The Jinn Is Out of the Bottle

Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee to present the annual worldwide threat briefing, the director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, and the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, were caught looking ridiculous and even ignorant concerning the current situation in the Middle East.  Both have been asked for an estimation concerning the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and both stumbled through unsatisfactory answers.  Clapper described the MB as a largely secular and nonviolent group, and Panetta claimed that the movement is diverse in its approaches.  In short, to say nothing of the disastrous political correctness at play, these two officials have proven that the Intelligence establishment in the U.S. has problems understanding the situation in the Middle East  and Islamists' objectives and strategies.

What do we know?  We know that what began in Tunisia and moved on to Egypt is now spreading all over the ME.  In Libya, there are over a hundred dead and thousands of casualties.  In Yemen, protesters are demanding a division between the South and the North -- a proposition ill-received by the military.  In Algeria, where al-Qaeda in North Africa is highly involved, the demonstrations have ended in casualties.  In Bahrain, there are huge demonstrations spurring a harsh response from the military, and the opposition has resigned from the Parliament.  In Kuwait, Jordan, and even Syria, there is high unrest, and the regimes in those countries are taking preemptive measures.

Islamists, as exemplified by the many MB movements, are the epitome of evil, with a despotic, totalitarian ideology aimed against modernism and all we cherish in democratic life.  The MB ascendency to power means both civil wars and regional wars that might endanger the entire international community.  It also means the exact opposite of Western wishful thinking of democracy and freedoms -- namely backwardness; misery; and anti-pluralistic, closed, violent society.

Nature abhors a vacuum even in politics.  The U.S.'s position in the ME has been strongly weakened during Obama's administration, mainly due to the great betrayal of Egypt and a zigzagging U.S. policy towards others.  The ME state leaders are upset, and since Arabs have a long memory, they will not forgive the U.S.  If the U.S. stays weak, then Muslim nations friendly to America will turn to other allies -- and China, which works with great success in Africa and has the will to take the lead in the ME, will look like the best option.  Furthermore, if the opposition in the ME wins, the Islamists will take power, with catastrophic results for U.S. interests in the ME.

The only barrier to this last scenario is the military.  Military regimes, being authoritarian and patrimonial, are the most important and effective power in Arab-Islamic politics.  We also know that when the military claimed neutrality, like in Iran 1979 and in Egypt this year, the leaders were toppled.  This is why the West must choose militarism over Islamism in the complicated ME situation.  This is not to say that the military will promote democracy, human rights, and civil liberties -- it will not -- but because the alternative, the Islamists in power, is horrible in any perspective to the West's interests and the international political stability.

These processes threaten to bring about a new era of violence and political instability in the ME.  The Arab world is passing through a basic change: the general population has discovered political power, and the fear barrier between the people and the regime has been broken -- perhaps forever.   In fact, for the first time in fifteen hundred years, the people running the regimes are afraid of the people.  In the broad daylight of the media, the regimes can neither dismiss the people's protests nor act freely to suppress them.

This situation presents heartening possibilities, but it also bears great danger, as the people's gut inclination is to shun democracy in favor of re-embracing Islam.  We have ample proof that those who aim to take advantage of the situation are Iran, with its Shiite version, and the MB and al-Qaeda, with their Sunni version.  Iran works relentlessly in its geopolitical area -- the Gulf Emirates via Saudi-Arabia -- and al-Qaeda and the MB work in Egypt and North Africa.

Historically, Arab-Islamic politics has been shaped by an authoritarian personality astride a despotic, violent polity in which collectivism is praised while individualism is disgraced.  Fear of the coercive oppressive regime has always been the Arab-Islamic citizen's main motivator; indeed, Arab-Muslims have long envisioned politics as a basic evil (sharr) to be avoided.

No modern Arab-Islamic regime is immune to what is happening now.  The demonstrations go beyond discrete demands and at times advocate total anarchy.  Generations upon generations of oppression and surrender have set the stage for an explosion of chaotic power which frantically seeks an "against" without caring much about a "for."  To raise the sole of the shoe against the ruler has become a cultural symbol of the population's newfound influence.

Where are we heading?  The probability of regime change is high, but one can't be sure about anything from there.  The international community has revealed once again that the Arab-Islamic politics is basically chaotic, that the Arab-Islamic political culture is basically anarchic, and that political order and stability have historically been achieved only through oppressive violence by autocratic regimes. Now, however, everything is beginning to disintegrate -- without a powerful and violent regime, there is no order or stability.  The political system throughout the ME is threatening to devolve into a quagmire of tribes and clans.

At this time, the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular constitute perhaps the least of problems in the ME.  Yet the international community obsessively continues to focus on these, with the false belief that resolving them will cure all the other geopolitical ailments of the ME.

The Palestinians' vested interest is to preserve and entrench this myth in order to get more and more financial resources, attention, and sympathy from the international community.  In fact, one could reasonably wonder whether they truly wish to resolve their conflict with Israel at all.  After all, resolution means an end to a generous international income, and since a Palestinian state means coming to terms with conventional inter-Arab rules of behavior, the Palestinians have a potent impetus to maintain the status quo.

Israel, for its part, has a clear interest in comparing images of the anarchic, violent Arab world with  the comparatively calm Palestinian reality under Israeli occupation.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, will try to organize disturbances and "rage days" to fix their situation in the world's consciousness.  However, the ME is returning to a dark situation, with high, unexpected, and systemic risks.  

Sooner or later, Israel will become the focus of Arab-Islamic activity -- both as the scapegoat for their troubles and a means by which to rationalize their humiliating situation.
Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee to present the annual worldwide threat briefing, the director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, and the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, were caught looking ridiculous and even ignorant concerning the current situation in the Middle East.  Both have been asked for an estimation concerning the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and both stumbled through unsatisfactory answers.  Clapper described the MB as a largely secular and nonviolent group, and Panetta claimed that the movement is diverse in its approaches.  In short, to say nothing of the disastrous political correctness at play, these two officials have proven that the Intelligence establishment in the U.S. has problems understanding the situation in the Middle East  and Islamists' objectives and strategies.

What do we know?  We know that what began in Tunisia and moved on to Egypt is now spreading all over the ME.  In Libya, there are over a hundred dead and thousands of casualties.  In Yemen, protesters are demanding a division between the South and the North -- a proposition ill-received by the military.  In Algeria, where al-Qaeda in North Africa is highly involved, the demonstrations have ended in casualties.  In Bahrain, there are huge demonstrations spurring a harsh response from the military, and the opposition has resigned from the Parliament.  In Kuwait, Jordan, and even Syria, there is high unrest, and the regimes in those countries are taking preemptive measures.

Islamists, as exemplified by the many MB movements, are the epitome of evil, with a despotic, totalitarian ideology aimed against modernism and all we cherish in democratic life.  The MB ascendency to power means both civil wars and regional wars that might endanger the entire international community.  It also means the exact opposite of Western wishful thinking of democracy and freedoms -- namely backwardness; misery; and anti-pluralistic, closed, violent society.

Nature abhors a vacuum even in politics.  The U.S.'s position in the ME has been strongly weakened during Obama's administration, mainly due to the great betrayal of Egypt and a zigzagging U.S. policy towards others.  The ME state leaders are upset, and since Arabs have a long memory, they will not forgive the U.S.  If the U.S. stays weak, then Muslim nations friendly to America will turn to other allies -- and China, which works with great success in Africa and has the will to take the lead in the ME, will look like the best option.  Furthermore, if the opposition in the ME wins, the Islamists will take power, with catastrophic results for U.S. interests in the ME.

The only barrier to this last scenario is the military.  Military regimes, being authoritarian and patrimonial, are the most important and effective power in Arab-Islamic politics.  We also know that when the military claimed neutrality, like in Iran 1979 and in Egypt this year, the leaders were toppled.  This is why the West must choose militarism over Islamism in the complicated ME situation.  This is not to say that the military will promote democracy, human rights, and civil liberties -- it will not -- but because the alternative, the Islamists in power, is horrible in any perspective to the West's interests and the international political stability.

These processes threaten to bring about a new era of violence and political instability in the ME.  The Arab world is passing through a basic change: the general population has discovered political power, and the fear barrier between the people and the regime has been broken -- perhaps forever.   In fact, for the first time in fifteen hundred years, the people running the regimes are afraid of the people.  In the broad daylight of the media, the regimes can neither dismiss the people's protests nor act freely to suppress them.

This situation presents heartening possibilities, but it also bears great danger, as the people's gut inclination is to shun democracy in favor of re-embracing Islam.  We have ample proof that those who aim to take advantage of the situation are Iran, with its Shiite version, and the MB and al-Qaeda, with their Sunni version.  Iran works relentlessly in its geopolitical area -- the Gulf Emirates via Saudi-Arabia -- and al-Qaeda and the MB work in Egypt and North Africa.

Historically, Arab-Islamic politics has been shaped by an authoritarian personality astride a despotic, violent polity in which collectivism is praised while individualism is disgraced.  Fear of the coercive oppressive regime has always been the Arab-Islamic citizen's main motivator; indeed, Arab-Muslims have long envisioned politics as a basic evil (sharr) to be avoided.

No modern Arab-Islamic regime is immune to what is happening now.  The demonstrations go beyond discrete demands and at times advocate total anarchy.  Generations upon generations of oppression and surrender have set the stage for an explosion of chaotic power which frantically seeks an "against" without caring much about a "for."  To raise the sole of the shoe against the ruler has become a cultural symbol of the population's newfound influence.

Where are we heading?  The probability of regime change is high, but one can't be sure about anything from there.  The international community has revealed once again that the Arab-Islamic politics is basically chaotic, that the Arab-Islamic political culture is basically anarchic, and that political order and stability have historically been achieved only through oppressive violence by autocratic regimes. Now, however, everything is beginning to disintegrate -- without a powerful and violent regime, there is no order or stability.  The political system throughout the ME is threatening to devolve into a quagmire of tribes and clans.

At this time, the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular constitute perhaps the least of problems in the ME.  Yet the international community obsessively continues to focus on these, with the false belief that resolving them will cure all the other geopolitical ailments of the ME.

The Palestinians' vested interest is to preserve and entrench this myth in order to get more and more financial resources, attention, and sympathy from the international community.  In fact, one could reasonably wonder whether they truly wish to resolve their conflict with Israel at all.  After all, resolution means an end to a generous international income, and since a Palestinian state means coming to terms with conventional inter-Arab rules of behavior, the Palestinians have a potent impetus to maintain the status quo.

Israel, for its part, has a clear interest in comparing images of the anarchic, violent Arab world with  the comparatively calm Palestinian reality under Israeli occupation.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, will try to organize disturbances and "rage days" to fix their situation in the world's consciousness.  However, the ME is returning to a dark situation, with high, unexpected, and systemic risks.  

Sooner or later, Israel will become the focus of Arab-Islamic activity -- both as the scapegoat for their troubles and a means by which to rationalize their humiliating situation.