CEPRID

Condolezza Rice was right : a new Middle East is being born

Friday 20 June 2008 by CEPRID

Alberto Cruz CEPRID

The Doha Agreement for Lebanon has clarified a new re-ordering of the map of the Middle East. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was correct when, during the Israeli war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006, while Israeli planes bombed that Arab country’s civilian areas, especially Shi’ite barrios of Beirut and the country’s southern cities, she justified the massacre saying that it was assisting "the birth pangs of a new Middle East". What Rice never dreamt was that with Hizbollah’s victory over Israel, that new Middle East was going to be one very different from the imperialist design, one that little by little would move away from the tutelage of the United States and its regional agents, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Just as is happening in Latin America, there is an awakening in the Arab world. To the Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian struggles one can add that of workers in Egypt and, to a lesser extent but still worth highlighting, that of Jordanian workers against their government’s neoliberal, IMF-friendly policies. It is indeed the birth of a new Middle East, that of its peoples.

In foreign policy, there are no immutable truths. Today’s faithful ally can tomorrow become a pariah. So while one cannot say that imperialist strategy in the Middle East has been defeated, one can definitely say it has been seriously weakened. Initial credit for this goes to the Iraqi patriots who managed to paralyze the neocolonial geopolitical reordering of the region begun by the invasion of Iraq.

But the definitive blow was dealt by Israel’s defeat in the summer war of 2006. Since then Hamas has consolidated its strength in Gaza. Now in Lebanon the winners are the organizations of the patriotic and nationalist alliance made up of Hizbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, Amal and a plethora of leftwing organizations that form part of the resistance.

The US and its regional proxies, like Saudi Arabia, following the failure of that strategy in Iraq, have tried to turn Lebanon into the one Arab mirror other countries should reflect from. In March, US ambassador in Beirut, Jeffrey Feltman showed without the least coyness his "disgust at the continual, shameless attacks against Lebanon’s democratic institutions by those who seek to restore Syria’s decision-making role" (he is referring to the nationalist and patriotic forces unanimously described as pro-Syrian by the famous "international community" and its media shock troops).

George Bush himself has insisted endlessly, and repeated during his last tour of the region which almost coincided with the takeover of Beirut by Hizbollah militants and their allies, that Lebanon is a country where "the forces that receive support from Syria and Iran ought to be confronted and defeated". It has been quite the reverse. The pro-Western, pro-US, pro-Saudi forces have been defeated on every front, militarily and politically. (1)

In military terms, as the left-wing Lebanese daily newspaper, As Safir, notes, in addition to a clear domestic message on the fragility of the military structures of the pro-Western forces which the US, the Saudis and Jordanians tried so hard to make into a counterweight to Hizbollah, the takeover of Beirut by Hizbollah militants and their allies has an external message too:"it has reminded the Americans and Israelis that military adventures will have doleful consequences."(2) The events in Beirut took place, it is very much worth noting, just a few days after Bush visited the Middle East, which for the newspaper means, "the last nail in the coffin containing the American design for the Middle East." (3)

In political terms, the fact that the Lebanese political forces reached an agreement in Doha to end the crisis makes obvious there exists a clear will on the part of political organizations and even governments to defy, resist and oppose the sectarian, neocolonial plan the US, Israel and their reactionary Arab allies are trying to impose on the region. Arab nationalism, asleep for years and years, is waking up again, auguring a new arrangement for the Middle East, one very different from the imperialist plan.

The end of the Saudi era

The agreement pro-Western Lebanese forces reached with the patriotic nationalist forces implies a defeat for the interests of the US and its regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia. Already during the urgent Arab League meeting called to deal with the issue following the takeover of Beirut by Hizbollah militants and their allies, there was significant discrepancy by various countries like Qatar, Yemen and Algeria, from the Saudi arguments - which placed all responsibility on Hizbollah, advocated their disarmamaent and sought an express condemnation of armed struggle.

While the pro-Western "March 14th" coalition insisted that Hizbollah and its allies had carried out a "coup d’état", the Saudis, via the words of their Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal, used the same language and added a new element : comparing what happened between May 7th and May 11th this year with the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982. The Saudi then went further than anyone had done up to that point, comparing Hizbollah’s Secretary General with ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The coincidence in these arguments was aimed at creating the necessary climate of opinion to make acceptable sending Arab military forces (4) to Lebanon to deal with the debacle of the forces of the coalition propping up the pro-Western government led by Fouad Siniora. Those forces had been rapidly defeated and made to look ridiculous by the Hizbollah militants and their allies. Pro-Western and pro-Saudi groups, especially those represented by the Hariri clan, showed what they really are : an impressive financial power souped up out of the corruption of Beirut’s reconstruction following the civil war but lacking popular support outside their party clans. This grouping has one card left to play, which it may well do: reinforcing the Islamists, Al Qaeda or not, and destabilizing Lebanon using attacks on the UN forces - UNIFIL - as the main ploy.

That situation led Qatar, a country carrying more and more weight in the Middle East, supported by other Arab countries like those already mentioned, to neutralize the interventionist escalation by proposing a meeting in its capital for which it won formal support from the Arab League.

It has not been just any old meeting, but rather an ambitious and subtle alert regarding Saudi Arabia’s attempt to become the regional power (with US acquiescence). The agreement that ended the Lebanese crisis was negotiated in Doha, Qatar’s capital with the Qataris as the main mediators. The text of the agreement begins thus: "Under the auspices of the Emir of Qatar and with the efforts of the Secretary General of the Arab League and the Foreign Ministers of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Algeria, Oman, Morocco and Yemen..." (5) Note the absence of any mention of the two countries key in the Middle East until now, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, loyal allies of the United States along with Jordan, although Jordan was not present at Doha.

Saudi Arabia has suffered wounded pride along with military defeat - faced with the drive of Hizbollah and its allies, the militias of the Saudi’s Lebanese proxies simply dissolved away - and political defeat too. At the margins of Israel’s occupation of the south of the country, finally ended in 2000 following the war of attrition imposed by the Hizbollah-led resistance, the Taif Agreement of 1990 ended the 15 year long civil war which had bled Lebanon dry. The agreement was reached in that Saudi city and the Saudis had ever since considered Lebanon as their fiefdom, managing to convert the country into a hostage of their confrontation with Iran. If anyone ought to have overseen events in Lebanon, it had to be them. Now, that reality has broken up, something with important repercussions in the future.

It is indicative that while most of the Lebanese participants in the Doha conference returned to Beirut, one chose a different destination : Riyadh.Who was the only Lebanese leader who did not return to Beirut to explain the agreement to their supporters?. Well, Saad Hariri, main leader of the Future Movement.(6) Hariri has made clear that his moves are controlled by Saudi money and that everything he does is no more than an extension of Saudi policy in Lebanon. Perhaps he may be a future Prime Minister, once the elections agreed in the Doha Agreement are held, of which more later, but his actions on behalf of Saudi Arabia remain constrained, with no margin for manoeuvre.

Saudi Arabia is not alone in its defeat. In an effort to impede or complicate the Doha summit, the US, France and Britain tried to impose a new resolution in the UN Security Council against Hizbollah and its armed organization. Russia, China, South Africa and Libya opposed not just that new resolution, but also any attempt to change Resolutions 1559 (which deals with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbollah and Palestinian organizations in the refugee camps) and 1701 (which enforced the ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah after the war of the summer of 2006 and which also mentions the disarmament of the Lebanese political -military movement and the Palestinians) as the US, France and Britain tried to do after realizing they had no support for a new resolution.

The Security Concil has had to content itself with approving a "non-binding declaration" (7) which views with satisfaction the Doha Agreement and recalls the UN Security Council Resolutions which, without being spelt out in this non-binding declaration of the Security Council presidency, call for the dismantling and disarming of all the Lebanese and foreign militias, the term with which the UN refers to the Palestinians in the refugee camps.

The terms of the agreement

The Doha Agreement maintains the current power structure in Lebanon: a Maronite Christian as the country’s President and as head of the Army, a Sunni muslim as Prime Minister and a Shia muslim as president of the parliament. This has satisfied France and the United States despite the demographic evolution of the country making Shi’ites the majority of the country’s population with 40% out of the total five million inhabitants. Although that power stucture remains untouched, there is one big change that brusquely uncovers how recent allies, up until now, in the pro-Western coalition have abandoned each other so as to guarantee their quotas of power.

The agreement takes up a new reformulation of Beirut’s electoral districts, which apparently gives a certain advantage to the pro-Western pro-Saudi Sunni fraction represented by Saad Hariri and his Future Movement. That means that very possibly he will become the next Prime Minister. Even so, the reordering of the electoral districts leaves an important flank unprotected: the Christian vote.

The Christians are divided, some form part of the March 14th coalition which supports the government and others the March 8th coalition supporting the patriotic and nationalist opposition. The reordering of the electoral districts hurts Hariri’s Christian allies and they feel betrayed. Especially so the Lebanese Forces group, led by Samir Geagea, who with this new reformulation in the next elections will barely get two or three seats. The pro-Western bloc is sinking and everyone knows it.

The patriotic, nationalist forces are the clear winners. They get fewer posts in government, but they get a minority veto which will make impossible any measure not approved by them. There will be no discussion of Hizbollah’s weapons, which stymies any Western attempt, backed by the UN Resolutions or not, to insist on that extreme measure. (Here one should note that the new Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman, said in his inaugural address, "a strong defence strategy is necessary to confront Israeli aggression" and that this strategy "should use the Resistance resources". (8))

And as Nabib Berri pointedly remarked in Suleiman’s investiture, (referring to what Condoleezza Rice said about the birth of a new Middle East) "the US plan does not fit in anywhere in the Middle East". (9) To emphasise that, the date chosen to name Suleiman as the new Lebanese President was May 25th. On that day in the year 2000, Israeli soldiers abandoned southern Lebanon, driven out by the heroic patriotic resistance led by Hizbollah. Now the only occupied territories in Lebanon are the Shebaa Farms and the Kafar Shuba hills.

So it is by no means strange that Israel perceives Doha as a new defeat. After asking itself and the world who would stop Hizbollah after that organization took over Beirut (10), now it regards the price paid to Hizbollah as too high: "long term de facto control of Lebanon". (11)

Notes:

(1)Alberto Cruz, "Two strikes, a strategy, one reality“ - http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/17645 (Original "Egipto y Líbano: dos huelgas, una estrategia y una realidad” http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/spip.php?article128)

(2)As Safir, May 22nd 2008.

(3)Ibid.

(4)Alberto Cruz, "Four days that shook the Middles East" - http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/17702 (Original: "Cuatro días que estremecieron Oriente Medio” http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/spip.php?article132)

(5)The Daily Star, May 22nd 2008.

(6)Ibid.

(7)Declaration od UN Security Council Presidency S/ PRST/2008/17, May 22nd 2008.

(8)The Daily Star, March 26th 2008.

(9)Ibid.

(10)Haaretz, May 12th 2008.

(11)Haaretz, 26 de mayo de 2008.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in international relations - albercruz@eresmas.com

Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal


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