any form of pluralism is demonstrated by their atrocities across the previously mentioned countries’ wars. They are extremely dangerous to any Syrian who is not a Salafist, and in the main they tend to come from Saudi Arabia.

The irony of having non-Syrian mercenaries who are dedicated to the establishment of a pan-Islamic Caliphate acting as the ‘lead force’ in ‘fighting for democracy and freedom’ in ‘Syria’ has yet to be appreciated in full by various observers.

The other major Islamic group of fighters in Syria are the ‘Al-Farouq Brigades‘ that are more Syrian in character, and backed up by the Muslim Brotherhood, closely aligned with Egypt. They are said to have emerged from the city of Homs, which has been a hotbed of opposition to the Assad family for decades – similar to Ben Ghazi’s case against Qaddafi in Libya.

Not surprisingly, the first defectors from the Syrian army (such as Lt. Tlass) came from Homs. The numbers of their fighters are likely to be substantial, but unknown. Their funding also comes from Saudi and Qatari sources, but also the West.

The Al Farouq Brigades are said to be more ‘moderate’ than the Salafist Nusra group. However, it is reported that 90% of Christians in the city of Homs have already left following the takeover of the city by the Farouq brigades.

Signs of a rift between the two main Islamic fighter groups emerged on 9 January 2013 when the leader of the Farouq Brigade’s northern command was shot dead on the Syria-Turkey border.

This killing was apparently due to his alleged involvement in the murder of a Nusra commander by the name of Firas al-Absi in September 2012.

Later again in March 2013 a firefight apparently took place in the northeast between the two groups over the detention of some Al Farouq fighters by the Nusra salfists in the area. Al Farouq’s commander was shot in the incident, which reportedly took place near Tell Abiad.

These incidents reflect a fundamental rift between these two most effective forces on the ground. As the fighting rages on, and the more these groups believe themselves to be close to ‘victory’, the more fierce will become their hostilities toward each other.

The other factions, loosely referred to as the ‘Free Syrian Army’, which are said to have more secular leanings as compared to the 2 Islamic militias described above, have already acknowledged that a war with the Salafists is inevitable ‘once Assad falls’.

Signs are, that all these militias could well be at war with each other far earlier than that.