There are western concerns regarding what is continuing to transpire in the Arab world; however this is also accompanied by an insistence of not getting embroiled or shouldering the responsibilities regarding these issues. This is a hot potato that nobody wants to handle, whilst everything else is nothing more than empty statements.
During a closed-door meeting in London to discuss the Arab situation, this sense of abandonment was loud and clear. It was stated that the Arab world is full of unacceptable systems and weak societies, while Arab society is not able to put forward any leaders capable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century as alternatives to these regimes. This is why when we look at Libya or Tunisia or Yemen or Egypt today we find that the situation on the ground is bad, if not worse than under the previous regime. Therefore we are facing a situation in which all the questions that led to the “Arab Spring” remain unanswered, or indeed have become even more complex. The most prominent example of this can be seen in the frustration of the Arab world’s educated youth who are now potentially facing an even worse situation following the Arab Spring!
Before discussing the situation in Egypt, those attending the closed-door meeting in London contemplated the situation in Syria. The analysis was as follows: anything that happens in Syria will be bad. The ongoing fighting in Syria will have a negatively impact the future of the country, namely a long legacy of mutual reprisals. There are also internal divisions within Syria, with some claiming that the Sunnis want to dominate rule, but there is no unified Sunni force.
But what is the alternative?
This is either for Bashar al-Assad to remain in power or for the Muslim Brotherhood – with Turkish support – to come to power or for chaos and violence in Syria to prevail, along with a legacy of deepening national divisions.
The negotiators believe that the only party capable of intervening in Syria is Turkey, because its intervention would not be viewed as “western” interference in Syria affairs, and would therefore be accepted. However the West would have preferred the intervention of a pre-Erdogan Turkey, whereas the intervention of Turkey today could lead to an even greater problem.
At this point, I asked: isn’t it true that the current situation is bad and is only getting worse?
The answer: “Yes, this is true; nobody is able to forcibly overthrow al-Assad in the near-future. The more realistic result would be a long-term conflict with al-Assad remaining in power, or a long-term conflict under unclear conditions where different factions are fighting over power.”
One of those who attended the London meeting informed me that there is presently Iranian and Hezbollah intervention in Syria; they are helping the al-Assad regime and even, in some cases, leading the killing against the revolutions, however the legacy of brutality in Syria will remain in place regardless of the result. He added “we have restarted old Syrian reprisals that will define the shape and nature of Syria for the forthcoming generation.”
As for Russia, a participant in the London meeting informed me that “the Russians are claiming that they have invested in this regime, and that they will not allow it to be toppled. Another major issue is that the US wants this regime to be ousted.” He added “I would not be able to understand Russia if I did not have past experiences with Iran. It is clear that it is not in Russia’s interests for Iran to become a nuclear power, however because Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that a nuclear Iran will be an even bigger problem for the US and Europe, he is protecting the Iranians. In fact, he is more hostile to America than concerned about Russia’s national interests.”
“If we look at Russia’s interests, it is clear that it is not in their interests to have a nuclear power as a neighbor, particularly if this state is a radical Islamic one. Moscow has reached an understanding with Tehran that Iran will not seek to incite the Muslim minority in southern Russia, and in return the Russians will protect the Iranian regime.”
“This is an excellent arrangement so long as Iran is not a nuclear power, however when Iran becomes a nuclear power, then the rules of the game will have changed, therefore the Russians are playing a very dangerous game, however experience has taught us that Putin is irresponsible.”
The Muslims in the former Soviet Union states are Sunnis, so why aren’t their fears that the some of the Arab states will incite them? The answer: because it does not serve the Arabs to do so, for these Arabs are concerned with the spread of Islamic teachings and madrassas which occasionally produces so-called terrorists, whereas these Arab governments are against terrorism. For its part, the Iranian government has supported terrorist organizations across the world.
I then asked: we have heard that the Russians have advised the Syrians to follow Moscow’s policy in Chechnya, when they burned the capital Grozny to the ground, namely the scorched earth policy. Is this true?
The answer: I do not believe that the Syrians need Russian advice; they have their own expertise and the advice of Iran and Hezbollah to fall back on. It is possible that they took the Russians advice, but we do not have any confirmed information on this, however we do have confirmed and solid information about the role being played by Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
Another participant in the London meeting expressed his view that there will be a turning point during which Russia will be prepared to countenance the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, on the condition that he is replaced by an alternative figure who will preserve the regime, adding perhaps they will accept the preservation of the regime, but without the figurehead of Bashar al-Assad.
However is such a solution a good one? The answer: no solution in Syria will be a good one and satisfy all parties.
I then asked: what about the prospect of military intervention? Another figure who participated in the London meeting answered: if you were in the same position as America or Europe, you wouldn’t want to intervene either, but if you were Turkey you would have done so already. Look, intervention in Libya was easy; however the results of this intervention are questionable. If the West intervened in Syria, then their fighter jets will be hit, as the Syrians possess anti-aircraft weaponry, whilst it will also be very difficult to intervene in a manner that meets with the approval of Western public opinion, as well as the acceptance of the Syrian people. He added “from here, it is easy to understand the Western or American thinking regarding non-intervention, particularly as how does such intervention serve western interests? Is this to stop the killing? If a new figure comes to power, he will immediately kill his opponents…we will see a river of reprisals.”
The participants played down the chances of other neighboring countries becoming embroiled in the bloody Syrian quagmire, however they acknowledged that if the regime collapses in Syria “this will have a negative impact on Jordan, for two reasons: firstly, Jordan will be surrounded by radical Islamist regimes. Secondly, al-Assad’s ouster will demonstrate that even if the army is loyal to the regime, there is no way to avoid regime change in the end, and the radical Islamists in Jordan will be therefore empowered by what happened in Syria.”
However Egypt remains one of the most important Arab states, and the participants at the London meeting stressed that one of two things will most likely occur in Egypt. Egypt will either fall under the joint-control of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and the army, or the army will try – via the rulings of the high court – to take over command and control of the state, and at this point the Muslim Brotherhood will take to the streets and there will be division and conflict between the army and the Brotherhood. The participants stressed that the most important thing for Egypt is for there to be a pluralistic system, particularly as the people who launched the revolution have been defeated and failed to achieve anything, whilst in the absence to such a system, Egypt will be unable to deal with the challenges of the modern world. This would also represent an economic disaster, not just because one of the primary lifelines of the Egyptian economy is tourism, which has collapsed and will not soon recover, but also because there can be no economic reform and military development under such conditions, namely when the Brotherhood are working to Islamize Egyptian society at a grass-roots level, and this is the complete opposite of what Egypt needs, particularly if we are talking about real economic reform and development.
If Ahmed Shafiq is announced as the next president of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will take to the street, for the court has given them ample reason: namely granting Shafiq the right to stand for election and dissolving parliament. Whilst if Mursi should emerge victorious, then the Brotherhood will, no doubt, accept the dissolution of parliament.
However will the Egyptian army accept living under the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood? One participant at the London meeting said this will depend on the agreement that the army comes to with the Brotherhood, in the sense of reaching an agreement where the Brotherhood agrees not to touch the special economic privileges enjoyed by the Egyptian military institute – and includes two billion dollars [in military aid] from Washington – in return the army would allow the Brotherhood to Islamize Egyptian society. He added that “the Brotherhood could live with such an agreement.”
However, isn’t there a danger that with the Islamization of Egyptian society the Brotherhood will become stronger than the army? The participants ruled this out, but stressed that “this state of affairs will not alleviate the impact of the economic disaster. They [the Brotherhood] said that with the Arab Spring they want to adopt the Turkish [secular] model. However in Turkey, the military was the major protector of the secularist model, and this does not apply to the situation in the Arab world.”
This closed-door meeting in London did not provide us with a glimmer of hope for the future, but rater indicated that we can expect two-generations worth of crises to sweep the Arab world.