Thursday, 7 January 2010


Terror is the price of support for despots and dictators

Egypt's complicity in the Gaza's siege underlines the role of
western support for such regimes in the spread of war

Seumas Milne
The Guardian

If an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor had gone on hunger
strike in support of a besieged people in another part of
the world, and hundreds of mostly western protesters had
been stoned and beaten by police, you can be sure we'd have
heard all about it. But because that is what's been
happening in western-backed Egypt, rather than Iran, and
the people the protesters are supporting are the
Palestinians of Gaza instead of, say, Tibetans, most people
in Europe and north America know nothing about it.

For the last fortnight, two groups of hundreds of activists
have been battling with Egyptian police and officials to
cross into the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with the
blockaded population on the first anniversary of Israel's
devastating onslaught. Last night, George Galloway's Viva
500-strong convoy of medical aid was finally
allowed in, minus 50 of its 200 vehicles, after being
repeatedly blocked, diverted and intimidated by Egyptian
security – including a violent assault in the Egyptian port
of El Arish on Tuesday night which left dozens injured,
despite the participation of one British and 10 Turkish

That followed an attempted "Gaza freedom march" by 1,400
protesters from more than 40 countries, only 84 of whom
were allowed across the border – which is what led Hedy
Epstein, both of whose parents died in Auschwitz, to refuse
food in Cairo, as the group's demonstrations were violently
broken up and Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu
was feted nearby. Yesterday, demonstrations by Palestinians
on the Gazan side of the border against the harassment of
the aid convoy led to violent clashes with Egyptian
security forces in which an Egyptian soldier was killed and
many Palestinians injured.

But although the confrontation has been largely ignored in
the west, it has been a major media event in the Middle
East which has only damaged Egypt. And while the Egyptian
government claims it is simply upholding its national
sovereignty, the saga has instead starkly exposed its
complicity in the US- and European-backed blockade of Gaza
and the collective punishment of its one and a half million

The main protagonist of the siege, Israel, controls only
three sides of the Strip. Without Egypt, which polices the
fourth, it would be ineffective. But, having tolerated the
tunnels that have saved Gazans from utter beggary, the
Cairo regime is now building a deep underground steel wall
– known as the "wall of shame" to many Egyptians – under
close US supervision, to make the blockade complete.

That's partly because the ageing Egyptian dictator, Hosni
Mubarak, fears cross-border contamination from Gaza's
elected Hamas administration, whose ideological allies in
the banned Muslim Brotherhood would be likely to win free
elections in Egypt.

But two other factors seem to have been decisive in
convincing Cairo to bend to American and Israeli pressure
and close the vice on Gaza's Palestinians, along with those
who support them. The first was a US threat to cut hundreds
of millions of dollars of aid unless it cracked down on
arms and other smuggling. The second is the need for US
acquiescence in the widely expected hereditary succession
of Mubarak's ex-banker son, Gamal, to the presidency. So,
far from protecting its sovereignty, the Egyptian
government has sold it for continued foreign subsidy and
despotic dynastic rule, sacrificing any pretence to its
historic role of Arab leadership in the process.

From the wider international perspective, it is precisely
this western embrace of repressive and unrepresentative
regimes such as Egypt's, along with unwavering backing for
Israel's occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land,
that is at the heart of the crisis in the Middle East and
Muslim world.

Decades of oil-hungry backing for despots, from Iran to
Oman, Egypt to Saudi Arabia, along with the failure of Arab
nationalism to complete the decolonisation of the region,
fuelled first the rise of Islamism and then the eruption of
al-Qaida-style terror more than a decade ago. But, far from
addressing the natural hostility to foreign control of the
area and its resources at the centre of the conflict, the
disastrous US-led response was to expand the western
presence still further, with new and yet more destructive
invasions and occupations, in Iraq, Afghanistan and
elsewhere. And the Bush administration's brief flirtation
with democratisation in client states such as Egypt was
quickly abandoned once it became clear who was likely to be

The poisonous logic of this imperial quagmire is now
leading inexorably to the spread of war under Barack Obama.
Following the failed bomb attack of a Detroit-bound flight
on Christmas Day, the US president this week announced two
new fronts in the war on terror, faithfully echoed by
Gordon Brown: Yemen, where the would-be bomber was
allegedly trained; and Somalia, where al-Qaida has also put
down roots in the swamp of chronic civil war and social

Greater western military intervention in both countries
will certainly make the problem worse. In Somalia, it has
already done so, after the US-backed Ethiopian invasion of
2006 overthrew the relatively pragmatic Islamic Courts
Union and spawned the more extreme, al-Qaida-linked Shabab
movement, now in control of large parts of the country.
Increased US backing for the unpopular Yemeni government,
already facing armed rebellion in the north and the threat
of secession from the restive south – which only finally
succeeded in forcing out British colonial rule in 1967 – is
bound to throw petrol on the flames.

The British prime minister tried this week to claim that
the growth of al-Qaida in Yemen and Somalia showed western
strategy was "working", because the escalation of the war
in Afghanistan and Pakistan had forced it to look for
sanctuaries elsewhere. In reality, it is a measure of the
grotesque failure of the entire war on terror. Since its
launch in October 2001, al-Qaida has spread from the
mountains of Afghanistan across the region, to Iraq,
Pakistan, the horn of Africa, and far beyond.

Instead of scaling down the western support for
dictatorship and occupation that fuels al-Qaida-style
terror, and concentrating resources on police action to
counter it, the US and its allies have been drawn
inexorably into repeating and extending the monstrosities
that sparked it in the first place. It's the recipe for a
war on terror without end.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this article at work today and thought it was very good.

My one issue with it would be when he implys that Islamism is a result of the failure of Arab Nationalism.

I did some reading over the summer on this period (well a couple of books). And what I found that explanation is not as clear cut as it is made out to be. It overlooks the fact that both Sadat and Saudi Arabia promoted Islaimism intensely in the 70's and 80's to counter the left and Arab Nationalism.