Saudi, Egyptian Leaders Pull the Democracy Rug from Under Washington
Moderate Arab leaders aimed a damaging broadside at key US-sponsored election ventures, the more painful for its timing in the month when ballots were scheduled both in the Palestinian Authority and Iraq. It was fired inconspicuously by 21 Arab interior ministers gathered in Tunis last week and acted as a rude snub to the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts to recruit Arab friends for help in bringing reluctant Iraqi Sunni voters to the January 30 poll.
Present at the conference from Sunday to Wednesday, January 2-5, in addition to the ministers, were Middle East and Persian Gulf chiefs of intelligence, police and domestic security in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, as well as outside counter-terror experts, including Americans.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that, ahead of the event, Saudi and Egyptian governments promised Washington and Baghdad to initiate motions expressly condemning Iraqi terrorism and throwing a supportive mantle over the two January elections. What happened in Tunis left the Americans astonished and outraged by what they saw as a betrayal by their purported Arab friends. The key resolution said: “Arab interior ministers condemned all terrorist acts in Iraq targeting Iraqi security agents and the Iraqi police, as well as businesses and public, economic, humanitarian and religious institutions.” There was not a single cross word for the acts of violence against American troops or coalition allies.
This omission went down with Bush administration officials as not far short of a pan-Arab license to kill non-Iraqis, namely Americans and its allied forces.
Sunday, January 9, US embassy officials met with Iraqi’s supreme Muslim Council to ask them to revoke the order to Sunnis to boycott the election. The clerics offered to grant this wish on condition that the United States set a date for its departure from Iraq.
Adding fuel to the fire, Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef called a news conference after the event to pull out the old chestnut of another intractable conflict: “The Palestinians are not engaged in a war of terror,” he said, “but self-defense.”
This absolution for Palestinian terrorism could not have come at a worst time for American plans. An end to the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel is the key to a return to the peace map and the success of Mahmoud Abbas, whose election as Arafat’s successor, was expected Sunday, January 9, in negotiating a path to Palestinian statehood. Authoritative endorsement of Palestinian violence from a purportedly pro-American, moderate Arab League leader put the lid on the already faint prospect of the new Palestinian leader dealing with the violence.
Iraqi interim interior minister Falah Hassan Naqib tried reminding Prince Nayef and Egyptian foreign minister Habib al-Adli of their commitment. He was brushed aside. The independent draft he tabled denouncing terrorist attacks on US and allied forces was vetoed.
debkafile‘s Washington sources add that the administration views the performance of its Arab friends at Tunis as one of the most painful contretemps it has suffered in the war on global terror and a grave setback to its aspirations to lead the Middle East to stable democratic government, starting with the Palestinians and moving on to Iraq. President Bush and vice president Dick Cheney are reported fuming as never before, their ire directed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the powerful Saudi interior minister and the Egyptian foreign minister. They are now trying to find out in Riyadh if Nayef acted with or without approval from Crown Prince Abdullah in spearheading with Adli an Arab League measure that adds up to the virtual legalization of terrorist acts that are not directed against fellow Arabs.
This pan-Arab seal of legitimacy extends well beyond the bruising day-to-day conflicts to the dangerous erosion of authority developing in the three terror-bound arenas struggling for stability: Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority.
In those places, two-headed power bases are emerging. The US-approved central governments, which are too feeble to come to grips with the terrorists, and the hostile paramilitary forces which have dug their claws into the country and control it by violence.
The pattern of this emerging mortal symbiosis varies according to local conditions:
Afghanistan: Elected president Hamid Karzai rules sections of the capital Kabul. The rest of the country is largely in the grip of tribal leaders and paramilitary militias who are in semi-overt league with Taliban and al Qaeda elements.
Iraq:Prime minister Iyad Allawi lacks the military muscle or even the prospect of a local army capable of fighting hostile guerrilla and terrorist enemies and asserting control of Iraq. His regime is completely dependent on US, British and other coalition armies and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Neither the interim government in Baghdad nor the Americans can guarantee elections will take place in all of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Therefore, the prime minister and the Americans have engaged Sunni leaders in exile in covert negotiations, among them guerrilla chiefs, to get them to lift their boycott against the January 30 vote. These talks do not even begin to reach the point of demanding a halt of the attacks. If anything, their effect is to exacerbate the violence besetting Iraq and prejudice the election. Wooing the insurgents’ Sunni supporters rewards them with legitimacy and correspondingly reduces their incentive for coming to terms with elected government. Hence, the negative response from the supreme Muslim council of Iraq to the American bid to waive the voting prohibition.
Terrorism will therefore most probably persist after the elections too. The effect of pan-Arab endorsement for the Sunni opponents of the regime will be to harden and radicalize their resistance to central government and their refusal to enter into any accommodation.
The Arab League ministers in Tunis put paid to any hope US diplomats might have entertained of mobilizing even a partial Sunni vote.
The Palestinian Authority: It did not take Washington, Jerusalem or European governments long to discover that Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, is not made of the stuff needed to take on the Hamas and al Aqsa Brigades terrorists or impose a drastic reform program on the corrupt, shambolic Palestinian administration.
Fatah, Tanzim, al Aqsa Brigades and Hamas tacticians know him much longer as the late Yasser Arafat’s long-serving deputy. They opted for the reverse strategy to Iraqi insurgents; instead of boycott and assault, they enfolded Abu Mazen in a bear hug which binds him hand and foot, the while carrying on with their attacks on Israel undisturbed. His three weeks of campaigning saw the Fatah candidate ground down to acceptance of their ways.
As a result, whereas Iraqi insurgents do everything in their power to destroy the Allawi regime, Palestinian terrorists cherish Abu Mazen and will hold him to his pre-election promise to shield them from the “Zionist enemy.”
The Palestinian election is therefore expected by debkafile‘s counter-terror and Palestinian experts to produce the Palestinian version of the two-headed power-base: one head engaged in diplomatic bargaining with the Americans, the Europeans and, from time to time, the Israelis – after squeezing out concessions for every meeting; the second head, the Palestinians’ terrorist wing, will continue to strike Israel, egged on by an updated pan-Arab blessing from Tunis.