For too long, the totem of elections was sold to the people in the Middle East—those who live outside the pro-US tyrannical regimes in particular. In the decades of the Cold War, the whole premise of the US position was the belief in the moral and political superiority of the West vis-à-vis the Soviet Union due to the holding of regular and frequent elections. Yet, the American electoral system is probably one of the worst, corrupt model of democracies, not only due to the influence of big money ($4 billion in the last election cycle alone) but also due to the elitist Electoral College and the rigid rejection of proportional representation in order to preserve the two party dominance. The preservation of the first-past-the-post electoral system winds up wasting millions of votes, and renders all third parties insignificant and irrelevant.
The Arab world has reacted to the CIA torture scandal in two ways: 1) the regimes were completely silent. Neither the Syrian regime (the only regime that now stands in opposition to the Saudi-US regional order) nor the members of the Saudi-led coalition reacted to the scandal. The Iranian Supreme leader issued a strong denunciation of the US government while the new Afghan president disingenuously feigned “shock” as if he never heard inside of his country of the various war crimes committed by US troops and contractors. 2) At the popular level, there was close attention paid on social media and many circulated the various links to the full text of the report as well as to the analysis of the scandal from American and European media.
Long before there was Edward Said, there was a man named Fayez Sayegh. He was one of the most visible spokespersons of the Palestinian cause in the West. There is very little about him on the web (he died in 1980) but I was able to watch a full hour of an episode of Firing Line featuring Sayegh (available on Amazon Instant Video). He clearly was a masterful debater and knew how to speak to a Western audience. Sayegh and Sami Hadawi also worked through the Arab Information Office to disseminate information and arguments in defense of the Palestinian cause in the Western world. Their booklets and pamphlets on the Palestinian question remain classic in the field. Hadawi’s “Bitter Harvest” is still one of the best introductions to the Palestinian problem.
Make no mistake about it. The Sisi court which reversed previous court and government decisions in Egypt regarding the culpability of Hosni Mubarak and his family in cases of murder and corruption did not only come from inside Egypt. It was part of the package deal that installed Sisi in power. Saudi Arabia is now in charge of arranging and re-arranging the Arab regional order according to its wishes and the wishes of Israel. Saudi Arabia expelled Qatar’s influence from the Arab world and is now making sure, by force, coercion and diplomacy that the Qatari regime would no longer pose a threat to its influence. In Tunisia, the Saudi regime funded the As-Sibsi political party as a way to reintroduce the Ben Ali regime but without Ben Ali.
When I came to the US back in 1983, Richard Cohen (The Washington Post columnist) was considered one of the most liberal voices on the subject of Israel. He used to be a rare liberal who was willing to express criticisms of Israel. He was never courageous as was Marcy McGrory, but he was quite consistent in his criticisms of Israel. In fact, I remember when critics of Israel used to invite Cohen to college campuses to share his views on the brutality of Israeli occupation.
One of the most under (or un) reported stories about the Middle East is the story of the rise of jihadi groups in Lebanon over the last decade. All American correspondents in Beirut are too preoccupied, and emotionally invested, with the story of the Free Syrian Army and the “Syrian revolution.” The developments of Lebanon are of little interest to them, and perhaps because the story is way too embarrassing for US foreign policy. The clashes in the last several months between the Lebanese armed forces and various jihadi groups (operating under the banner of al-Nusra Front or under the banner of ISIS or `Abdullah `Azzam Brigades) got little attention in the Western press and the story was covered merely as an extension of the Syrian war. But there are roots to the modern jihadi groups on Lebanese terrain.
Iranian foreign policy has become far less shaped by the Islamic ideology of the Islamic Republic’s founder. Its policies are now similar to those of the other regimes of the region that are overwhelmingly concerned with survival, popularity, and influence. In the early years of the Islamic Republic, the regime sought the support of Sunnis and Shia alike in a vision that promised Islamic unity. The vision was not far fetched at first as the construction of the republic according to the vision of the Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) was in its infancy. Many Arabs, Muslims and leftists alike, were inspired by the example of the revolution and pinned high hopes on the new regime which toppled the mighty dictatorship of the Shah.
Beirut has been commemorating the 100th birthday of Shaykh `Abdullah al-`Alayli. This cleric, dubbed the “red cleric” by his reactionary enemies, was the first cousin of my grandfather. We grew up admiring him from a distance as he rarely mingled with the family in social gatherings. The few times we met him he left a great impression: he seemed very wise and very modest given the renown that surrounded his personality. We heard from my mother a lot about him: that he persistently supported the educational pursuits of my late mother (first in law school and later in doctoral studies at St. Joseph University, at a time in the 1940s and 1950s when many families did not think that university education was suitable for women, and when many Muslim families distrusted Christian missionary schools and colleges). And when my mother and father fell in love while working together on the staff of the Lebanese parliament, al-`Alayli stepped in to support the marriage of this Sunni Beiruti woman to a Shia man from South Lebanon. Al-`Alayli put his progressive thought into practice in his own family. And when we were young children, we kept pestering my mother with questions about differences between Sunnis and Shia. One memorable afternoon, she got frustrated with us and took us to visit Shaykh `Abdullah.
There is a new audacious conduct by Gulf countries. The previous generation of Gulf rulers were all cautious and reserved even if they were engaged in covert operations alongside the US or Israel (like the Saudi regime in the Yemeni war). The previous generation was nervous about antagonizing Arab public opinion too much, and their relationship with the US was within the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable publicly in their estimation, regardless of how far they go in their subservience in private.