Tag Archives: Middle East

Iran’s clever waiting game as the Middle East realigns

Brilliant article from the ever-excellent MK Bhadrakumar on Asia Times Online on Iran’s role in the Middle East uprisings, particularly Bahrain. He argues that Iran is too clever to ‘walk into the trap’ of getting its hands dirty by providing any material support to the Bahraini protestors, knowing that the US and allies will be picking over the debris to find any sign of Iranian involvement, which would doubtless be used to ramp up rhetoric, or action, against Iran. Instead, they’re pursuing a far more subtle strategy which hinges on persuading the general public (the so-called ‘Arab Street’, an Orientalist term I can’t stand because it simply does not exist) that this is not a religious, Sunni-Shi’a issue, and that Saudi is defying its mandate as Custodian of the Holy Places (Mecca and Medina) by killing Muslims in a foreign country. That Iran can condemn the attacks on protesters while brazenly attacking its own protesters is of course the height of irony; but then again, foreign policy is rarely without irony.

The Middle East is being remade now, as I type; the geopolitics of the region is changing forever, and all the major players are desperately tying make sure they’re at the top of whatever the new alignment is going to be. So far, Iran’s looking like it is well-placed to come out of this even more powerful than when it all began.

VERDICT: The Islamic Republic goes forth, with or without an appreciation of irony.


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Better a king than a president in the Middle East

Can a king be a king without a crown? Yes say kings Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Abdulla II of Jordan. (Pic: LIFE)

In the end, titles are important, especially if you are a despotic Middle Eastern ruler. A quick survey shall illustrate:

Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Libya: all run by Presidents-for-life. The protests which have rocked/are rocking these countries, while very different in origin and nature, have a common theme – they all demand the exit of the president himself.

Bahrain, Jordan*: both run by monarchs. I’m not too sure about Bahrain, but certainly in Jordan the King is the centre of power. Yet in both these countries the protesters have been very careful to emphasise that they are not protesting the monarch, but rather the government (which was appointed by the monarch). One protestor (a Bahraini blogger) tweeted today: “Just to clear things up, nobody wants AlKhalifa [the king] out. Hell, I would rather they rule Bahrain than anyone else. We just want our rights.”

It’s a curious position. While presidents-for-life have their legitimacy conferred by rigged elections, monarchs have theirs conferred by the pomp and ceremony of royalty, but their powers and influence on the state amount to much the same thing. But, right now at least, I’d rather be a king than a president – if, of course, I was an authoritarian Middle Eastern ruler trying to maintain a firm grip on power. Which I’m not.

* It will be interesting to see what the protestors in Morocco are going to say, another monarchy with big protests planned for Feb 20th.

** An underestimated side-benefit of monarchy is the ability to pass on power to your son without question (it’s always the son). Mubarak had such problems trying to prepare Egypt to accept his son Gamal as president; if he’d merely been handing the crown over, would there have been any fuss at all?

***This whole theory failed miserably for the Shah of Iran, the last Czar, and Louis XVI. Or perhaps they were just so bad that even their royal aura couldn’t help them.

VERDICT: Titles go forth, says Dr. Third World Goes Forth.

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Hosni Mubarak goes 4th in photoshop

Hosbi Mubarak, in full control

Mubarak in command...as he appeared today in Al Ahram.

This may be the best thing to come out of the Middle East peace talks in the US.

When Egyptian readers of state daily Al-Ahram woke up this morning, all was right in the world; imperious and commanding, Hosni Mubarak appeared in a large photograph of the talks, with lesser luminaries such as Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, and Binyamin Netanyahu trailing in his wake. Mubarak was demonstrating once again – as he does so often in the pages of Al Ahram – the prominence of his, and Egypt’s, position in the world.

But it didn’t take long for blogger Wael Khalil to notice that the photo bore a strange resemblance to another picture, in which the order of the subjects was somewhat different; in fact, it appeared that Mubarak was lagging a bit behind, and to the side, and not looking at all commanding or imperious.

Perhaps a more accurate reflection of Mubarak's place in the hierarchy

One can imagine the reaction of the Al Ahram picture editor when this photo came in: “Thank god for photoshop”, he thought, breathing a sigh of relief.

Another victory for the blogosphere. Thanks to Wael Khalil (Arabic) for the great spot.

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