With Friends Like These…

The East is to-day the place of change — of changes so great and swift that in comparison with it our Europe is standing still. We have been much engaged lately, making wars and peaces, looking at our own hurts, and trying to restore the balance of the times, and so we have not always been able to spare attention to what Asia is doing or thinking. We have tried to deal with her on the old traditional lines, and to our dismay she has not reacted properly. There have been outbreaks, unrest, protestations, and we, lacking the knowledge of movements there, have missed the sequence and find ourselves reduced to force, as our last remedy and restoration.” [1]

These are apt words spoken not by a diplomat in New York, Paris or London, but by the legendary T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in 1920. It seems that once again the West is ignoring the signs of change, relying on old traditional lines.


The recent support of the US government for the death and destruction in Lebanon does not come as a surprise. Nor is it a surprise to see the silence of the European governments (especially the UK). What is surprising, however, is the belief that the Arab streets still do not matter. According to US officials “whatever the outrage on the Arab streets, Washington believes it has strong behind-the-scenes support among key Arab leaders also nervous about the populist militants — with a tacit agreement that the timing is right to strike.” [2]


Where does the US think the Al Qaeda fighters and supporters come from? From the country of Al Qaeda-istan? The US, after three years of warfare and spending hundreds of billions of dollars, is still fighting those who have come from the Arab streets. It is a very big mistake to simply dismiss the Arab opinion. The Arab streets matter now more than ever. Afghanistan, Iraq and now Lebanon are good examples of the limits of the military power.


It is also a folly to rely on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to keep the people under control. These countries’ rulers are part of the problem rather than the solution. In Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud rules like an old feudal lord. In Egypt, the President-for-Life Hosni Mubarak crushes all dissent and is planning to install his son in power. In Jordan, King Abdullah II appoints and dismisses prime ministers and ministers.


The people in these countries are fed-up with totalitarian and corrupt regimes. It is no wonder that Al Qaeda’s money, leadership and top lieutenants come mainly from these three countries. The people, rightly or wrongly, see the US support of these regimes as the source of their problems and constant humiliation. 


They are angry at the US and Israel. But they should realize that as long as there are horses, there will be riders. Simply put, the Arabs should understand that although Israel and the US are responsible for some of the disasters that have befallen them; it is their leaders that are mainly responsible for most of the humiliations that the Arabs have suffered. One should not expect an Israeli prime minister to work for the Arab cause. His job is to look after Israel’s interests. Israel will try to take as much and give as little as possible. And in time of war, they kill as many Arabs as possible. They have shown time and again that they can act with impunity and get away with it. Saddam Hussein gassed both Iranians and Kurds and got away with it. It was only after he got into fight with US that people started to talk about his atrocities. It may sound callous, but that is how the new world order functions. Power talks and the weak walk, preferably to somebody else’s refugee camp.


The point is that it is the job of Arab leaders to protect Arab interests. It is their job to make sure that other countries do not treat Arabs as sub-humans. It is their job to stand-up for Arab respect and dignity. Arabs have never lacked courage, but nearly always lacked leadership; and in today’s world leadership is what counts. But dictators seldom provide good leadership. They are always much more concerned with their own survival than the welfare of their people.


For example, the House of Saud, the group that rules Saudi Arabia, has harmed Arabs and Muslims much much more than Israel or US ever have. Just look at some of their actions in the past half a century [3]:

  • Financed the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abd al-Nasser (1954).

  • Supported and financed Idi Amin of Uganda (1970s).

  • Financed the coup that overthrew the Pakistan’s democratically elected president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1977).

  • Supported despotic Siad Barre in Somalia which led to the breakdown of the country (1980s).

  • Provided support for the Christian Phalange against the pan-Arabist Mourabitoun and the Shias of Amal and Hezbollah (1980s).

  • Promised $10 million bribe to Iranian Air Force Colonel Raed Rokmi to stage a coup (1981).

  • Encouraged and financed Saddam Hussein to invade Iran. The war resulted in 1 million dead and hundreds of Billions of dollars in damages (1980-1988).

  • Financed the assassination attempts against Hassan Al-Turabi, Sudan’s religious leader (1990s).

  • Financed the construction and running of thousands of fundamentalist Wahabi Madrassas (Wahabi religious schools) in Pakistan.

  • Financed the creation of the Taliban (1994).

  • Facilitated, participated and partly financed the invasion of Iraq by US (Gulf War I – 1991).

  • Helped with intelligence in the invasion of Iraq (Gulf War II – 2003).

And a lot more (read the “Coup attempt that started a war”). But why do Saudi rulers do such things? It is because the House of Saud lacks legitimacy. They rely on the Wahabi religious establishment and the army to stay in power. The king’s title is “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” Imagine that in Italy they call the prime minister, “The Custodian of the Holy Vatican.” Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But if you take the “Custodian” title away, you are left with the title of the king — who incidentally can trace the foundation of his kingdom to British finance and military help.


The King’s religious title is his only claim to legitimacy; take that away and the House of Saud will collapse. The Saudis know this as well, and that is why the successive governments have tried to oppose and undermine anyone or anything that challenges their religious credentials.


But lacking courage (read the article: Saudi Arabia and Military Expenditure), the House of Saud relies on its money to solve its problems. This is a “rent a solution” strategy that has so far worked with devastating results against the Muslims in the region. They pay others to fight on their behalf. When the fighting is over, they pay someone else to confront the new challenger and so on and so forth. This, naturally, has made them extremely unpopular in the Muslim world. Despite the official propaganda, the Arab streets despise the House of Saud; they are despised even in those Muslim countries that they have invested heavily. This is because they are shown to not only lack legitimacy, but also to be such hypocrites. While they chop off hands and heads in the name of Islam, the off-springs of the “House of Saud” spend their young and not so young lives enjoying every conceivable pleasure that the so called “infidel” West has to offer.


The House of Saud’s weapon is money. The petro-dollar can buy a lot of silence. In the Arab world nothing critical about it is allowed to be published. Even the so-called independent Arab press in Europe and US are afraid of saying anything even remotely critical of it. If one dares to go and publish an article critical of it, the author is automatically blacklisted.


It is OK to criticize the US, Israel, UK, France, Iran or any other non-Arab country, as long as it is not the House of Saud or Arab regimes friendly to it. Recently I wrote an article (“When will the House of Saud feel safe?”) questioning the Saudi Arabia’s huge ($268.6 billion) military expenditure. Up to this point some well-known press agencies were happy to publish my previous articles that were critical of Israel and US. But this time they all refused to publish the article. I subsequently was black listed. All except one refused even to give me an answer or a reason. The only response that I got is the following:


“First, ________ does not publish articles calling for regime change in any Arab-Muslim country. The horrors of the regime change in Iraq provide the explanation. We don’t want to contribute to the neo-con permanent war strategy.


Second, why singling out Saudi Arabia? What about the rest of the GCC countries, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania … etc.? There’s no Arab or Muslim state today (except Iran) that is NOT under the US hegemony. What you said about Saudi Arabia can be said about all of them.”


This above response is from one of the most popular English Arab online news and analysis providers. The Editor asked why I singled out Saudi Arabia and not others. It is because the Saudi Arabia’s actions and money have caused and are causing so much suffering for the rest of the Muslim world. The rest of the GCC countries live under the shadow of the Saudi Arabia. The other Arab country that is as important as Saudi Arabia is Egypt. Egypt is not only the intellectual centre of the Arab world it is its most populous.


Egypt and the Last Pharaoh


Today, Egypt is run by President Hosni Mubarak (born May 4, 1928), the Supreme Commander, (and at wartime) Field Marshal of the army, Admiral of the navy, Chief Air Marshal (Colonel General) of the Air Forces and Air Defense Forces. 


Mubarak is a military man, through and through. He received his bachelor’s degree from Egyptian Military Academy in 1949. In 1950, he started his studies at Air Force Academy, where he eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Sciences. Later he attended pilot training in the former Soviet Union. After his training he started to rise in the ranks from bomber pilot to base commander, and later to the position of Commander of the Air Force and deputy minister of war (1972). Mubarak was appointed as Vice-President in 1975.


On October 6, 1981, a few army officers and enlisted men, shouting “Death to the Pharaoh!” assassinated Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt since 1970. The assassins were all members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Sadat like all his predecessors was a dictator. His death was mourned more in the West than in Egypt. He presided over a corrupt and dictatorial regime that prior to his assassination had arrested and imprisoned thousand of intellectuals, Islamists, university professors, journalists, students, and anyone else who disagreed with him.


After Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak became president. Mubarak is perhaps one of the longest serving “presidents” in the world. He has reigned for the past 25 years. He, with the help of the military and the Egyptian secret services, has “won” every election since 1981.


Mubarak has been a good friend of the United States and has been friendly towards Israel. In return, Egypt has received considerable U.S. financial and military aid. But since the American largesse has mostly benefited the military and the ruling elite, the ordinary Egyptians’ attitude to United States has remained hostile.


Often Egyptian ideas and sentiments set the tone for the discussions in the Arab world. The ideas such as Arab Nationalism, Muslim Brotherhood, and Arab independence mostly originated in Egypt. Egyptians are heavily involved in international anti-American movements. The number two of al Qaeda, Mr. Ayman Zahahiri is an Egyptian. Prior to joining al Qaeda, he was a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and later a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.


Egyptians, except a short period (1924-1936), have not experienced democracy. Over the years, their demands and wishes for a representative government have been met by brutal suppressions. The recent riots, strikes and demonstrations are the manifestation of their continuing desire for democracy.


The 78-year-old Mr. Mubarak is now thinking about retirement. He is preparing his 42-year-old son Gamal Mubarak to take over the presidency. The official press is trying hard to convince whoever that is willing to listen, about how great Mubarak Junior is. The press keeps quite about the corruption, nepotism and cronyism that have come to define the rule of Mr. Mubarak.


While people riot, journalists, judges and opposition leaders are arrested and tortured, the press discusses the dress of Mubarak Junior’s fiancé. The 24-year-old Ms. Khadiga el-Gammal (popularly known as Belinda) recently accompanied the 42-year-old Egyptian heir apparent, Gamal Mubarak (referred to by friends as Jimmy), to the World Economic Forum on the Middle East.


One can only assume that the 15 million (official) Egyptians that live bellow the poverty line along with millions of unemployed and under-employed citizens appreciated the contribution of “Jimmy and Belinda” to the World Economic Forum. One can only hope that “Jimmy and Belinda” will do something to reduce the government’s huge (9% of GDP) budget deficit.


If it weren’t so tragic, it would have been extremely funny to read some of the analysis that the US papers have been publishing about the future President of Egypt and his fiancé. For example look at what Seattle Times had to say about the events in Egypt.


“The ruling National Democratic Party has pitched Gamal Mubarak as a familiar name and face who says all the right things about revamping his father’s staid system. He recently was named a deputy secretary general of the party, and this month he made an unofficial visit to Washington, where he met with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.


El-Gammal contributes much to his chances of success, analysts say. She adds a glamorous new face to the authoritarian regime and lends seriousness to the younger Mubarak’s reputation. Some note that she shares the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife and wonder if an effort to appease Egypt’s vast Islamist movement factored into the match.” [4]


It is amazing to see that anyone would utter such nonsense let alone a major newspaper print it. Do the analysts really believe that just because she is called Khadiga, Islamist movements in Egypt are going to forget about the lack of democracy, corruption, torture and so on?


Another “excellent” report on Egypt was provided by Houston Chronicle on 27th of May. It had this to say:


In a country whose first ladies have included Cleopatra, a Hungarian countess and the Turkish granddaughter of the last Ottoman sultan, it’s only natural that Egyptians clamoured for a glimpse of el-Gammal, the daughter of a wealthy Cairo construction magnate.


But interest in her and the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is more than gossip. Although Gamal Mubarak has denied that he’ll follow his father into the presidency, analysts say few other contenders have the political clout to mount an effective campaign. [5]


What the journalist forgot to mention is that before each election, most of the contenders find themselves in prison.


In Egypt, as in Saudi Arabia, the corruption starts at the top and trickles down to the rest of the society. Those that resist it are harshly punished and those that accept it are rewarded. The corruption has seeped into every part of the society, especially the press. Egyptian press faces the same charges of corruption as the rest of the society. Al-Amir Abaza, a journalist with both Al-Qahera and Al-Siyasi newspapers explains the problem like this:


“Media is part of the whole process, so you can’t fix it without addressing the ills of society,” says Ragab. “Theoretically, the media should help reform society, but in practice it can do nothing when it is so corrupt itself, when those who run it don’t live up to their responsibilities. We need a new generation of decent, honest writers — writers who care. We need an earthquake to shake up the whole system.” [6]


The opposition Kifaya and the Muslim brotherhood are trying to bring about such an earthquake. And when that happens, people in the West will mourn the passing of another “moderate” Arab government in the Middle East, Wondering what happened.


Meanwhile the Arab streets are simmering with anger. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, having tacitly approved the Israeli actions in Gaza and Lebanon are now trying to cover their tracks by calling the whole thing a tragedy. They tried to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, and are now sorry.


These leaders, now more than ever, are relying on the support of the US to shore-up their shaky governments. United States just announced that it is going to sell another $6 billion worth of Arms to Saudi Arabia, and extended its Religious Rights Sanctions waiver for that country. “The waiver for Saudi Arabia is the only time Washington has avoided punishing a blacklisted country under a 1998 law targeting violators of religious rights.” [7] No one can find a bigger violator of religious rights on this earth than Saudi Arabia, and it gets the waiver. It is a joke!


The Arabs should know that they cannot rely on US for democratic change. The constant talk about democracy coming out of Washington is for US public consumption and not the Arab people. The Arabs have to rely on themselves and not wait for external help otherwise they will wait for another 50 years. Perhaps Arabs should listen to what Malcolm X said in 1965: “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”


Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a consultant and a contributing writer for many online journals. He’s a former associate professor of Nordland University, Norway. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Copyright (C) 2006 Abbas Bakhtiar, All Rights Reserved


Other Articles by Abbas Bakhtiar


* The Coming Financial Crises?
* Why the United States Invaded Iraq and is Now Thinking About Invading Iran


[1] The Round Table, A quarterly review of the politics of the British Commonwealth ed Lionel Curtis (London, Vol X No 40, September 1920) contains pp 756-772 ’The Changing East’ [by T. E. Lawrence], OA 71-97

[2] Washington Post, “Strikes Are Called Part of Broad Strategy”, Sunday, July 16, 2006

[3] Aburish Said K., The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of THE HOUSE OF SAUD, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho Square, London W1v 5DF, UK, 1994. Page 138

[4] Seattle Times, “Egypt abuzz over Mubarak fiancée”, 25 May 2006

[5] Houston Chronicle, “Profile of Mubarak’s son rises on heels of fiancée”, 27 May 2006

[6] Egypt Today, “Licensed to Print Money?”, July 2006

[7] Allheadlinenews.com, “U.S. Extends Religious Rights Sanctions Waiver For Saudi Arabia”, July 19, 2006




The articles and statements that are undersigned by the Muslim Brotherhood(MB) are only the ones that express the official opinion of the group.
Those which are not only express the views of their authors