Spotlight on Geopolitics

It might seem odd to some of my regular readers that I have avoided tackling the latest developments in Egypt or Syria. Alas, geopolitics also deals with spheres of influence, and I am usually writing from an European perspective on my blog. Although during George W Bush’s war on terror State Department officials have devised the MENA concept (Middle East – North Africa) in an effort to deal with terrorist networks globally, I personally tend to concentrate my attention almost exclusively on the Maghreb and treat this region as a geopolitical entity separate from the Middle East and under the influence of Europe.

Over the past 60 years it is the Americans that have been active in Egypt and the Middle East, with mixed results. This week’s military coup d’etat once again calls into question the true nature of the United States’ involvement in Egypt, as well as the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s apparent inability to help stabilise the country and support democracy there.

Ironically, the first CIA-engineered military coup d’etat that ended a parliamentary regime in the Arab world took place in Syria in 1949. In its wake, colonel Housni Al-Zaim – “a likeable rogue” according to the CIA – was brought to power, thus indirectly opening the way for the Assad dynasty later on (Le monde diplomatique). In this respect, the latest events taking place in Egypt are typical of the US’ approach to the region’s problems. Moreover, CIA has now reinforced its reputation in the area as a “factory of dictators”.

As it happens, an Islamic brand of democracy is that rare flower that has so far taken root only in non-Arab countries like Turkey and Indonesia. As liberal western-style democracy is mostly incompatible with Islamic values and political culture, moderate Islamic parties in the two countries have devised a model that, to outsiders, looks like a halfway house between what we in Europe understand by democracy and authoritarian regimes. In other words, citizens of the newly-established Islamic democracies fare much better than their counterparts in the Arab world in terms of rights and economic opportunities, without enjoying the western luxuries of being able to trash their religion or disregard morality in public and in the media.

Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood followers were primarily defeated by their mishandling of the economy, whose key players had belonged either to the military or to Mubarak’s friends and supporters for 5 decades. Nor did Morsi have any practical political experience prior to his election as president. By contrast, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul and had an active role in politics throughout the 1990’s. On top of it all, the Muslim Brotherhood is not as relaxed as the AKP about their less-than-pious co-nationals, and they have been quite intolerant toward the (Coptic Christian or Shia) minorities.

Paradoxically, Morsi’s fall – although very detrimental to the stability of Egypt – is a boon to Erdogan in Turkey. Indeed, a year after the Arab revolutions Erdogan had been forced by developments in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, to promote a set of Islamic policies more aggressively than usual, a fact which provided ammunition last month to his more secular opposition.

As far as the US’ Arab policy is concerned, the Washington foreign policy-making circles have succeeded in making a mockery of Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech and in alienating, yet again, the Sunni believers, by far the largest religious group within the Islamic world.

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