How the US abandoned its Arab friends

How the US abandoned its Arab friends
Comment: The democratic experiment of the Arab Spring is coming to an end, partly due to a lack of US interest in supporting people's hopes and ambitions, says Badr al-Ibrahim.
5 min read
27 Jan, 2015
US interests in the region have traditionally been served by "moderate" dictators [AFP]

A change in US policy towards the Syrian administration has caused some unease among opposition groups.

US priorities appear to have shifted from denouncing the regime of Bashar al-Assad to focusing all efforts on building a counter-terrorism strategy for Syria.

US efforts are now fixed around building a large alliance to fight the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) as opposed to supporting the Syrian opposition in its charge to bring down the Damascus regime.

Carrot and stick

It is clear to the opposition that the US, and the rest of the world, has abandoned their cause - so much so that some elements even accuse the superpower of actively working against the Syrian revolution.

Many opposition groups, from the beginning of the uprising, have depended on US intervention to bring them victory. The change of tone in US rhetoric, and the lack of real interest in the cause, has left the rebels feel abandoned.

This brings us back to the US position towards the Arab Spring and the democratic changes that have taken place in the Arab world. Since the first few months of the Arab Spring, analysts - mainly US propagandists in the region - had predicted a change in Washington's usual practice of supporting friendly, but oppressive regimes.

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Any change in US Middle East policy may suggest that Washington believes its interests might be served better through the ballot box than by supporting dictators.

Political parties across the Arab world have been jockeying for positions of influence with the US. They wanted to appear as reliable and alternative allies to the old regimes, and in return stand ready and willing to accept US domination and hegemony.

Backing from the US, the parties believed, could be used to bring them to power and keep them there. However, a quick look at how things have progressed over the past four years shows an utter failure in this strategy.

     The US position towards the Arab Spring was characterised by confusion, an inherent feature of Obama's foreign policy.

The US position towards the Arab Spring was characterised by confusion, an inherent feature of the Obama administration's foreign policy. In the case of Egypt, Obama's government was divided on whether or not to abandon Hosni Mubarak.

Eventually, the US turned a blind eye to Mubarak's exit from the palace and "welcomed" the first outcome of the 25 January revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood thought it could win over the US, so the Brothers did what was necessary to make themselves appear a suitable alternative to the old regime.

Populist support

They contradicted their own slogans towards Palestine by accepting the Camp David peace agreement. They also adopted a neoliberal economic programme and invited the US to invest in Egypt.

It was said that the US was convinced that the Brotherhood was a popular and moderate Islamist power that could reinforce Washington's interests, particularly tackling anti-US groups, with the shroud of electoral legitimacy.

Many in Morsi's Brotherhood believed it had sold itself to the US - but the Egyptian military leadership decided to take exclude the Brotherhood from the political process following the mass protests of June 2013.

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Brotherhood delegates rushed to Washington to stop the coup, but the US did not protect them. The US refused to take a hostile stance towards Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the rest of the military leadership, and continued to supply military aid to the Egyptian government.

In Syria, the US backed the political opposition, and supervised the support of factions that took up arms against the Assad regime. Members of the Syrian Coalition hoped for US military intervention to end the battle on the ground - but the Americans did not respond in the way rebels had hoped.

The situation spiralled out of control as domestic, regional and international powers pushed Syria into a civil war. The regime continued its crimes against its people, while opposition groups continued to complain about a lack of US support for their interests.

All bets off

The Syrian opposition's failed gamble was replicated in other countries.

     The US is one of the fundamental problems in the region, not the solution to any crisis.

In Iraq, the US abandoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who they supported in the 2010 elections over Ayad Allawi.

The US did not abandon Maliki because of his sectarian policies - but because of his utter failure to rule Iraq and his inability to meet US aspirations.

In Bahrain, a faction of the opposition also bet on strong relations with the US to pressure the regime to meet their demands. However, the Bahraini government dealt them a severe blow, arresting leading opposition figures, some of whom had strong ties to the US - but Washington still took no action.

Nor did Washington move to support any of the human rights activists in the Arab world. Their regimes arrested them, harrassed them, put them in their jails - and the Americans did nothing more than issue quiet condemnations.

There are countless examples to show the US does not consider democracy to be a priority in the region.

It has sold out its "friends" several times, and issues such as oil and protecting Israel remain its top priorities, as usual. The US has changed its mind about its friends and abandoned them numerous times when they believe they have served their interests.

The US is one of the fundamental problems in the region, not the solution to any crisis.

Its dominance is related to oppression and hindering democratic change, not supporting it. It is also unable to change its position towards Israel.

Anyone looking for real change in the Arab world must rely on their own strengths, and not rely on foreign tutelage to realise their ambitions.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.