Hitting back

Published : Oct 19, 2012 00:00 IST

The protests in West Asia and Libya are less about sentiments of religious outrage than about resentments against the Wests political domination in the region.

in Bahrain

It is simplistic, to say the least, to attribute the wave of anti-American fury in West Asia and North Africa following the release of a tasteless anti-Islamic film to the stirrings of an aggrieved religious consciousness. Equally naive, if not mischievous, is the clash of civilisations interpretation of the protests that is being touted, which stereotypes the vast majority of Muslims as intolerant, incapable of coexisting with the liberal, democratic and dominantly Christian West.

It is clear that neither of the interpretations is correct. The protesters did not direct their anger against any religious community, and the crusader tit-for-tat hate mentality was simply not evident in the protests. Instead, the focus of the infuriated masses was political. It was the governments of the United States and some of its European allies, and not any religious community, that were the prime targets of their ire.

The film, however, did seem to trigger the release of deep-seated and accumulated anger, probably originating from the death and destruction caused by the U.S. and its allies through the pursuit of imprudent wars and internal disruptions in the region in the aftermath of 9/11. The fury seemed to flow more from the war-imposed loss of loved ones, the trauma of displacement, and the loss of livelihoods, rather than a feeling of religious humiliation. The brazen disregard of the sovereignty of nations, as in Libya and Syria, and the contempt that has been shown towards indigenous leaderships by Americans and the former colonial powers have further fuelled anti-Western sentiments.

While the policy of regime change, the drone attacks that have with regularity killed innocents, the existence of rendition torture camps, and the denial of Palestinian rights have done their fair bit to anger large swathes of populations from Pakistan to Somalia and Sudan, the hijacking of the Arab Spring has emerged as one more factor that seems to have driven public anger in the region to a new high against the American establishment.

The case of Yemen

For instance, in Yemen, it is unlikely that people assaulted the U.S. embassy just to avenge the release of the trailer of a blasphemous anti-Muslim film. In a country where so many have died and tens of thousands have suffered in full-blown protests, a sense of real accomplishment or empowerment is yet to emerge. The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, therefore, seems to be rooted in causes far deeper than what meets the eye.

Popular discontent has been simmering in Yemen on account of the U.S.-Yemen alliance, which has lasted for decades. The U.S.-promoted democratic transition hardly met the expectations for a new social contract that tens of thousands of Yemenis have been yearning for. Instead of a promising young democracy, the transitional accord scripted by the Americans, the Saudis and the Gulf petro-monarchies has followed the standard line. A new client-state is emerging in Yemen, built on the foundation of a co-opted police, a servile military and a judiciary that is well compromised. The pro-democracy protesters are aware of this, and they may only be biding their time. Consequently, it is unlikely that the world has witnessed the last of the eruptions of public anger in Yemen. It is therefore not inconceivable that in the times to come, the focus of the protests may shift from the local regime to its core supportersthe U.S. and its Gulf allies led by Riyadh.

Resistance in Libya

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which led to the killing of U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, may have even less to do with the provocation caused by the incendiary two-minute video. On the contrary, his killing exposes the emergence of a full-blown resistance of people loyal to the slain leader Muammar Qaddafi. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Qaddafi loyalists will not accept a puppet regime led by a combination of expatriates and fundamentalists infiltrated by Western intelligence networks.

It has been said that the killing of the ambassador was the handiwork of Al Qaeda. This assertion, peddled by Western news media in unison, does not stand up to scrutiny. It is well established that Islamist extremists and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) worked hand in glove to remove Qaddafi. The Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), led by Abdelhakim Belhaj, an established jehadi, was well cultivated by the Americans in the run-up to the toppling of the Qaddafi government. It was Belhajs Tripoli brigadetrained well by U.S. Special Forcesthat formed the vanguard of a Berber militia that swooped down from the mountains and overran Qaddafis well-fortified Bab-al-Aziziyah compound.

Belhaj had sharpened his skills in the 1980s during the anti-Soviet jehad in Afghanistan. After 9/11, he headed for Pakistan and then Iraq, where he befriended the terror kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Writing in Asia Times, columnist Pepe Escobar said that in 2007, the LIFG merged with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and this marriage was officially announced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, then Al Qaedas number-two leader.

With NATO and the jehadists working together, and benefiting from this relationship, it is illogical to assume that extremists would go after the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi. After all, the late ambassador and the Islamic radicals had a cosy relationship that can be traced to Stevens early arrival in Benghazi in April 2011 to coordinate the anti-Qaddafi campaign with the jehadists.

So comfortable was this relationship that Stevens preferred to stay in Benghazi, the hotbed of extremists, for security reasons after Qaddafi loyalists tried to car-bomb him outside a Tripoli hotel where he had moved after the former leaders fall. In a well-researched article titled Benghazi attack. Libyas resistance did it And NATO powers are covering up, posted on the alternative media website globalreasearch.ca, authors Mark Robertson and Finian Cunningham point out that so sanguine was Stevens about his security in Benghazi that he enjoyed jogging in public places inside the city. So the question arises: Who killed the ambassador on a day when protests against the American film were building up and the 11th anniversary of 9/11 had arrived?

Robertson and Cunningham, in their article, attribute the killing to the Green Resistance, called Tahloob in local parlance, comprising determined followers of Qaddafi. They point out that the most obvious explanation is that cadrethe Green Resistanceloyal to Qaddafi and in opposition to the NATO-imposed regime carried out the attack. NATO and its Libyan quislings dont want to admit this subversive reality. The fact of a resistancea potent and growing resistance at thathas to be denied, erased from the record.

The time of the killing may be unrelated to the 9/11 anniversary. There may have been other more compelling reasons, such as the extradition from Mauritania to Libya of Abdullah Al Senoussi, Qaddafis intelligence chief, that could have driven an incensed Green Resistance movement to strike.

Senoussis arrest is likely to have become the tipping point that drove the Green Resistance cadres attack. It is also likely that the incarceration of other high-profile Qaddafi-era officials may have reinforced the movements resolve to strike. A day before the Benghazi attack, the pro-U.S. Libyan government had put Abdul Ati Al Obeidi on trial. Obeidi had been a trusted Qaddafi loyalist, having served the former regime as Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and head of state. The other official who appeared in the courtroom was Mohammed Zwai, the former Secretary General of Qaddafis General Peoples Congress.

The trial resembles a witch-hunt, for the two have been accused of wasting public funds by paying the $2.7 billion compensation to the families of those who were killed on account of the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

Though it is now acquiring a high profile, the pro-Qaddafi resistance, it appears in hindsight, has been active in Libya for quite a while. There have been a string of assassinations of some high-profile individuals who had turned against Qaddafi before his government collapsed, leading to speculation of the Green movements hand in their killings. Among those who died in mysterious circumstances was Shukri Ghanem. Ghanem, a former Oil Minister under Qaddafi, had struck a deal with NATO and was accorded residency first in London and then Vienna. On April 29 this year, his body was found floating in the Danube river.

The Green Resistance in May this year claimed responsibility for the assassination of General Albarrani Shkal. Shkal was apparently in the resistances crosshairs for the coup de grace that he had delivered against the Qaddafi government. In August 2011, Tripolis former military governor demobilised 38,000 troops under his command. Consequently, the gates of Tripoli were breached by foreign forces during Operation Mermaid Dawn, leading to the collapse of the regime. There have been a string of other attacks by the Green Resistance, which may have, perhaps deliberately, escaped detailed mainstream media attention.

The death of the unfortunate ambassador is leading to a surge of American troops in Libya. The stage is therefore set for a major round of confrontation between the U.S., supported by the puppet extremists, and the motivated cadre of the Green Resistance movement.

Protests in Egypt, camouflaging issues

Unlike in Libya where the aftermath of the provocative movie exposed internal fault lines, tensions and uncertainty, the protests in Egypt seemed to camouflage the real issues confronting the government of President Mohamed Morsy. They lasted for three days, with the maximum damage caused on September 11, when crowds attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The protests visibly shrank over the next two days. It is likely that Morsys parent organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, was in a position to rein in the protests, except on the first day when spontaneity could have been a factor in the attack. The Muslim Brotherhoods doublespeak was also in evidence: an attempt to placate the genuine anti-American mood in Cairo that was fuelled by the film, and the pressure not to alienate the U.S., especially at a time when Morsy was heading for his maiden visit to New York. On September 13, the President called on everyone to take that into consideration, to not violate Egyptian law to not assault embassies. He added: I condemn and oppose all who insult our Prophet. [But] it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad.

The Muslim Brotherhoods tightrope walk in response to the film may have become inescapable as domestic pressure against the Morsy administration was building up. There is a growing disenchantment in Egypt because the elected government is showing no signs of departing from the neoliberal economic model that was adopted during the Hosni Mubarak era. Plans to privatise publicly owned enterprises have now been announced, subsidies are being reduced, and measures to attract foreign capital by deregulating the economy are in full flow. The rewards for economic conformity with the U.S. and its allies are beginning to accrue. Qatar has announced an $18-billion investment package, while Saudi Arabia has offered $4 billion in loans. In early September, a huge composite U.S. delegation that included representatives from the State Department, White House and several blue-chip companies descended in Cairo. Morsys government appears set to continue Mr. Mubaraks economic agenda, albeit with a stated commitment to fight corruption, noted Financial Times in its report of the visit.

Not everyone is enamoured of Morsys pronounced pro-U.S. economic direction. Cairos Talat Harb Square is becoming the centre of protests, and leftists and liberals have been gathering there to demand people-friendly policies. One of the protests demanded the removal of the Minister of Interior blamed for the resurgence of police brutality after several strikes were violently attacked, reported the daily Al Ahram on its website. Kamal Khalil, who runs the Centre for Socialist Studies in Cairo, told the Al Hayat daily that the protesters were also demanding the release of all prisoners detained upon orders from the military courts and we want the minimum wage to be set at 1,500 Egyptian pounds. The protesters are also urging the government not to seek new loans from international banks. With the country almost evenly split between supporters of Islamist parties and others, there is a real danger that a new round of energetic protests may be building up in case the Morsy administration blindly pursues its neoliberal agenda backed by the use of force. That would make it hard for the new dispensation to distinguish itself from the reviled Mubarak era.

The policy of regime change followed by the U.S. after 9/11, first witnessed in Iraq, subsequently in Libya and now in Syria, is resulting in a counter-response, unique to each of these countries. In Libya, a Green Resistance movement of Qaddafi loyalists is growing in strength, and, in all likelihood, the killing of the U.S. ambassador in the wake of the anti-Islamic video is its most potent strike so far. Syria is a victim of a plot by the Western powers, which have not hesitated to deploy foreign extremists to topple a sovereign government under the hypocritical pretext of pursing a humanitarian agenda.

The deep-seated anger against the hijacking of the Arab Spring by the U.S. and its allies also found violent expression in countries such as Yemen, where the American embassy was stormed. A new wave of protests may be building up in Egypt, in case the Morsy administration continues to pursue its flawed pro-West economic and foreign policy course. From movements at the beginning of 2011 that targeted their own dictators, a new round of resistance movements with a broader anti-Western content, focussed on the U.S. and its allies, may become the next big occurrence to hit vast swathes of West Asia and North Africa in the future.

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