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The Middle East: A Boiling Cauldron; Polarization and violence PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 16 July 2007 20:05
The Middle East is a large stretch of land which is made up of varying size countries almost all their societies are polarized and seething with conflicts and violence, a boiling cauldron.  The countries are decidedly interconnected which makes dealing with them separately and in isolation a very naïve and an inadequate approach and tends to complicate and inflame an already very tense and potentially highly explosive situation.  The term Middle East originated in the mid 1850s and I am using the term today to describe the mainly Arabic speaking part of it about 2-3 million square kilometers extending from the western border of Iran to the Mediterranean and from the north most point of  Iraq to the port of Aden.  The Middle East has for centuries been a major center of world affairs, but has also been constantly plagued by instability and conflict.  I am concentrating today on three entities every one of them is almost totally polarized and highly explosive.

The first and oldest of the three issues is the one which has been raging for about a hundred years in the Holy Land, which started with the active efforts of the Jews to realize their dream of establishing a homeland in Palestine.  This was challenged by the Arabs and for the next fifty years there was a non remitting confrontation between the two which was greatly intensified after the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, an act which was rejected by the Arabs who attacked the newly established state with view to throw the Jews into the sea.  The Arab's attempt was unsuccessful and the Jews remained there and started to expand, but their expansion was accomplished at a very high cost to the Palestinian Arabs who were to receive one major blow after another.  The Palestinian’s suffering resulted in a fairly united opposition against the Israelis, but the unity lasted for a short period.   As soon as the unity evaporated, the political Palestinian scene came to be dominated by two factions one was led by the old Fattah which advocated dialogue with the Israelis with view to an ultimate state of their own side by side with the Jews a view which was rejected by the newly established Hamas who refused any dealings with what they called the occupation.  This internal Palestinian conflict led to a series of very serious rows between the two factions over the last year which culminated a month ago into a full blown war between the two in the Gaza strip during which Hamas was able to evict Fattah from Gaza.  The situation is extremely explosive threatening the creation of two mini Palestinian states, which could have terrible implications for the Palestinians themselves and to nearby countries and possibly beyond.

With the failure of the Arab governments to defeat the newly established state of Israel the Palestinians decided to take care of the Jews themselves.  In the 1950s the late Yasser Arafat founded Fattah to promote the armed struggle to liberate all Palestinians from Israeli control, but that struggle ended with recognizing Israel's right to exist and their acceptance of the so called Oslo accords in 1990 that led to the establishments of the so called the Palestinian authority.  This act by Fattah and Yasser Arafat was not accepted by all the Palestinians and a lot of them were turning to the newly founded Hamas which was the Palestinian branch of the Muslim brotherhood Hamas rejected the Oslo accords and pledged a continuation of the armed resistance against Israel and concurrently started a social welfare program which earned it a good deal of respect culminating in a landside victory during the 2006 elections and the senior position in the national unity government that came to power in March 2007.   This shift in power heralded a new phase of absolute polarization a period of violence on the streets of Gaza which at the end of which Hamas seized control of Gaza with Fattah retreating to the West Bank.  These events have led to a total polarization of the already highly polarized society and created a highly volatile and confusing situation which was made even more confusing by thrusting Tony Blair upon it in highly unprecedented job as a representative of the international community with a vague mandate and an ill defined job with which Mr. Blair would solve the 100 years old Arab Israeli conflict.   I hope that Mr. Blair would be more successful than when he was in Iraq.

The other major conflict zone which is also raising the temperature in this boiling cauldron is Lebanon.  From 1975 to around 1990, it was gripped in a terrible civil war between the two main components of that society, the Christians and the Muslims which ended as a result of the direct intervention by their next door neighbor the Syrians who were able to militarily force an end to the bloodletting.  The Syrians enjoyed their presence in Lebanon during which they milked their much smaller neighbor ruthlessly and systematically which created a tremendous backlash to their presence, but the Lebanese themselves were unable to dislodge the Syrians from their country.   The Lebanese were still in spite of an apparent cease fire were totally polarized into two factions which were eyeing each other with hostility and suspicion.  One fraction was friendly to the Syrians and the other greatly appalled by their activities and was calling for their departure.  This situation was intensified by the assassination of the ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who has been until very recently a good friend of the Syrians.  Hariri has been a Prime Minister during the Syrian occupation, but has suddenly changed sides and was now siding with those who were against the Syrian presence.

The assassination of Hariri led to a serious escalation of tensions inside Lebanon between its various political factions and further polarization in the already dangerously polarized Lebanese society.  The murder was blamed on the Syrians by one of the factions to whom he became a martyr and were demanding the departure of the occupiers from their country a position which was supported by the Americans and the French who succeeded in convincing the security council to issue a resolution setting an independent international personality to investigate the crime and demanding the exit of the Syrians who after a long period of prevarication and delays reluctantly complied with and left.  After the Syrians left Lebanon, Lebanon was gripped in a spate of assassinations which included some prominent politician members of parliament and journalists these were also blamed on the Syrians.  The departure of the Syrians was followed by a general elections which was won by the anti-Syrian lobby their opponents say a victory which was bought by the martyrs money, but the majority was very kind and included their antagonists in what was called like that of their Palestinian brothers a national unity government.

Now without telling anybody Hezbollah a Shiite politico-military organization which had its bases in southern Lebanon suddenly attacked their southern neighbor and plunged the whole country in a month long war with the Israelis which resulted in an incredible destruction, death and material damage.  Hezbollah still claimed a historical victory over the Jewish state and started making some unreasonable demands including getting one third of the cabinet seats with a power to veto its decisions, but when that demand was refused they went into the streets occupied the center of Beirut and were shouting and demonstrating from what was next door to the offices of the current prime minister.  Hezbollah’s behavior inflamed the situation much further and increased the divisions and  polarization inside the country, now to add salt to the injury Fatah al-Islam a small previously unknown jihadist organization which is affiliated with al-Qaeda started another war in northern Lebanon to which the Lebanese army responded.  Fath al-Islam proved a much more lethal and a tenacious lot because the Lebanese army has until now been unable to defeat them, the current situation in Lebanon is very serious and like what is happening in the Holy Land it threatens a very serious explosion.

Now to the third and most unfortunate of this unfortunate tetrad, in the boiling cauldron is Iraq.  I don’t know what to say about my own country, the situation over there is becoming increasingly complex confusing and almost hopeless.  I have always believed that there was still hope but I am afraid it is receding very rapidly and the country looks like descending very rapidly into a very deep abyss.  Everything is worse than what it was few weeks ago, the country is disintegrating and decaying.  All the talks that violence is down by 36 percent is not true and deceptive and the view by a very learned military analyst of the associated press that only the Iraqis can win the war is extremely naïve and misleading.  The security situation is terrible in spite of the recurrent government operations to stabilize it and the surge of the extra American troops has made absolutely no difference.  The services are practically non existent; the country has been for long days without water or electricity with the temperature approaching a 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Iraq is a terribly divided and highly polarized and like the other members of this incredible tetralogy is threatening a very serious explosion with its eruptions spilling to neighboring countries and possibly more distant ones.

Najeeb Hanoudi
Sunday July 15, 2007
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