Sunday, 20 March 2011

Two Arab Voices

Gutless. Two Faced. Disingenuous. Worse than useless. 

Name the international organization that fits this description. No, I’m not talking about the UN Human Rights Commission, though it fits the bill pretty well. I am talking about the Arab League. Today, Amr Moussa, its Chairman, who aspires to the post of President of Egypt, expressed his outrage at the fact that the Allied Forces were creating a no fly zone, rather than simply enforcing it, and stopping Gaddafi’s forces, rather than simply watching them butcher Benghazi. 

Moussa was in the room on Saturday when these matters were discussed. He knew full well that the allies were preparing a series of strikes. He knew also that no Western Air Force would endanger its planes and pilots without first taking out Gaddafi’s air defence capability, radars, command and control. They would also not make a pointless gesture of circling in the sky as Gaddafis tanks continued on their merry way to overrun the rebels in the streets of Misrata and Benghazi. He knew all this. Yet on Sunday, in as craven a pandering to Arab self-victimization as I have ever seen, he blasted the West. This is not what we signed on for, he said. No civilian casualties! Just a no fly zone! 

Moussa showed the world on Sunday that he is the wrong person to lead Egypt. He retreated to the old way of Arab diplomacy. Say one thing to the West, and another to the masses at home. See? We didn’t agree to that! The Western Shaitan has bamboozled us again, all in a mindless grab at Arab blood and Oil! He also may be hedging his bets on the off chance that Gaddafi triumphs and ends up being his nasty neighbour. 

An inspiring commentator at, retired Saudi Navy Commodore Abdulateef Al Mulhim, wrote this month about the failed promise of the Arab League. At its outset after World War Two representing countries rich with oil, agriculture, an ancient culture and a prime geopolitical location, it has failed to provide leadership and direction in every single crisis that has beset the Middle East since it’s founding.

I’ve corresponded with Commodore Al Mulhim. His perspective, with the benefit of decades of experience in the heart of the Arab world’s tumultuous Persian Gulf region, reflects a growing point of view, one that is realistic, not jingoistic. One that looks at lost opportunities not as grievance theatre like those Moussa wished to placate, but rather as occasions to learn, and to resolve not to continue on the same unproductive path. Let us hope that voices, and ultimately leadership like Al Mulhim’s continue to grow and resonate across the Arab world. 

What Moussa has failed to grasp, and what will ultimately be the undoing of his generation of leadership – even those who have been in sometimes congenial opposition to Arab dictators, is that young Arabs lust for freedom as if it were a beautiful woman just beyond their reach. And they are way, way more concerned nowadays about the tank coming up the block to crush their voice than they are about American jets or Israeli blockades. 

This weekend, thousands of Syrians have begun their quest for freedom, with demonstrations in several cities. Their President wears a modern, young face, with a young family and a beautiful wife. Yet he speaks the same language as Amr Moussa, and of his late, unlamented father, Hafez Al Assad. Who knows where their protests will go. Syrian repression is infamous across the world. Tom Friedman of the New York Times, in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem coined the term “Hama Rules” to describe the suppression and murder of 20,000 Syrians by the current President’s father in Hama in 1982 when they rose in protest. I fear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. What voices will be listened to then?

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