Monday, February 28, 2011

US doesn’t want another Iran

Recent developments in Middle East have been too big to have gone unnoticed. To me and many of my generation, they carry certain significance. Nobody has ever witnessed an uprising of this magnitude, and then above all, for it to have a domino effect across multiple countries in the sands of Arabia.

Middle East, as the history tells us, has always been a place of political calm on the outside. There indeed have been many conspiracies, power struggles within the aristocracy, and the ruling families to be precise. However, nobody among the general public has bothered about why X is in power, and why not Y – or what kind of regime do they want, what sort of foreign policy do they want, what sort of economy do they want etc. They have opinions, and as per my perception, opinions are very strong, and there are concerns among the subjects in some of the states on how things are being managed, but the maximum would be a protest rally. It never goes beyond that. This is also because many of people from Arab countries have gone to west, and they see a stark difference in the rights of a common man. Tribal culture is dominant even in the most developed Arab states to date, and the societies draw their values from it, which defines the rights of commoner very differently to what we see in west.

For centuries, there has been a silent contract between the rulers and subjects. State gives a certain level of freedom which allows the people to carry on their lives without any apparent interference, and the public doesn’t mind who is at the throne. Democracy – a phenomenon which lets a commoner have a say – stands to be the most alien concept in the tribal Arab. And to my understanding, and perception as long as the status quo works for them, there is no point hassling for democracy and reshaping the whole society, doesn’t work that way. You can select a political system for your country, but can only do so by taking social structure into account. Monarchy suits them and its working – so let them enjoy.

Above two paragraphs might have sounded boring or not something related to the topic, but I wanted to do a ‘Mideast 101’ before moving onto my views on Regime Change Domino.

I witnessed all these events, but could never agree to the idea of this change coming out of public i.e. common people. People who know they will never be in power, people who have never been in power, people who don’t even dream of it, people who are so used to maintaining distance from the government – I don’t understand what changed them? It’s so characteristic of them to be loyal to the throne or at least never to worry about the rulers. The change seems so fundamental in nature, that it either is a sign of change in attitude of society or something else.
After a bit of analysis, here are my thoughts. We’ve all read about French Revolution, we’ve read about Bolshevik Revolution, we know of Iranian Revolution of 1979, but this is not even a revolution. They got rid of Ben Ali, they got rid of Hosni Mobarak and now they’re after Gaddafi. Ben Ali had crossed that fine line and had literally taken away most of his countrymen’s rights, Hosni Mobarak had become increasingly unpopular for various reasons, Gaddafi is unpopular for so many reasons. Many of us would believe that with Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak off the picture, US is going to have difficulties dealing with these countries as these two were faithfully serving Uncle Sam’s agenda in the region.

Now, if we shift our focus for a moment to another part of the globe, we had a regime change in Washington about 2 years back. Obama pledged to bring about a Change. He was against going into Iraq, and wanted a change in US’ Mideast policy. Now keeping that thing in view, they cannot change the policy to make Israel insignificant. Israel remains US’ most trusted partner in the region. However, they have paid a huge cost of keeping the anger and frustration among masses to build on by keeping Hosni Mobarak and Ben Ali in power. This could result in a bloody revolution just like Iran in 1979. They don’t want another Iran strictly speaking. That has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and nobody wants a replay.

Therefore, they had only one option, change the faces and change the state’s structures in a way that it continues to serve their interests and includes the people. Egyptian, Tunisian people are not demanding when it comes to their participation in governance. All they want is their voices be heard. Now, by having support of US in uprisings against the state, US has tacitly conveyed the people that it is with them. This resultantly improves perception among general public of US. Before, anti-Hosni/Ben Ali was anti-US, but now they can understand that US is there to respect them. US did this in Pakistan in 2007, we shouldn’t forget. People were getting tired of Musharraf, they stopped supporting him, and brought about a change which to a great extent left the public something to cheer about and be proud of.

Structure of state doesn’t change, but a change of faces and a bit participation from public keeps the public happy. Revolutions result in new structures of state. They undergo a revolutionary change, and that change in turn changes everything. I don’t see that happening, not at least for the moment. By supporting the uprising, US has at least pushed that Iranian Revolution in these countries at least a decade away.

Having said all this, I don’t see any such thing happening in Saudia or Bahrain at least for now. There is no reason absolutely to convince us of any such need there. They are formal monarchies and people also enjoy opportunities, and do get part of the petro-dollars to enjoy their lives. King keeps the subjects happy, and life goes on.