Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Tunisian fire burns Algeria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It may be pure speculation to link the violent demonstrations that erupted in Tunisia, to the subsequent protests in Algeria. However, what is certain is that the U.S. and western countries bear part of the responsibility for the economic and political deterioration in a number of Arab countries, and especially those which have begun to suffer from civil unrest.

The U.S. and western countries, which have influence over a number of Arab states, would have breathed a sigh of relief after they targeted Islamic trends, and denied such movements from coming to power in both Palestine and Algeria, regardless of election results. The U.S. was happy to [keep the existing governments in power] and apply the famous western proverb: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”. Yet the U.S. has failed to domesticate these ‘devils’, and transform them into reasonable, accountable governments. After the U.S. managed to quell the threat of the Islamic trends, it was faced with the consequences of rising popular resentment towards the governments it had supported.

It is strange that the U.S. and its allies do not realize that Islamic trends are the primary beneficiaries of the corrupt practices of some of these governments. The Islamists’ popularity feeds on the failures of the national government, its political and economic corruption, and the iron fist with which it grips the nation. In situations such as these, people search for a saviour, regardless of their slogan, and few slogans are as attractive as the Islamic ones. If you were to tour the Arab states, you would find that when a government focuses its attention on its people, uses the country’s resources accordingly, and loosens its security grip, this government is the most stable and popular. As a result, the Islamists will be less popular in that country, or more precisely, they will pose no danger to the government. Take Kuwait and Oman as two clear examples. The Islamists in Kuwait, even if they are noisy, and a constant headache for state officials, they do not pose any real threat to the government. In the Palestinian case, on the contrary, the U.S. was satisfied with the weak Palestinian Authority government, and thus remained silent on the subject of its blatant transgressions, and endorsed the proposal to override the election results. As a result, the Palestinian Authority remains in power with a lack of public support. Meanwhile, the Islamic opposition, led by Hamas, poses a real threat to the US, as well as Israel.

Some governments adopt an oppressive style to ‘tame’ their populace, and although this may provide quick results and short-term stability, the end result is that severe pressure accumulates, and will ultimately explode at some time. This is what we have observed recently in a number of Arab countries. They have begun to crack under the pressure of angry public demonstrations, and the Islamists are the main beneficiaries in the end.

Some of these Arab governments were relieved when the U.S. and its allies targeted Islamic trends, and prevented them from reaching power, as in Algeria and Palestine. These governments were aware that no matter how much corruption spread, and no matter how much they tightened their security grip over their population, even if the U.S. opposed their conduct, it would accept them as the ‘devil it knows’, rather than the Islamic devil it ‘does not know’. Thus, some Arab governments are committing a grave mistake [in relying upon unconditional U.S. support], as a public uprising represents a danger which neither the U.S., nor any other power, can do anything to prevent. This is exactly what happened in the case of Iran, at the time of U.S. cooperation with its powerful ally the Shah – America’s policeman in the region. In the end, the Shah’s considerable power in the region was meaningless in the face of public uprising. Thus the U.S. did not only disappoint its faithful ally, but it also later refused to receive him, when he was diagnosed with cancer.