With 2012 upon us, by now almost everyone will have heard that the world supposedly ends this year. But, despite the ridiculous talk about Mayan calendars, events in the Middle East could scarcely get much worse. Consider, for example, recent news coming out of Iraq.
The last soldiers of 3rd Brigade, 1st US Cavalry withdrew from Iraq via Kuwait on 17 December, taking part in a historic if somewhat under-reported process. Behind them, however, Saddam’s former subjects seemed to regress back to the bad old days of mid-2000s sectarianism. With the pesky Americans no longer around to impose their arrogant imperialism, (or whatever some might call it) Iraqi leaders like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki found their murderous intrigues free of interference. Moreover, ordinary citizens got back to the busy work of murdering each other over that time-honoured yet stupid question of religion. Now, the Iraqi vice-President – himself no angel – is on the run from a dubious arrest warrant, and some 130 civilians were wounded in bomb attacks across Baghdad on 22 December alone.
…knives being drawn in its political back-rooms…
Many may find it tempting to scapegoat the Americans and leave it there. After all, it’s unfashionable to criticise a Middle Eastern country or its beliefs. Alas, the vaunted neo-cons cannot be blamed for everything. Instead, the blood on Baghdad’s streets and the knives being drawn in its political back-rooms are symptomatic of a broader issue. In short, at the risk of accusations of Daily Mail-style exaggeration, the Middle East has been falling apart.
The so-called Arab Spring, for instance, promised waves of change and liberty. It delivered change, certainly, but of a kind that imperils liberty. Tunisia, Libya and Egypt now sport Islamist regimes in place of their former despots, and the full meaning of such systems is clear in the recent execution of a Saudi woman on witchcraft charges. (Begging the question of what the apparently moderate Tunisian-Libyan approach will produce.) In Egypt, grounds for hope are limited. Cynthia Farahat, founder of the Liberal Egyptian party, spoke to a US congressional hearing in early December on the infamous Maspero massacre. Her account, emotional despite admirable restraint, makes for harrowing stuff.
…the outlook is equally bleak…
Described as standing for “secularism, human rights, capitalism, the rule of law, and rejection of… Islamic imperialism” by the Centre for Security Policy, Farahat is just the figurehead needed to fulfil the Arab Spring’s promise. Considering her experiences, however, she is up against untenable odds. Elsewhere, the outlook is equally bleak. Bashar al-Assad stands as yet unruffled by Syria’s revolutionaries. Similarly, their counterparts in Iran are already long gone, betrayed by President Obama’s pathetic handling of the Green Revolution back in 2009/2010.
Sadly, the tragedy of that forlorn hope was merely the prelude to an ever worse situation regarding Iran. Aided greatly by the spineless behaviour of western leaders, Iran’s malevolent dictatorship is becoming a local superpower. Consolidating its position this year from Iraq through to Lebanon, Iran has now reached such strength that even the regional balance of power – not just internal politics – has become dangerously uncertain. The UAE, for example, grew so afraid of Iran this May that it hired an entire battalion of elite foreign mercenaries to bolster its special forces, the cost around $529 million. With no overt action against Iran’s nuclear aspirations, some talk of its neighbours following suit to protect themselves. Turkey’s Islamist leadership, presumably hunting for higher position, has taken a hostile stance against Israel. (Depressingly, Sunni-Shia feuding seems most ably resolved by anti-Semitism.)
…let’s hope 2012 really is a happier new year…
Nevertheless, the region’s 2011 has had its moments. The deaths of Gaddafi and bin Laden; NATO’s progress in Afghanistan; the beginnings of successful covert action against the Iranian dictatorship – these all warrant celebration, hope and praise. They also, however, make for a sharp contrast to the much larger list of things that went wrong. For our sakes and those of people across the Middle East, let’s hope 2012 really is a happier new year.
Image courtesy of the BBC and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad