Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Middle East: 2010 - a prolongation of 2009, plenty of misleading ‘news’, a handful of illusive surprises, and no substantial change

BY FAREED MAHDY* Republished courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

ISTANBUL (IDN) –“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” One can hardly find another sentence that applies best to the past, present and future of the Middle East, let alone the whole world.

The sentence belongs to taciturn and solitary Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896-1957), author of the famous novel Il Gattopardo, which has been translated into English as The Leopard.

Otherwise, it is a fact that a year is just a time measuring unit.

But in the case of Middle East, such a unit can mean the further implementation of a religious-military-inspired project (Israel), the further collapse of its theoretical opponents (the Arab regimes), and the further terminal agony of a whole nation (the Palestinians).

So far, this year’s events are expected to be just a prolongation of last year’s: plenty of misleading ‘news’, a handful of illusive surprises, and no substantial change.

Formally speaking (beware), many things have ‘changed’ last year.

United States: A new president, Barack Obama, brought hopes to the Middle East.

In his inauguration speech in January, he talked about dialogue based on mutual respect. His speech in Cairo in June could not be a better signal.

There, Obama talked about peace based on the two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living alongside. There, Obama assured Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is not and cannot be at war with them.

And there, Obama proclaimed the final death of former White House occupant’s “crusade” (who used this term shortly after the 9/11), as well as the disappearance from his vocabulary (mind you) of the “war on terrorism” slogan that he inherited.

A year after taking office, Obama’s administration is still fully involved in Iraq; it has kept Guantanamo open while imposing silence on Baghram -- the Afghan Guantanamo, and has increased its troops in Afghanistan.

Obama’s administration has also further spread bloodsheds in Pakistan; prepared tougher sanctions on Iran, and paved the way for a stronger, direct military involvement in Somalia and Yemen.

No road to the two-state solution has been initiated; no decisive pressures on Israel to freeze settlements and accept an independent, sovereign Palestinian state.

No Middle East negotiations have been resumed, and no specific, tangible hopes have been given to the Palestinians. Instead, new, strong commitments to the security of Israel have been announced by Obama himself.

No endorsement to the Goldstone report accusing Israel for war crimes during its war on Gaza (Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009) has been made.

No words of condemnation for the use by Israeli military of white phosphor have been spelt out.

No call for lifting Israeli iron siege on Gaza has been launched, but instead cheers and praises have been heralded for the Egyptian regime’s decision to further tighten this collective punishment of 1.5 million civilians by building a 30 metres deep, 14 kilometres long steel wall on Gaza’s border.

Israel: A new government was elected; hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu leads it and toughest political parties and most fanatic religious groups have become its pillar.

Instead, the declaration of Israel as home to Jewish people only (Palestinian population in Israel amounts to two million) was made, and the full annexation of Jerusalem is being completed.

Categorical rejection of all UN Security Council resolutions was heralded, and new wars on Gaza and Lebanon are under preparation, as well as military strikes on Syria and Iran.

Palestinians: Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the so-called Palestinian Authority has been steadily strengthening his strategic plot with Israel, the U.S. and Europe to blow up Hamas.

In exchange, Abbas has been hoping to get any reward, which might help him make reality his obsessive dream of passing into History as the first-ever president of whatever Palestinian state.

Abbas has tightened his control over Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and nearly completed his plan to fully dismantle their attempts to protest even peacefully.

He has celebrated Egyptian regime’s decision to further strangulate Gaza, and has been begging for resuming negotiations and, at last, has ‘threatened’ with his no intention no run in Palestinian general elections.

Egypt: Hosni Mubarak’s regime, ruling over the last 29 years thanks to its rigorous implementation of the “emergency” laws, which suspend all citizens’ constitutional rights, has been further weakened.

It is nearly fully devoted to the process of sitting Mubarak’s son, Gamal, in the presidential throne, and has lost weight in the region due to its failure in mediating between Abbas and Hamas, among many other reasons.

The Arabs: Relegating their responsibilities in the region, the Gulf Arab regimes have been busy with economic crisis and the loss of their opulent incomes thanks to the previous year’s record oil prices, while solving financial debacles in Dubai.

Fearful of the death for their thrones, they have been fighting against Yemeni groups and praying for the U.S. and/or Israel to erase Iran for world’s map.

Others have been busy either rejoicing with Europe rewarding with stronger ties its systematic human rights abuses and brutal occupation of West Sahara (Morocco); or fighting for opening new windows to the external world (Syria).

Otherwise, they have been trying either to give satisfaction to Washington and Paris to allow it elect a president and form a government (Lebanon); or just designing new clothing and royal slogans for the “king” of Africa (Libya).

These have been some of last year’s major ‘changes’ in the Middle East. There have been others, but there were equally formal and therefore non-substantive.

It is on this very stage that this year’s ‘changes’ will be played. (IDN-InDepthNews/04.01.2010)

* Fareed Mahdy is special correspondent of IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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