MIDDLE EAST I: by John MillerNews Weekly
Misunderstanding the events rocking the Middle East
, March 19, 2011
From an intelligence officer's viewpoint, not a great deal has changed as turmoil continues and the tyrant Colonel Muammar Gaddafi clings to power in the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, more usually known as Libya.
That he has occupied this position and behaved in extraordinary fashion since 1969 is a back-handed tribute to his ruthlessness, cunning and personal charisma.
But tribal politics have become increasingly sharpened and opposed to the leader, who has sworn to die in his capital Tripoli and appears largely reliant on mercenary forces and foreign aid from a small number of sympathetic countries, most notably Zimbabwe.
In a kind of perverse logic, Mr Mugabe's position in his own country owes a great deal to the training of his officer corps by the friendly government of communist North Korea. The readiness of the his government, given Zimbabwe's current parlous economic predicament, to send any sort of aid abroad is astounding and could fatally undermine his own government.
Established intelligence organisations have made very little impact in north Africa for many years, let alone developing enduring and dependable sources in, or penetrations of, government. So patience and prudence are to be recommended. Too many views in the mainstream media are skewed or seen through rose-tinted spectacles.
What is beyond dispute is that across the Middle East and North Africa despotic regimes are being challenged and rulers toppled. At present, it appears that no end is in sight as the leaders of various countries try to negotiate settlements with the protesters and, in some cases, have even been prepared to make unprecedented concessions.
Undoubtedly, as Peter Westmore pointed out in his editorial ("Arab political turmoil: what's cooking?", News Weekly
, March 5, 2011), the general cost-of-living, especially rises in food and oil prices provided the catalyst for unrest and action in the streets.
Regime change, of course, will do little if anything to improve life for the average citizen in these troubled countries. In Egypt, there appears to be general confusion about who is running the country and what parts are being played by the armed forces on the one hand and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.
One of the Western mainstream media's early erroneous assumptions is that the uprisings in these countries were fuelled by a desire for democracy, i.e., the form we call Western liberal democracy.
This widely-held notion was accompanied by reports exaggerating the role of Twitter and Facebook in organising the opposition. Wiser heads have prevailed quite literally within the past week and the more astute commentators are recognising that technology is but a tool which facilitates action and nothing more.
High-tech communication was useless in Tiananmen Square in 1989 in the face of the might of the Chinese Communist Party. In today's Tripoli, a cell phone, iPad or laptop computer is no match for an AK-47. The Egyptian Government was able to virtually close down communications for three days before President Mubarak acceped that he was holding a losing hand.
The interim government in Cairo has promised to honour existing commitments and treaties, yet last week, for the first time, Iranian Navy vessels passed through the Suez Canal in what is a clear gesture of defiance at the Americans.
And yet again, the UN has proved to be powerless in dealing with events in Libya. UN condemnation is hardly likely to worry a bloodthirsty tyrant who is now said by his former senior officials to have personally organised and approved the bombing of Pan American airlines flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. In 2009, he arranged, with help from his good friend, then British Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the release of one of the main perpetrators from a Scottish jail.
Throughout the early days of the uprisings, the US government itself appeared powerless and without any coherent policy to deal with the situation.
Even more infuriatingly, a number of former intelligence officers, who should know better, have been peddling the line that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has somehow become less revolutionary, willing to work within the system and even, according to some, powerless. I have seen nothing to support that contention. As far as I'm concerned, the Brotherhood remains a powerful force theologically, morally and politically in Egypt, despite having gained a mere 20 per cent of votes cast in a fraudulent election.
American author Andrew C. McCarthy recently gave us a clear and concise description of the imperatives that have been driving the Middle East uprisings. His conclusion is sobering.
He says: "We won't have an effective strategy for dealing with the ummah
[the world's 1.4 billion Muslims], and for securing ourselves from its excesses, until we commit to understanding what it is rather than imagining what it could be." (National Review
, February 26, 2011).John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.
Andrew C. McCarthy, "The OIC and the caliphate: The Islamic agenda is not coexistence, but dominion", National Review
(New York), February 26, 2011.