A few months ago, I met an international official visiting London after a tour of the Middle East, followed by another tour of some European countries, and I have not forgotten what he said to me, namely: “Unfortunately, there is a superficial tendency in US decision-making circles and in some European ones, about the reality of what is going on in the region…they see Bahrain as a revolution and Syria as a sectarian issue, it’s unbelievable!”
I recalled this phrase when I read, and watched, the majority of Western coverage of the events in our region, and specifically the angry reactions to an anti-Islam film and the subsequent attack on embassies. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said that the Arab revolutions did not “trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of the mob”. Yet it is strange that Clinton was one of the most ardent supporters of those she describes today as the “mob”, and now she has changed her tune. Of course, she is not defending the rulers who were overthrown, just the manner of the change itself. At the outbreak of the Arab Spring, everyone tried the impossible to alert Mrs. Clinton, and warn her of the danger of simplifying what is happening in the region. Whether in the days of the Bahrain riots or on the subject of Syria, senior officials spoke, and some wrote, specifically in this newspaper, warning that America was dealing with the events in a regrettable manner. So will Mrs. Clinton speak out now in recognition of the magnitude of the mistakes that were made? I doubt it; the US administration is continuing to commit gross errors, particularly in Syria where the al-Assad regime has killed nearly 27 thousand of its citizens, and Washington still sees it as a Sunni-Shiite conflict, even though Iran has acknowledged that it is sending troops to support al-Assad!
The story does not end here. In the American media there are those promoting the theory that the burning of embassies only took place in the Arab Spring states because the new leaders there have little experience in using oppression, compared to the previous dictatorial regimes. This is a superficial interpretation par excellence, as if some in America want to say that the rational individuals who did not participate in the burning of embassies only failed to do so because they were being oppressed! Furthermore, is Sudan an Arab Spring state? What about the protests in Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey or even Sydney, Australia? What about the leaders of Egypt themselves, the Muslim Brotherhood, who staged and participated in the demonstrations in their country, and only withdrew their call for a million man march at the last minute? Finally, what is the position of those who have read the al-Qaeda statement saying that the killing of the US Ambassador in Libya was in retaliation to the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, and not because of an anti-Islam film?
The gravity of what America is doing lies in the fact that it is not a minor state, or an intellectual changing his position like a number of intellectuals who have shamelessly changed sides, America is a superpower. It is like a large elephant confined to a small space, and any uncalculated move will result in massive destruction and have a serious impact. The fact is that it is difficult to align ourselves with Washington, because the Americans have committed, and continue to commit, serious mistakes in the region. America did not orchestrate the Arab Spring, but the danger lies in it now directing its winds.
What is important here is not to stand with this side against that, but rather to help the oppressed in Syria, ensure genuine constitutions in the Arab Spring states, and outline the rules of the game completely. America should not navigate amongst Shiite political Islam, as George W. Bush did in Iraq, or Sunni political Islam as Obama is doing now in the region.