Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Puppet Dictator | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People remove a picture of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the northeastern provincial capital of Raqqa after it was captured by rebel fighters. (R)

The ‘puppet dictator’ is a phenomenon still present in the Arab world. Specifically, it might refer to certain figures in Syria and Iraq, Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, or perhaps Khaled Mishal in Gaza. Such modern dictators do not harbor any feelings for their people or their countries, nor do they bestow them with progress or prosperity. Rather, their only objective is to placate their regional sponsor and protector, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran is ceaseless in its efforts to install and support this type of dictator across the Arab world. Indeed, they can be found operating at various different echelons throughout the region: the state, as seen in Syria with Bashar Al-Assad; the government, as with Nuri Al-Maliki in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Hamas in Gaza; and also subversive popular movements, as have been present in Bahrain, Yemen, and, to a lesser extent, in other Gulf states.

The term dictator was first used long ago by the Romans. However, in order to distinguish between a ‘dictator’ and a ‘puppet dictator’ we need some clear, modern examples that can highlight the differences between the two. Adolf Hitler and his fascist contemporary Benito Mussolini were undoubtedly dictators. So too were the communist tyrants Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Each of these bloodthirsty dictators held a vision, policy, and direction that they unconditionally believed would benefit the nation, state, or ideology which they led. Similarly, a puppet dictator has a vision and a policy, but pursues them for the benefit of another state and a people other than those he claims to lead. In the case of the aforementioned Middle Eastern countries and movements, this involves implementing the regional agenda of Iran.

A puppet dictator acts as a loyal servant, following the directives of the parent state. At the very least, he shares the same authoritarian interests as the parent state, and his success depends on advancing these interests. In Iraq, for instance, Maliki has not changed any of his policies after more than three months of protests that continue to spread throughout the country. He holds the position of prime minister for a second term despite the fact that his opponent, from the Iraqiya bloc, received the most votes.

Iran has applied concerted pressure on Iraqi politicians and leaders in order to secure the return of its loyal servant to the helm of government. In order to maintain this unlimited support, Maliki has taken to treating the opposition in a curious fashion, such as deploying an army far into the Iraqi desert to confront protesters who posed no threat whatsoever to the decision-making institutions of the state. He also sent a helicopter to abduct a former Iraqi minister. These illogical policies seek to gain the approval of the parent state, to the detriment of Iraq and its population. Bashar Assad has deployed the same political tactics in Syria, but the scale and magnitude of his is proportional to the size of the protests and opposition he is facing.

As for the Gulf, despite the rational and neighborly policies that were pursued regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran, the latter has continued its blatant strategy of employing rhetoric that targets the Gulf states. I do not think any observer can deny the fact that Iran has adopted a strategy of hostility towards the Gulf, and indeed the Arabs in general.

Iran has shown its true aggressive colors throughout the region. Statements from Iranian political and military officials; the plans on the ground in several Arab countries; its revolutionary ideology; nurturing, supporting, and installing puppet dictators, all demonstrate how Iran means to treat the Arab Gulf with open hostility.

Sectarianism is a core element of Iran’s strategic policy, and is used as a political weapon in order to create conflicts that will be advantageous to its puppet dictators. Such a tactic is as unacceptable from a religious standpoint as it is potent from a political one, especially in moments of great crises. Nonetheless, it is a visible policy of the puppet dictatorships in the Arab world.

From the outset Assad has sought to frame the Syrian crisis as a sectarian crisis; a conflict in which the Alawites and other minorities are targeted. The reality, however, is that the policies and strategies followed by the regime have merely deepened sectarian divides and contradicted the ideology of the secularist Ba’ath party to which he belongs.

In exploiting political sectarianism, Maliki is no different than Assad. Similarly, the Houthis in Yemen bears resemblance to Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, since they both receive weapons delivered directly from Iran and Iranian agents.

However, these puppet dictators do not realize that such sectarianism will never succeed, and that their countries will be torn apart by long-lasting political and ethnic divisions. What the puppet dictators fail to realize is that stoking sectarianism will never save them, quite the contrary; their countries will be devastated by even more powerful and long-lasting rifts.

The Pandora’s box of sectarian conflict, once opened, is capable of destroying everything in its path. This is something that Iran has failed to acknowledge. When the majority resorts to the sectarianism option, against its better judgment, Iran’s efforts throughout the region will be lost. The political and academic arguments against the West, in which Iran claims to represent the democracy of the minority against the dictatorship of the majority, will fail to take root.

The puppet dictator could not survive the sectarian conflict that he encourages. He would be left without sanctuary or refuge except for that provided by the puppet master. With every measure he takes to reinforce and disseminate sectarianism, his opponents grow in strength, and his end nears.