lundi, février 03, 2003

Arab Views Of US Motives

No 5

Arab Press Review

(MEES Translation)

Arab Views Of US Motives
The following is an extract from an article by Dr Burhan Ghalioun (Syrian), Professor of Political Sociology and Director of the Centre d’Etudes sur L’Orient Contemporain at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris, entitled “Do The Arabs Fear The Downfall Of The Iraqi Regime?” that appeared on the website of al-Jazeera television station on 24 January 2003.

I do not believe that the general resistance of the Arabs to renewed US interference in Iraq or any other Arab state springs from any desire to preserve the autocratic or semi-autocratic regimes in their countries, nor does it spring from delusions related to the existence of weapons – of mass destruction or conventional – that might be used one day against Israeli arrogance. That arrogance has reached a point where it has killed off the credibility of neighboring states’ claim to have the ability to guarantee the security and stability of their states.

If there are those who indeed fear that the latest anticipated military intervention in Iraq is a prelude to further interventions in a number of states, then it is those regimes and elites which feel totally cut off from society that should feel afraid -- and not society itself.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Arab public opinion as a whole, and especially in enlightened circles, is unhesitatingly in favor of change. Nevertheless, it rejects a plan to submit Iraq or any Arab state to a new military assault. This is not out of any love for the existing leaders and political regimes, or dread of them, or fear of their reprisals – but it is the result of long experience with Western powers, with the US leading the way, over the past three decades.

If the Arab public opinion believed that what the US wanted in the Middle East – as the American media is saying while war preparations are being made – was to free the Arab people from dictatorship, set up democratic regimes, guarantee the rights of minorities, free all peoples from the yoke of oppression, open the region to outside investment to encourage development, and eliminate the causes of fanaticism and terrorist violence, then there would be no hesitation in giving its blessing to Washington or any other international power inside or outside the region. The problem is not with the slogans that the US raises to justify its campaign to cut off the roots of terrorism, but with the US’s identification with them around the world – or at least in the Arab countries. How can those people who today raise slogans of democracy, security, regional stability and development justify war on Iraq, followed at some point by other countries, convince the Arab peoples that the US had no vested interests in seeing the continuation of autocratic and inhumane regimes that have dominated the region for the past four decades at the very least?

And by what means would the US be able to convince Arab and international public opinion that these regimes with their autocratic and tyrannical nature, which is being cited as the pretext for military intervention, reached power and remained there by means of free, impartial and rotating popular votes? And how will it convince the world that the US – with respect to those governments which, at the very least, were under its tutelage and protection, and of which there were many – was not able to exert pressure to change them and make them adopt the principle of free and open democracy?

And how is the US to convince Arab public opinion that the strike on the Ba’thist regime in Iraq and other targeted Arab states, and the elimination of advanced weapons are part of its desire to see greater security, stability and regional cooperation, and reduce tension – when for decades the US has been strengthening Israel’s arsenal with the latest and most deadly weapons of mass destruction and helping it publicly and openly to maintain a stranglehold on its neighbors – with Israel’s population totaling 5mn, and that of the Arabs 300mn?

And what proof is there that the elimination of dangers and threats of war is the goal of the intervention in Iraq when the US has not hesitated in giving its approval to the war of mass destruction that the right-wing extremist government in Israel is waging on Palestinian society – beginning with the smashing up of its infrastructure and ending with elimination of its leadership and youth, while en route destroying its economic, political and social institutions, at the top of the list being the National Authority, out of which the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations grew.
How can Arab public opinion trust the US’s preoccupation with the fate of minorities in the region when it remains silent in the face of the obvious racial cleansing project that the Israeli regime is carrying out by expanding settlements in Palestinian territories, enacting racist laws and taking control of water and other life essentials in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

And where is the proof that the US is really striving to improve development conditions in the Arab world when it is contesting with its European allies its right to sign contracts with the Gulf states and soaking up the latters’ liquidity by forcing them to conclude unnecessary arms contracts?

It is up to those people who repeat these slogans to provide Arab public opinion with one sign of proof – inside or outside the region – that the world’s superpower and other states have intervened to bring about democracy, security, stability and development there – and not to further their interests.

We know that democracy, peace, security and development are not the goals that the US is striving for by attacking Iraq as part of its public war on terrorism. States do not expend effort to promote the interests of people other than their own. In most cases, they do not expend effort – as is the case in our states and regimes – even to promote or defend the interests of their own people – but only to look after their own interests, whether strategic, political or economic. The war that the US is planning in Iraq has no connection with the interests of the Iraqi people or the Arab world. The whole focus is on strengthening and supporting the US’s authority in the region and avoiding flare-ups that could threaten that hegemony. This is what public opinion fears. It also rejects these factors as a pretext for intervention. It does not fear war on Saddam and his regime, nor the results of the regime falling. But it does fear the widening of the US sphere of influence in the region, with state after another, as well as the diminishing of what is left of the principle of sovereignty – even if this is little more than symbolic – of the Arab peoples in the region.

Arab public opinion fears that the US will become the only party to dictate its will on the peoples of the region in all aspects of life, just as today it dictates it on the Arab-Israel struggle and decides its results – that is to say, that the war and bloodshed should continue in a way that contradicts the three slogans which the US is using to justify the coming war: democracy, security and development.

Some people say that the US, after being struck by terrorism on its own turf, changed its policy and since then has wanted to pursue a positive policy towards the Arab peoples. But the events in the aftermath of the September 2001 attack show that the US is more keen than ever to impose its will and make governments subservient to it in regions where it fears hostility, as is the case today.

The best example of this is what is happening in occupied Palestine. In no past era has a US administration given an Israeli government a free hand to destroy the bases of security, stability and future peace prospects, and challenge official and popular Arab sensitivities as the Bush administration has done over recent months since it gave the green light to Sharon to eliminate the Palestinian issue and allowed him to deal with the Palestinian people as though they were a terrorist organization.

dimanche, février 02, 2003


The failure to discover any traceable evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq doubtlessly creates
a serious embarrassment for the American administration. But the US never made much of an effort to
conceal that the purported existence of WMDs in Iraq was only a pretext employed to obtain the consent of
some of its bigger allies to its global strategic outlook, and the acquiescence of smaller nations to its
regional plans. The real objective behind the US strike against Iraq was not the destruction of WMDs – Iraq
in its pre-war state was ill equipped to produce WMDs anyway – but to topple the regime of President
Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration also clearly considered regime change to be more than a
strategic aim in itself, but rather a prelude to a general makeover of the region, in the course of which many
local regimes would have to change or be changed according to its strategic vision. Secretary of State
Colin Powell made this abundantly clear when, in December 2002, he promised the peoples of the region a
concerted effort on behalf of the US to achieve democratic change, fight unemployment and work for the
improvement of women’s position in society.
Powell’s initiative revealed the intellectual background driving American policy in Iraq and the region as a
whole – an approach born out of the Bush team’s conviction that the hegemonic social forces in the Arab
world, including those counted as pro-American, have failed to lead and promote the economic, political,
cultural and religious affairs of the region. In this view, the ruling Arab regimes are in the final analysis
responsible for the disturbances and tensions that prompted the growth of fundamentalist and terrorist
organizations which today threaten the West.
We have to concede that the US did succeed, in spite of the blatant inconsistencies that mark its publicly
advocated positions, and despite the resistance of the United Nations, to realize two important objectives in
its pursuit to impose its regional schemes onto Arab regimes. First, they successfully bullied a good number
of governments throughout the region into supporting or at least acquiescing to the American war plan. The
permanent pressure exerted in the months leading to war convinced many governments that war was
inevitable, and that it would be better to be on the winning side rather than to oppose the US or remain
neutral, and risk becoming a potential next target. Hence, many Arab regimes scrambled to provide their
support for the US, thereby wiggling out of formal obligations undertaken in the frame of the Arab league,
such as the pledge not to cooperate with any attack on Iraq that was ratified unanimously during the Beirut
summit in March 2002. Rather than criticize the American administration, many regimes shifted to a
position of openly welcoming cooperation, providing assistance and actively implementing the reforms
expected from them. The American administration in turn has displayed remarkable flexibility in its dealings
with the various Arab regimes, and did not impose specific approaches on any of them in terms of how to
perform their obligations towards Washington. On the contrary, the US was careful not to overstate the
support and cooperation it received in ways that could potentially compromise the credibility of the country
or regime providing it, and accepted from each and every government what it could provide without causing
too much embarrassment.
Thus much of Arab-American relations returned to their original course, and many Arab regimes dropped
the apprehension and fear they felt for their fate and future in the face of an American policy of military
pressure seen as no longer respecting even the basic forms of international relations. With this flexibility,
the Americans managed to neutralize most of the Arab world and secure the active cooperation of a
, S

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sizeable minority of Arab states. This cooperation was a necessary condition for the success of the
American strategy, providing it with a reliable regional base for intervention, and enabling it to operate and
change the balance of power from within the theater of operations itself. The neutralization of the Arab
League also freed the hands of the Arab governments who were ready to cooperate, and protected them in
the face of any potential local opposition and resistance.
The second objective that the American administration achieved through its current strategic assault was to
convince the Arabs themselves and most of the rest of the world, both on popular and official levels, that
the American vision for change is the only viable option for the region, and that there is no real potential or
horizon for economic and democratic change coming from within these societies.
The way the Arab regimes caved in when faced with the assault on Iraq served to support this view, very
much like the nearly complete failure of the same regimes to stand up to the Palestinian crisis a year
before, and like their inability to implement any serious program of economic, political or social reform,
while the regimes in power are increasingly closing in on themselves, marginalizing their public, and
monopolizing their grip on power. Faced with such a blind pursuit of power and open disdain for any
requests for reform in the face of a deteriorating social and economic situation, there is a growing sense in
the larger part of global public opinion that maybe there is no alternative to foreign intervention in the Arab
region, even if and when it happens in blatant contradiction to all accepted standards and principles and
lacks any kind of legal cover.
More than that, a good part of Arab public opinion has despaired of the local elites and lost any trust in
them. Namely the middle classes that find themselves threatened by a steep decline without any hope for
improvement, participation and reform, are sliding slowly but surely toward the same conviction, and are
ready to jump from the frying pan of oppression into the fire of foreign intervention. After giving up on any
internal improvements, they now hope for an impact from the outside that may break the ice of the status
quo. They are encouraged in their expectations by the behavior of their leaders themselves who, when
faced with a new crisis ravaging the area, beg the big countries for intervention, and appeal to them for help
on many other accounts. All of this serves to convince the public that these regimes have long lost control
over the situation, and that the solution of all external and internal problems is now really in the hands of
foreign states and powers.
The fears that the American onslaught has caused in the Islamic sectors of public opinion will not serve to
stem this collective withdrawal from the Arab nation, with all that this entails in terms of surrendering
national sovereignty. Likewise, the cheap and hypocritical discourse of patriotism employed by the regimes
with the overt aim of subduing public opinion and quelling any critical and reformist discourse will not stand
in the way of this current, but rather tends to enhance it.
One thing seems certain: If we – governments and opposition forces alike – are not able to move forward,
say within the horizon of a year, towards an understanding that opens a perspective for real change and
reform in the region, and show our public opinion a way out of the doldrums of frustration and defeatism,
then we should not be surprised to see the final collapse of the last inhibitions that may still prevent large
parts of Arab public opinion, steeped as they are in the spirit of nationalism, to throw in their lot with foreign
intervention, be it European or American.
Because if the current crisis and disarray persist, our societies will not only lose trust in the ruling elites, but
also in the local national opposition, and eventually in their ability to deal with their own affairs, thus
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preparing the ground for an unconditional capitulation and a welcome to foreign intervention and solutions.
What is happening in Iraq today is not an Iraqi issue alone. In the absence of any real solutions for the
problems of our societies, and with the persistent unresponsiveness of the ruling elites towards any
pleading for economic, political and social reforms, there is not much that would prevent any society, Arab
or other, to go down that same dangerous road. One faction will be ready to strike a deal with the devil to
get rid of tyranny and oppression, while a silenced and submissive majority that long retreated from politics
and anything related to the public domain looks on with indifference and scorn.
To be sure, the American neocolonialist advance into the region will not offer the local elites clinging to their
coattails anything but humiliation. It will also not help those regimes that in a desperate effort to avoid
becoming its victims subscribe to the American strategy. Nor will it improve the situation of the declining
middle class, or lead to an era of stability and prosperity as some still expect – far from it. Rather, it rings in
a long era of disappointment, a new decade of instability or even chaos, while security and peace seem as
elusive as ever.
First published in Fasl Al-Maqal (“The Decisive Word”), Nazareth/Jerusalem, February 2, 2003. Translated

from Arabic by Heiko Wimmen, Beirut/New York.

Burhan Ghalioun is is presently the Director of the Centre d’Etudes sur l’Orient Contemporain (CEOC) in
Paris and a Professor of Political Sociology at the Universite de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle). He obtained
his Ph.D. in Political Science from the Sorbonne. He is the author of several authoritative books, such as Le

Malaise Arabe: l’Etat contre la Nation, Islam et Politique: la Modernite Trahie, Crise de la Politique: l’Etat et

la Religion and La Culture Arabe: Entre Modernisme et Traditionalisme, as well as over a hundred
academic articles in various journals on political Islam, Arab political culture and state and society relations
in the Arab World.