Donald Trump’s Final Act: Snuffing out the Promise of Democracy in the Middle East
By Vijay Prashad* – Globetrotter , Independent Media
Ten years ago, a hawker in
Tunisia set himself on fire, which spurred on people along the entire Mediterranean
Sea—from Morocco to Spain—to rise up in revolt. They took to their
squares indignant at the terrible conditions in which they had to make their
Little of their agenda has been advanced in the past decade.
Governments of the southern European states have one by one betrayed the
aspirations of the people; the most dramatic such failure was of the Syriza
government in Greece, which won a mandate against austerity and then surrendered before
the troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the
International Monetary Fund) in 2015.
A decade later, U.S. President Donald Trump carved the
obituary on the tombstone of that “Arab Spring” rebellion when he used the
immensity of U.S. power to strengthen U.S.
allies—such as the Arab monarchies and Israel—to the detriment of the people of
What remains of the Arab Spring is a distant memory of the
crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; a better image of the present is that of the
monarchs of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) kissing up to Israel to
please the United States.
Danger in the Eastern
In the Arabic-speaking countries, two sets of conflicts
emerged as the people in the public plazas shook up the politics in their
countries. The first was between Iran and the Gulf Arab monarchies (led by
Saudi Arabia and the UAE). This had a catastrophic impact on Lebanon and on
Syria. The second was the conflict between the countries with affinity to the
Muslim Brotherhood (Qatar and Turkey) and the Gulf Arab monarchies. Both
conflicts, inflamed by Israel, continue to threaten regional wars.
It was under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Israel that the
United States concocted a “nuclear threat” from Iran and drove an agenda that
resulted in the 2015
Iran deal. Several of the Iranian nuclear scientists were, meanwhile,
assassinated from 2010 to the present; Iran blames Israel
and the United States for these killings. Sanctions and threats of military
intervention have now almost become normal. The gravity of this conflict is
undiminished and will not decrease even if U.S. Presidential-elect Joe Biden
returns his country to the framework of the nuclear deal.
More sinister has been the deepening conflict against Qatar,
but especially Turkey. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies began a blockade
against Qatar; the animosity is so great that Saudi Arabia planned to
cut the landmass around Qatar and convert it into an island.
Both the Gulf Arabs and the Europeans were disturbed by
Turkey’s influence over the new governments across North Africa. They colluded
to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in 2013 and to
prosecute a war in Libya against Turkish influence over the UN-recognized
government in Tripoli.
The discovery of massive natural gas fields in the eastern
Mediterranean in 2009 changed the
equation of old rivalries in the area, particularly between Israel and its
neighbors, and between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus. In the past decade,
alliances across the Mediterranean have cemented around control over these gas
fields. Maps with conflicting claims have been published, and near-military
conflicts have been hard to avert. Turkish arming of troops in Libya gave
both French (June
2020) and German (November
2020) ships the opportunity to try to board Turkish vessels. The European Union
threatened to put harsh sanctions against Turkey at its summit on December
10-11, but then decided to
put off any decision on sanctions until the next meeting in March 2021.
France, which has exerted itself
south of the Sahara Desert in the Sahel region, has now strengthened its links
to the countries that stand against Turkey. Arms deals with
Greece have come alongside military exercises with Egypt and with the UAE
(the MEDUSA exercises
that include Cyprus and Greece). France’s Emmanuel Macron honored Egypt’s
President (a former general) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with France’s highest award.
When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited France in
November, he complained to
Le Figaro about Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean. During his visit
to Turkey after France, Pompeo avoided senior
Turkish officials. The snub was clear. Israel, backed by the U.S., has
now announced that
it will increase military cooperation with Cyprus and Greece.
Turkey, meanwhile, has increased its cooperation with Russia
and—interestingly—with the United Kingdom, increasingly alienated from the
Europeans by its spluttering Brexit negotiations.
Palestine, Western Sahara, and Yemen
Trump has proposed a hallucinatory “deal of the
century” that promised to sort out the long-standing occupation of the
Palestinians by Israel. Nothing of the sort has been accomplished. What Trump
and Pompeo have done instead is to discard a series of UN resolutions to hand
Israel many of its maximum demands on a platter.
An early gesture was the announcement that the U.S. embassy
would move from
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; then came the nod for the possible full-scale annexation of
East Jerusalem and the West Bank by Israel and U.S. recognition of
the Israeli occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights. The U.S. threw around
favors—such as sales of
$23 billion of arms to the UAE and the removal of
Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism—to gain their public
recognition of Israel. These weapons—particularly the F-35s—sold to the UAE
allow the Gulf Arabs to continue their cruel war against Yemen.
Then, almost out of nowhere, the U.S. recognized the
Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco’s recognition of
Israel and for the Moroccan king buying $1 billion worth of arms from the
United States. This deal was brokered by the UAE.
The hopes of the Palestinian, Sahrawi and Yemeni people have
been seriously compromised by these cynical deals.
Recently, I’ve spent time on the phone with friends with
whom I walked the length of the Arab Spring. There is little to celebrate.
Friends were killed from Syria to Libya, while others remain in prison in
Egypt. Great hopes have been set aside. Old cynicisms have returned, the
cynicisms of arms deals and of energy deals, the cynicism of brutality.