Jan. 31, 2011
By Mahmood Monshipouri
A quick glance at the current realities in the Middle East shows that the consequences of U.S. foreign policy mistakes have eventually come home to roost. Some things have changed and others have remained the same. Palestinians are homeless and still in search of sovereign independence, and they see no end in sight despite frequent international condemnation of Israeli occupation and lethal Israeli reprisals against Palestinian uprisings since 1987 and the siege of Gaza. The United States acts as the sole extra-regional hegemonic power on the basis of its military pre-eminence in the area, invading countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq and guaranteeing the persistence of pro-Western but dysfunctional and corrupt regimes. Many of these regimes owe their political longevity and power to their willingness to cooperate with the U.S. foreign policy. In return, The United States has exerted little or no political/diplomatic pressure on these governments to adopt reforms. Yet these countries remain vulnerable to internal revolts in the long term and history has a way of catching them.
The most glaring example of this hypocrisy today is Egypt. Mubarak and its regime no longer represent the aspirations of their people. He is seen to perpetuate the interests of a corrupt regime and as a ruler who owes his power to his external support and foreign assistance from the United States ($1.3 billion annually). The U.S. backing of the region’s corrupt and dysfunctional regimes has alienated reformist social movements and further discredited U.S. foreign policy in the region. Nearly 30 percent of the Egyptian population lives below the poverty line. Moreover, uneven development has led to the emergence of an affluent class in predominantly lower middle class and poor cities such as Cairo and Alexandria. Since 1991, under IMF and World Bank guidance, Egypt has adopted a myriad of neoliberal policies. Its privatization policies have constantly led to workers’ strikes and demonstrations.
But the story does not end there. For the first time since the post-war period, across the Middle East and North Africa, a shared and common Arab identity has swept the streets of the Arab world. This new narrative is neither about the United States and its regional wars and military interventions, or the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and nor about the military coups and assassinations. It is about the first modern Arab uprisings against poverty, unemployment, and general recession. It has no ideological or political leaders. Far from being called a social movement at this stage—these uprisings are largely street protests emblematic of a sense of shared Arab identity and frustration spontaneously erupted by failed economic and political systems. This moment in history is not about social networking (Facebook and Twitter) and the power of technology—as the Western media wants us to believe it is—but rather it is about the Arab street and the Arab world, which have become much crowded and far more destitute than years past. It is high time that our analytical gaze be focused on the causes of economic frustration and resentments toward Arab governments.
As the Arab streets are exploding, the disconnect between the U.S. administration and the Egyptian people has never been wider: while the Obama administration urges the Mubarak regime to initiate much-needed reforms, the Egyptian protesters keep chanting: "Mubarak, leave the country.” The United States finds itself face with a classic foreign policy dilemma: to stand firmly behind an authoritarian regime it has long supported (since 1981) or come down on the side of protesters, the majority of them are young, educated, and unemployed. History has shown that the United States has come down on the wrong side (Iran’s shah, Philippines’ Marcos, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, and now Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak). Today, the consequences of U.S. foreign policy mistakes have eventually come home to roost. Proponents of reform and change in the Middle East ought to take a second look.