Friday, 18 March 2011
Ever since the revolution spread from Tunisia to Egypt, I have been asking myself the oldest, most perplexing question of the criminal investigator: cui bono? Who benefits?
Many of my fellow Serbs, biased through their own experience, have been quick to point the finger at the usual suspect-the "big bad" America.... It seemed like a familiar pattern... NGOs, "civil society", "free media", CNN comes in to save the people from their country. If the above combo does not get the job done, bombs are always available. The final act of this play is known: a dictator-perceived or real-gets deposed and "privatisation" begins.
What is unusual about this string of revolutions is: who are the leaders? There is no major "mascot" of the rebellion. There are no clear demands either, except "freedom". There is also a wide divergence in the economies of the countries involved: Tunisia, a fairly good economy with some inequity of distribution; Egypt, a fairly wealthy country with huge inequities; Bahrain, a generally very wealthy country with a Gulf-style welfare state; Yemen, a very poor country.
There is, however, an emerging pattern of who is being overthrown. Gaddafi was a former enemy who became an "almost friend" (only to become an enemy again). Mubarak was a key US ally, while the Kingdom of Bahrain is the seat of the US Fifth Fleet. Tunisia was an ally too, albeit a small one. Yemen, while being home to Al-Qaeda fractions, has been "playing ball" in recent years
All in all, this is a toppling of (closer or more distant) "allies". No "enemy" or "rogue" Muslim state was seriously affected: Iran and Syria quickly dealt with whatever unrest there was in their jurisdictions. Then there is Gaddafi, who repeatedly claimed that Al-Qaeda was behind the Lybian revolution. Interestingly, no such claims were made by the deposed leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
So, who benefits?
The oil speculators? Hardly. The markets have grown accustomed to Middle East crises and the fluctuations are not what they used to be. Indeed, if one wanted to raise the price of oil globally, one would be better advised to go after Chavez or the Saudis, perhaps combined with a little North Caucasus stir-up in the "pipeline regions". Or, in a more pacific fashion, to fabricate, as is common, a few "expert" forecasts on a huge surge in Chinese demand for black gold and make sure the global media buy and then resell them.
The Americans perhaps? But why make amends with Gaddafi then, as they did a few years back? Why put the Fifth Fleet in danger, as it inevitably will be if Bahrain falls? Why topple Mubarak and leave Israel in a state of quiet panic that "The Peace" may be broken by a new regime?
The Russians? It would make some sense, as they would benefit from buttressing the price of oil and stretching Western forces if and when a military intervention took place. Then again, the Russians can always count on Afghanistan to overstrech the US and the British at least. In addition, they can always stir up the Chechens and they have the intelligence to launch panicky economic forecasts, if it is the price of oil they care about.
The odd ones are the "Europeans" (if such a collective term is of any value these days...). France says: "make Gaddafi go away now, at any cost." The British say: "make him go away-soonish". The Germans say that he should go away but abstain from supporting the UN Security Council resolution against the Gaddafi regime. The Italians are quick to turn against Gaddafi, forgetting, suddenly, the vital role he has played in Italy's security in recent years-both energy and physical (as a control valve on oil and North African clandestine migration).
Al-Qaeda? Is Gaddafi right? This is unlikely. Unlike the US, Al-Qaeda is not known to be in the business of state-building. In any event, even if they did manage to create upheavals, it is difficult to believe that they have the human or financial resources to construct and sustain regimes in five or six countries simultaneously. Besides, if it were them, the Americans would be on to them (one hopes) and this would all have ended with a few street clashes in Tunis. Most importantly, in the long run, Al-Qaeda has no viable alternative socio-politicial scenario to present to the Arab nations: they specialise in terrorism and terrorism does not build countries.
The UN resolution itself is a strange affair: a no-fly zone that may or may not entail airstrikes, but definitely no land invasion, adopted on the eve of Gaddafi's planned assault on Benghazi. Perhaps the Westerners are aware of the city's imminent fall and have decided to take the last chance to clear their public image (after doing nothing for weeks), now that the Colonel's victory is almost assured? It remains to be seen whether they really intend to go against him militarily.
It is the last theory that blends in with the only logical explanation of cui bono: Iran. As Benjamin Netanyahu astutely pointed out in an interview with CNN tonight, fighting for freedom is all well and good-if it is legitimate. Do not forget, the Israeli PM pointed out, that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was also about "freedom." It is possible, therefore, that the newly "liberated" states in North Africa and the Middle East could fall under the influence of Iran or some sort of home-grown Islamic fundamentalism.
I am going to say what Netanyahu could not, due to his official position: Iran may very well be driving America and its allies into a global checkmate, where Iran takes over the Arab world-wholesale. Worse still, after tonight's resolution, America seems keen to pay for the ride! The Gulf States are willing to share: while quelling the rebellion in Bahrain, they help liberate Lybia. If Lybia falls, how long do they think they can sustain Bahrain or, for that matter, their own regimes? Of course, the outcome of the Bahrain uprising will be a good indicator of Saudi Arabia's intentions: if Bahrain holds, Saudi Arabia certainly will and this alters the cui bono equation fundamentally. Whatever the case may be, intervention in Lybia will certainly not harm America's enemies: when all is said and done, it is American bombs that people will remember-not the ones from the UAE.
Democracy is invariably preceded by chaos-it varies greatly in magnitude but it is omnipresent in states of transition. Chaos is precisely what Iran preys on. If they did not cause the revolutions, they will certainly be standing by to try to fill the ensuing gaps and install Hezbollah and similar organisations. The new Arab regimes will be weak and "lost in space", as all new post-revolutionary regimes are (except the American one in the 1780s-this is certainly part of the reason why Americans persistently overestimate state-building). They may very well look to Iran as the only source of stability-together with Turkey-in the Muslim world. Indeed, if the chaos in the "liberated" countries were followed up with a Turko-Iranian alliance, Western interests in the region and, ultimately, the entire non-Western world, will be dead in the water.
Again, if Bahrain holds and the Gulf States do, Saudi Arabia could fill Iran's role, albeit more weakly, as it has neither the nuclear capacity nor the untarnished image of integrity against the "Great Satan" that Iran does. In addition, like Al-Qaeda, it has no viable socio-political alternative to offer, while it lags far behind the famous terrorist organization in terms of revolutionary novelty, as the Kingdom of the Saud symbolises the status quo of Arab governance.
Whether the emerging axis will be Ankara-Tehran, Ankara-Riyadh or even (unlikely) Tehran-Riyadh, it will certainly cease to be Washington-Riyadh or Washington-Ankara. Western interests will be truly buried in a nailed coffin covered with cement once the Russians and the Chinese, who have no interest in supporting the West indefinitely, negotiate their own deals with the emerging Islamic leadership.
I sincerely hope that the wise Western heads that adopted the Security Council resolution had all this in mind tonight, especially if they have not yet mastered cold fusion or some other sci-fi energy source that will put an end to oil. Master a new energy source they must, as nuclear energy is rapidly losing popularity these days-for evident reasons-and the end of the oil bonanza is the inevitable outcome of a truly multi-polar world.
In the end, the cynic in me must accept the possibility that, perhaps, these are genuine revolutions after all. God knows that Man has always yearned for freedom and dignity. Even so, it should be kept in mind that revolutions can always be instrumentalised ex-post and that, even in the absence of instrumentalization, freedom does not always equate with America in the eyes of the liberated.