Sinai is a tongue-in-cheek fictional thriller set to the backdrop of a chaotic post-Mubarak Egypt. Intrigue, bombs, and breathtaking vistas guarantee a riveting read for all. This blog burrows into the political context, a guide to the inscrutable Middle East, cradle of civilization, and yes, many a confused bout of head shaking.
Even John Stewart couldn’t quite help himself. A measure of self-congratulatory glee got the better of the feted talk-show host as he painted “No’Amor” Gadhafi’s expiration a grand U.S. foreign policy success, much to Obama’s Republican opponents’ chagrin. A pinch of redemption came for Mr. Stewart in the cynical shape of a short historical overview of U.S.-Gadhafi relations that read like a Facebook timeline. Friended. Unfriended. Refriended. Unfriended. Refriended. Unfriended. Replace “unfriended” with “bombed” and “refriended” with “sold bombs to” and you get the idea more or less. Donald Trump, the gazelle-coifed tycoon, put it more succinctly. “Big deal,” opined the one-time presidential candidate. “What do we get out of it?” To reduce the Middle East to a playground and juice box of Western Powers, more or less since the slow wane of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the 17th century, might be a slight exaggeration. And yet, the Arab Spring phenomenon -for phenomenal it is- should be seen as much as an assertion of national sovereignty as well as a popular emancipation against corrupt dictators. The two are inextricably linked.
Western interventions in the Middle East, regular as clockwork, started long before the discovery of oil. Back then, European nations were interested in expansion, one would almost be tempted to say, for the heck of it if by “heck” you mean “filthy lucre” i.e. trade and a territorial cushion to absorb fast-expanding populations at home. France and Britain pretty much carved up the Arab lands among them with some scraps left for Italy, the Giovanni-come-lately of colonialism. Germany, the Heinrich-not-only-missed-the-bus-but-locked-himself-out-wearing-slippers-and-had-to-wait-for-the-locksmith of the great scramble for land, attempted and failed utterly to gain any traction among the Arabs. Which is not to say the English and French had a jolly ride of it. Au contraire. Restive natives, rabble and rebel intellectual alike, required heavy policing, gunboats, and financial ‘tutelage’ to be subdued, again and again. The discovery of ‘Arab’ oil in the 1930’s only upped the stakes. However, European nationalism, now very much en vogue among its soon to be former subjects, necessitated a different model of control for the post WWII era. Direct rule was out. Divide and conquer was the new-old name of the game. Not to mention a fair and fun amount of whack-a-mole.
Countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, and others gained nominal independence long before national movements actually asserted the full array of their countries’ sovereign powers. They remained, in other words, puppet states until champions, more often than not army men, kicked out Western ‘advisers’, ‘administrators’, and army ‘trainers’, mainly in the 1950’s. Libya maintained a very close relationship with its former colonial masters, and hosted an American military airfield until a bloodless military coup brought to power Mu’ammar Gadhafi in 1969.
The new, real independence of Libya and other Arab countries didn’t last. The latter-half of the 20th century can broadly be charted as a reconquest of Western influence over Arab states. The naughty ones; colonels, generals, and presidents who didn’t ‘play ball’ were by no means spared the rod. Attacks on overly independent realms happened, and still happen, either directly or through local proxies. A balance was, and is to be maintained at all cost. Examples abound. Iraq clobbers Iran. Iran clobbers Iraq. Iraq clobbers Kuwait. The world clobbers Iraq. Syria clobbers the PLO. Lebanese Falange clobber Palestinians. Israel clobbers all. Egypt clobbers, then makes peace with Israel. Arabs ostracize Egypt for making peace with Israel. And so on and so forth. The Merry-Goes-Round. And round, and round. At the end of the day the oil gushes out of the Middle East. Dollars gush in. Dollars are then repatriated through arms purchases. A balance of payments is maintained as well as a balance of terror.
In the end Gadhafi had switched sides one too many times. As the Arab spring reached Libya French president Sarkozy and British PM Cameron quickly called for his ouster. But the tables turned as Gadhafi successfully employed all the weaponry sold to him by the west against his own civilian population. Embracing the man once more proved too cynical a prospect, even for Sarkozy and Cameron. The crazy man had to go. Better be very friendly to the new guys. Cut a deal. What’s in it for us? Fifty fifty on the oil? Rebuild infrastructure, replenish weapons stock piles? That way you’re set for the next round when the black gold once more reduces the minds of men to a viscous dark goo. The Merry-Goes-Round. And round, and round.
“Sinai” explores the dangers confronting a soon-to-be elected post-Mubarak Egyptian leadership. From wistful old regime elements, western powers’ attempts to claw back lost influence, to religious zealotry -no, not the kind that you think…