Democratic Middle East Intolerable for Saudi Arabia: Vijay Prashad Interview



Interview by Kourosh Ziabari

About Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Prof. Prashad has written seven books including “The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World”, “Keeping up with the Dow Joneses: Stocks, Jails, Welfare”, “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity” and “War against the Planet: The Fifth Afghan War, Imperialism and Other Assorted Fundamentalism.”

Prof. Prashad’s articles and commentaries have appeared on several online and print publications including, Monthly Review, The Nation, The Malaysian Insider, ColorLine Magazine, The Indian American, Z Magazine and Frontline Magazine. He is a member of editorial board at the Left History and Amerasia Journal publications.  In the wake of Arab world uprisings, Prof. Prashad has been interviewed by several media outlets such as Radical Notes.   Vijay says that “what is impressive is the sheer fortitude of the Arab people, who have decided that enough is enough, that even where they might have a decent standard of living, as in the oil rich countries, such as Bahrain, they want more: dignity and democracy.”  Prof. Prashad introduces himself an anti-Zionist and believes that the U.S. military aid to the Israeli regime should be cut.

What follows is the complete text of my in-depth interview with Prof. Vijay Prashad, political commentator, university professor and journalist with whom I discussed the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East, the suppression of the democratic movement of the Bahraini people, civil war in Libya and the future of revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia.

Vijay Prashad, University professor and political commentator

Kourosh Ziabari: Frequent and unstoppable revolutions are taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Popular movements of the Muslim nations of Tunisia and Egypt brought to an end the longstanding tyranny of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Sooner or later, the same destiny awaits the dictators of Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia who were all once the stalwart allies of the United States and its European cronies. What’s your estimation of the recent developments in the region and how do you forecast the future of chained revolutions of the Middle East?

Vijay Prashad: Revolutions have no specified timetable. Marx used the image of the Mole to stand in for Revolutions to explain their hard-working and unreliable nature. The Mole spends its time making tunnels underground, and then, when you don’t expect it, breaks the surface for a breath of air. “Well burrowed, Old Mole,” Marx wrote: the breaking free to the surface is the spectacular part of the Revolution, but it is the burrowing, the preparing that is the most important part. The least prepared Mole is the easiest to defeat because it has not groomed its subterranean space effectively enough. It has not taken the grievances of the people and produced organizations capable of withstanding the counter-revolution; it has not harnessed these grievances to the discipline of revolutionary force. It is the burrowing that is essential, not simply the emergence onto the surface of history.

A long process of preparation has been afoot in the Middle East and North Africa, the acronym: MENA, all at a different tempo. In Tunisia and Egypt there have been many constitutional challenges to the one-party state, by which I mean challenges within the bounds of the constitution: protests and attempts to forge independent political platforms, including through the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as attempts to found a new human rights sensibility such as in the campaigns of people like Ayman Nour and so on. All this is the prologue, the work of building networks and a new vision for their societies. Much the same process was underway in Bahrain, via organizations like the Wafeq Party, mainly, but also in the human rights redoubts, such as the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and so on.

The spur for the uprising was in last year’s Russian wheat harvest, which was historically poor. That resulted in the high grain prices worldwide, and the high bread prices in MENA. Sustained neo-liberal policies and collusion with the torture needs of the War on Terror over the past decade weakened the ability of the Pharonic States in both Egypt and Tunisia to react to the people’s needs. Their main contact with the people was through the security services: they did not know the people’s needs. This meant that Mubarak, for instance, sensed too late that the bread issue was going to galvanize the prepared forces into a mass struggle – he increased the subsidy, but Bread had spurred on the Mole.

It helped that in Tunisia the perfect candidate became the match that set afire the desert lands: Mohammed Bouazizi was educated and under-employed, the main bread-winner for his family, denied dignity by a State that had increasingly become little other than a security apparatus to protect the siphoning of wealth to the narrow elite. When the police officer told him he could not park his hand-cart where he wished, it was the last straw for Bouazizi, whose immolation set in motion events that waited for just such an act.

The Tunisia-Egypt wave swept into the Arabian Peninsula. That’s where events ran into some trouble. The Saudi monarchy finds it intolerable that democracy dare to make its presence felt on its borders. The various Sheikhdoms, some that predate the Saudi one such as Bahrain, are ideological and practical buffer zones. The idea of the Arab monarchy would be hard to sustain if the only such were in Riyadh.

It becomes easier to point the royal finger toward Manama and Kuwait, to suggest that it is in the temperament of Arabs to be ruled by their royals. Saudi Arabia was prepared to go to any length to vanquish the protests in Bahrain, which it has done with armed force against the protestors and continued arrest and detention of the leadership. In Yemen, matters are simplified: there is no need to do a deal to send in troops.

The current president is clever: he agrees to depart but knows that he has at least two cards in his back pocket: (1) that the Saudis do not want instability in the peninsula; (2) that the U.S. is petrified of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, located largely in Yemen. Yemen will remain on the front pages of the newspapers because of the courage of the Yemeni people, but there will be no real pressure for regime change there. In fact, Saleh has been allowed to get away with murder, as the Saudis have in Manama, because there are limits to what Power is willing to concede in the region. Bahrain and Yemen illuminate the manuscript of Imperialism, a concept that many have increasingly come to deny.

KZ: The Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is relentlessly massacring his own people and has remained defiant in the face of growing international pressure and anger at his atrocious and inhumane actions. The international community has so far failed to tackle the Gaddafi problem and Libya is already engulfed in a civil war. The NATO forces are opening fires on the unarmed civilians and nobody has made any decision to capture Gaddafi and hold him accountable for the crimes he has committed. What’s your analysis of the situation in Libya? Given the immense investment of the American and European companies in the oil sector of Libya, can we foresee a future in which Gaddafi is removed from power and tried for his criminal policies?

VP: Preparations for the revolt in Libya have been ongoing for decades. The East-West divide is paramount, and it has emerged over the course of the past three decades, at least, in the character of the revolts in the East against the Qaddafi regime. It is because of this that in the 1980s Qaddafi removed his elite troops from the Eastern part of Libya, and took them to the West. It is also the reason why the Libyan troops that defected to the rebellion have neither the training nor the armaments of those in the West. The elite corps surrounds Tripoli. They have been carefully recruited for their loyalty and trained to defeat anything weaker than the kind of sustained warfare that the U.S. aerial power is capable of unleashing as it did in Iraq in 2003.

A second part of the preparation in Libya took place through the auspices of the Islamist bloc. The eastern cities of Benghazi and Darnah have a long-standing association with various Islamist tendencies, and their most hardened sections form part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Many of them found their way to Iraq, where they fought in the insurgency against the U.S. In the 1990s, Qaddafi went after the LIFG in Benghazi and Darnah, using helicopter gunships to fire at their protests.

The funeral of LIFG’s emir, Ibn Shaikh al-Libi, in Ajdabiya was attended by thousands in May 2009. It is a reflection of the social depth of Islamism. On February 17, 2006, section of this social section protested in Benghazi as part of the Danish cartoon controversy. The Qaddafi regime shot at them, and killed eleven. Out of this event came the third strand of the Libyan resistance, the February 17 movement, a human rights section that had as its main face people like the young lawyer Fathi Terbil.

Qaddafi’s forces arrested Terbil on February 15, 2011, knowing full well that the protests called for two days later would gather the full weight of the resistance to his increasingly autocratic regime. Qaddafi had long ago left behind his national liberation credentials, and hastened to link up the West through the good offices of his friend Mousa Khousa, dispatched to the Atlantic capitals to pay blood money for the Lockerbie terrorist attack and its corporations through the privatization work of his son Saif al-Islam and Mahmoud Jibril. These policies had long alienated Qaddafi from whatever good grace he held through a decade and a half of using the oil revenues to build up the social capacity of Libya. The wave from Tunisia and Egypt had to break in Libya, and it would of course begin in Benghazi.

Qaddafi acted as he would, which is to say, he arrested the main leadership and threatened protests in the hills of the west (in Zintan and Misurata) and in the cities of the east (Benghazi mainly) with ruthless force. His orders probably mimicked those of the Serbian General Ratko Mladic, whose orders to his troops regarding a Bosnian city are chilling: “shell them till they are on the edge of madness.”

But the resistance had been buoyed by the mutiny of the troops, and they were ready. Revolutions are fought; they cannot be given. The February 17 movement was prepared, and protests in Tripoli amongst the working-class neighborhoods of Feshloom and Tajura gave extra strength to the rebellion.

It was at this point that the Libyan Revolution began to be hijacked by forces close to the Atlantic powers, whose own interest in Libya is governed by oil and by power: it is my view that the Libyan Revolution gave the Atlantic powers and Saudi Arabia an opportunity to attempt to seize control over an escalating dynamic that had spread across MENA, which had begun to be called the Arab Spring. This dynamic needed to be controlled, or at least, harnessed. Libya, which sits in the center of North Africa, with Egypt on one border and Tunisia on the other, provided the perfect space to launch the Arab Winter. It is not about oil alone, because Qaddafi had been quite willing, even eager, to transact oil to Europe through major Atlantic corporations.

The oil is certainly an important matter here, but it is not decisive.

What was central was the political issue: to maintain the traditional order of things in the Arab world, with the main pillars of stability intact: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the tentacles of the United States and Europe in the major capitals of the oil lands. No revision of that order was permitted. Libya opened the door to the counter-revolution.

KZ: What’s your viewpoint regarding the reaction of international community in general, and the United Nations in particular to the developments in Libya? The UNSC authorized the use of a no-fly zone over Libya in its resolution 1973 and imposed some sanctions on the Gaddafi regime in the resolution 1970. Are these measures adequate to draw to an end the atrocities which are taking place in Libya? Overall, do you agree with a military option with regards to the Libyan question?

VP: Qaddafi quite clearly had signaled his intentions to use “excessive force” against the rebellion. A Civil War had already begun by late February. That is the reason why, on February 26, the UN Security Council passed the judicious resolution no. 1970, to prevent violence against civilians. An arms embargo went into effect (it was to prevent arms going to all sides in the conflict), and the UN referred the situation to the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, to look into allegations of human rights violations. It was a unanimous resolution, largely because it sought a de-escalation of the conflict. On the heels of this resolution, the African Union assembled a team to visit Tripoli and plead the case of peace with Qaddafi, whose vanity towards his African mission might have helped them secure at least a ceasefire. But this was not to be.

The leadership in Benghazi had already begun to change. A new Transitional government was set up by elites from Tripoli who had defected to the rebellion (Mustafa Abdul Jalil – a former Justice minister, Ali Suleiman Aujali – former Libyan Ambassador to the US, Mahmud Jibril – former privatization minister, General Abdul Fatah Younis) and those who had returned from exile (such as Colonel Khalifa Hifter, who lived not five miles from the CIA headquarters after his aborted coup attempt in the 1980s).

They opened their council on February 27, the day after Resolution 1970. Their first order of business was to demand a stronger UN resolution, with active military support for their rebellion. This was a great deal different from the Tunisian and Egyptian as well as Bahraini and Yemeni revolutions; they did not want any external support. The new leadership of the Libyan revolt wanted support. It was egged on by the French, notably its gauche caviar envoy Bernard Henri-Levy, who is reported to have called Nicolas Sarkozy from Benghazi and asked for military support (keep in mind that the French had egg on their face from their close attachment to Ben Ali in Tunisia; here was a moment to rehabilitate themselves, to recreated Tripoli as the Bastille).

The Atlantic powers, pushed now by this new leadership in Benghazi, eagerly sought a stronger resolution. They faced a problem from the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), who were all on the Council as it happened (Brazil, India and South Africa are on their rotation, Russia and China have permanent seats). These five with Germany were unwilling to vote for a stronger resolution. To secure a mandate for a resolution, the Atlantic powers put pressure on the Arab League. If it called for a “no-fly zone” and perhaps arms to the rebels, things might be harder for the BRICS states and others to see a stronger resolution as a problem.

The Gulf Coordinating Council, Saudi Arabia’s NATO, called for a no-fly zone on March 8. That was the opening salvo. The GCC states controlled a large bloc in the Arab League. On March 12, the Arab League, with pressure from Saudi Arabia, voted for the no-fly zone. The deal was simple: the League, pushed by the GCC, would support the Atlantic plans for Libya, if the GCC was allowed to smash the rebellion in Bahrain. On March 14, GCC troops crossed the causeway that separates Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to smash the Bahraini rebellion. There was no criticism from the Atlantic powers, and the media largely ignored the crackdown. Three days later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973. South Africa was strong-armed to support it, but Germany, Brazil, Russia, India and China abstained. That was as good as a negative vote. They worried that this was an abyss.

The air war began, with French strikes first. The Arab League hastily said that it did not know that a no-fly zone would result in such strikes. That was naïve, or disingenuous. What the “humanitarian intervention” did was to make dialogue impossible. The African Union’s team could not go to Tripoli. The Benghazi rebels now felt that they would surely score a military victory against Qaddafi, who felt that he had nothing to lose (particularly after the ICC indictment). The African Union team that eventually traveled to Tripoli and Benghazi returned empty-handed. The “facts on the ground” had changed.

UN Resolution 1973 opens the door to arms delivery. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice inserted a clause that allows for the member states to offer “all necessary measures, notwithstanding Resolution 1970,” which means that despite the arms embargo from February, the US and NATO can offer arms and logistical support to the rebels. All this makes the rebellion beholden to NATO and the Atlantic states; it has very little independence for maneuver. No wonder that Jibril was in Paris, London and Washington, promising a neo-liberal governance strategy for the new Libya, one that would be released from the overlordship of the erratic Qaddafi.

The Atlantic powers are following the Serbian model: create a rump government (the Benghazi-based Transitional Council standing in for 1990 declaration of Kosovo by its “parliament”), conduct a sustained bombing campaign (the aerial bombardment of Tripoli standing in for the bombardment of Serbia, and more pointedly by the late 1990s, Belgrade), and push the ICC to indict the leader (with Qaddafi a fitting stand in for Milosevic). To take the model to its limit, this means that Libya, likely, will break up as Yugoslavia did. Warfare of the NATO kind along the Serbian model has only this predictable outcome, as it had in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, the bloody years of the fratricidal warfare amongst the Iraqi people. Iraq remains a tense place for its minorities and it is likely that with a full U.S. withdrawal, the civil question will reopen. That’s the problem with the Serbian model. Mousa Khousa, now in exile, worries that Libya will be a “giant Somalia.” I do too.

Kourosh Ziabari, interviewer

KZ: As you may admit, Bahrain has one of the blackest human rights records in the Persian Gulf region and its longstanding tradition of suppressing the Shiite majority is almost known to everyone. The Bahraini officials have accused Iran of interfering in their internal affairs and turned a blind eye to the wave of protests which is encompassing the whole country. What’s your idea about the situation in Bahrain? Will the oppressed Shiite majority of Bahrain gain enough power to claim their rights and prosper in their uprising against the dictatorial regime?

VP: The al-Khalifa dynasty traces its rule to 1783. That’s much longer than the House of Saud, founded in 1932. But the House of Saud has two important advantages. It is the home of the holy sites, and it is the largest reservoir of oil in the world. Bahrain, on the other hand, is a small monarchy, and its oil reserves are slated to run dry during 2011. The al-Khalifa branch is therefore dependent on Riyadh. The Bahraini royals have no freedom of maneuver.

It is intolerable to Riyadh, as I mentioned earlier, for any republican presence on the Peninsula. That would undermine the claim by the House of Saud that Arabs are best governed by a monarchy that sits astride the tribes. Theirs is a deeply conservative analysis of history. If they will not allow the monarchy in Bahrain to collapse of its own weight, even more so it will not allow the predominant Shiite Arab population to claim ascendancy in a society that is majority Shiite. This resonates in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, where again there are very large numbers of Shitte, most of whom are the well-educated sector among the oil workers and professionals. They have been restive since the 1950s, first on the platform of Nasserism and Communism, and then of Islamism and liberalism.

They cannot be allowed to exert themselves. Far easier to trump their just claims to political power and dignity by calling them proxies for Iran. That is the great bogeyman, and it is a song that plays well in Washington. The leading party of the Shitte in Bahrain is the al-Wafeq party, founded in 2001, and led by Ali Salman. It is backed by the clerics of Bahrain, and often takes very peculiar positions (against the hanging of underwear in the University of Bahrain, and for segregated housing between Bahraini nationals and South Asian contract workers). But it has to be said that the party commands the loyalty of a very large number of people, a fact admitted by a 2008 U.S. State Department cable (released by Wikileaks). Fear of Iranian influence enables the continuation of the autocracy.

The U.S. poses another problem here. It has a large base in Manama, which houses the U.S. 5th Fleet. That deployment is essential for U.S. war aims in the Middle East, and in the Gulf region – mainly as a deterrent against Iran through the patrolling of the oil lanes. There is no way that the U.S. or the Saudis would allow al-Khalifa to fall and a party like al-Wafeq to come to power. Such an outcome would strengthen what Washington and Riyadh see as the revisionist bloc (led by Iran).

That is the reason why the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and other organizations will remain in business, documenting the harsh treatment of political prisoners and the harassment of journalists and politicians. The opposition’s paper al-Wasat has been silenced (its founder, Karim Fakhrawi was arrested on April 5, and died in custody a week later; its main columnist Haidar al-Naimi was arrested and has not reappeared). The struggle is not going to die down in Bahrain, but given the level of repression and the media blockade on it, it is unlikely that the protests are going to have any impact on the entrenched al-Khalifa family. The government has signaled that it would now remove the Emergency laws and lift the curfew – mainly at the insistence of the business community.

Some see this as a response to the anemic statement President Obama made about the crackdown in his May 19 speech. But the fact is that the repression continues, and with the opposition now largely tethered, it is easy to ask for a “real dialogue” between the government and the opposition.

KZ: United States has never been a loyal and dependable friend for its allies, especially in the Middle East. It once equipped and backed the late dictator Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980. 20 years later, it capsized the regime of Saddam and executed him. The same goes with Al-Qaida. Everybody knows that Osama Bin Laden was trained in the United States and sent to Afghanistan with the unconditional support of the White House. Now, we are seeing that the same ending is happening to the former allies of the United States. As soon as the White House realized that the regimes of Hosni Mubarak or Zine El Abedin Ben Ali cannot survive for long, it abandoned them and ended its supports for them. What’s your idea in this regard?

VP: The point is not to see this in personal terms. That’s the error. The U.S. and the Atlantic powers are not “friends” of Saddam or Ben Ali. They have their own paramount interests, and these are unchanged. The main pillars of their stability are the following: Oil, Israel and Saudi Arabia. These are untouchable. Whatever strengthens these pillars is friendly, and what threatens them becomes foe. After the Iranian Revolution threatened the Saudi position and the oil supply, it became imperative for the Atlantic powers and the Saudis to back Iraq in its war against Iran. Keep in mind that the Saudi’s created the GCC, the putative Saudi NATO, to pressure Iran against any expansionist policy. When Saddam became unreliable to the pillars, particularly when he threatened and then invaded Kuwait, he shook two of the main pillars – the oil supply and Saudi security. He had to be removed.

Ben Ali and Mubarak became liabilities when the people of Tunisia and Egypt spoke so strongly against them. For the longest time, the U.S. tried to protect their ally, Mubarak, even sending his old friend Frank Wisner, Jr., to talk to him and to preserve what Wisner called “Mubarak’s legacy.” When it became clear that all was lost for Mubarak, the U.S. dropped him in order to secure the foundation of its other main plank, Israel – the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty could not be risked if the “transition” in Egypt did not take place according to Washington’s time-table. Mohammed Tantawi, who now leads the military council in Egypt, is a loyal upholder of the pillars, and returned from a quick visit to Washington to release Mubarak to the sharks of Sharm el Sheikh, and to steer Egypt into Washington’s safe harbor.

By the way, Osama Bin Laden was not trained in the United States. He volunteered to join the “holy war” in Afghanistan against the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union’s troops. In Pakistan, he developed a close relationship with the U.S., mainly through the intelligence services. His was a convenient alliance that lasted until the United States sent troops into Saudi Arabia in 1991 at the request of the King to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Al Qaeda is a consequence of the unraveling of the Iraqi-Saudi alliance against Iran. Bin Laden was deluded by his Afghan adventure into thinking that his boys would be able to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait as they had removed the Soviets from Afghanistan! This was the start of his delusions. But it had an impact on the disgruntled sections of Saudi society, and in the region where autocrats reigned. What is clear by the Arab Spring is that the mass demonstrations had a much greater positive impact on the long story of the Arab struggle for freedom than the vitriolic agenda of al Qaeda. In many ways, Tahrir Square is a repudiation of the al Qaeda road as much as it is a disavowal of the Pharonic State.

KZ: What will be the impacts of Egyptian revolution on the future of Israel-Egypt relations? It’s quite evident that the Zionist regime is immensely afraid of the establishment of an Islamic government led by a democratically-elected president in Egypt. They have clearly voiced their concern over the developments taking place in Cairo and are desperately trying to preserve the heritage of the Camp David Accords which they achieved painstakingly in 1978. Will a new Egyptian government threaten the interests of the Israeli regime in the Middle East? Will the United State intervene to preclude the destruction of relations between Israel and Egypt?

VP: The direction of the Egyptian revolution is unclear. What is certain is that it is unending. The people are not satisfied with the ouster of Mubarak. They want to upend the regime. This means that they will not be willing to allow the military to continue its rule; the elections will certainly be held in October or November. Who will win the elections remains an open question. It is likely that the most organized party might have a chance at it, which is to say that the Muslim Brotherhood might win the presidential election (its candidate is probably Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail). Or else, if the secular sections field a common candidate, and if they are backed by the elites, this person (such as Mohamed ElBaradei) might win out.

ElBaradei is an interesting person, whose own education was in the Non-Aligned foreign policy of his teacher Ismail Fahmi. Fahmi resigned from Anwar Sadat’s cabinet when Sadat went to Camp David to sign the Accords. This is the atmosphere that produced ElBaradei, who remained a strong supporter of international law and the rights of all nations (a pillar of Non-Alignment) as Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In other words, what I am saying is that both the Brotherhood and the most credible secular candidate are not going to back the old ways. They are going to craft a new agenda for Egypt’s relationship with Israel. That is certain.

Right after the February 2011 revolution, when Mubarak had been ousted, the new government allowed two Iranian ships, one a frigate, to go through the Suez Canal. This was the first time an Iranian warship had used the canal since 1979. It is a significant sign. It is important to keep in mind that the new government, with Tantawi as head, chose a conventional figure as the foreign minister: they picked Nabil el-Araby, who has worked in the Ministry of External Affairs since the 1970s. He was ambassador to India in the 1980s. In this period, el-Araby led the legal team to Camp David (1978) and to the Taba Conference (1985-89) to settle the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace. Nonetheless, right after the February ouster of Mubarak and the entry of el-Araby to office, the old legal advisor sought out Hamas and began to talk about a new strategy for Egyptian-Palestinian relations. One outcome of these talks was the freeing up of the restrictions at the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and Gaza on May 28.

The U.S. has already intervened to protect Israel, but with money not through guns. The Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement is held in place by a $1.3 billion annual bribe paid by the U.S. taxpayers to the Egyptian military. This money not only solicits Egyptian support for a treaty that has no popular appeal, but it also strengthens the one institution in Egypt that requires no extension of its power. Furthermore, the bribe removes the most powerful Arab army on paper from the anxiety of the Israeli war planners, who are then able to conduct their asymmetrical domination of the Palestinians and the Lebanese, neither of whom pose a serious military threat to Israel.

But the politics of the peace treaty make it untenable, and dangerous in the long term: it is purchased in coin and not in mutual trust. But that coin means that the Egyptian military is going to be loath to allow any political party to break the deal. This will mean that a transition is only going to happen if Camp David goes off the table. The only other way forward is for the military to be brought under civilian control, which is unlikely. In the short term, any new civilian government is going to make some concessions (such as opening the Rafah crossing), but it will not be able to sustain a total roll-back on the deal. Sheikh Ismail threatens a complete revocation of the deal, a position that ElBaradei is not going to articulate. Whatever the rhetoric, the outcome is going to be far more prosaic.

A test for the new Egypt is certainly going to be how it deals with the peace treaty with Israel. If it holds fast to that treaty, this means that the military remains in control of things and that the new regime has decided not to confront imperialism.

KZ: Can we foresee the formation of a new Middle East in which the intolerable presence of the Zionist regime is eliminated? Do the Arab world uprisings imply the isolation of Israel and increase the chances of its being dissolved? Reports associated with the CIA imply that Israel cannot survive for longer than 20 years. Do you agree with this prediction?

VP: I do not agree with it at all. For one, Israel is here to stay. It is a country of almost eight million people, with a major backer in the United States and a minor one in Saudi Arabia. It has the right to exist, as any nation has the right to exist. To think otherwise is rhetorical.

Nonetheless, the character of the Israeli state and its security are certainly under threat. If it is to be a Jewish State and yet not make a comprehensive and real deal toward the creation of a Palestinian State, it is fated to be mired in a fatal demographic contradiction: by 1976, in the Koenig Memorandum it was clear that there was going to be an increase in the Arab population (now about 20%) and a flattening or even decrease in the Jewish population, hence the insistence on bringing in the Russian Jewish migrants and so on. The only way to seal off a Jewish State, to those who are so inclined, is to ensure that the Palestinians have their own state. But that is not going to happen unless Israel concedes certain fundamental demands, namely questions of security for the new State and reasonable borders and so on.

Unless Israel is willing to concede certain demands for the creation of Palestine, it is going to run up against a serious threat to the character of Israel as a Jewish State, as the Koenig Memo made clear. Israel is unwilling to grasp this contradiction. Its elites are in denial. They think that the security or military solution is going to be adequate to preserve their hopes. These are rancid, particularly if the non-violent mass demonstrations such as in the first Intifada restart; there are indications in the marches that came from Syria that such might be the case.

The Arab Spring has provoked three new elements to the Palestinian struggle: first, the new political unity between Hamas and Fatah; second, the nonviolent protests on the Israeli-Syrian border; third, the push by the Palestinians to go to the United Nations General Assembly and ask for a formal declaration of statehood. It is to undercut this that President Obama tried to offer a concession, the declaration of a state of Palestine based on 1967 border, with swaps to preserve Israel’s sense of security. Obama cleverly wanted to make a few modest concessions to circumvent the Palestinian positive dynamic. It would look appalling in the context of the Arab Spring for the U.S. to have to wield its veto against the Palestinians in the Security Council. Netanyahu had none of this. He wanted to hold fast, believing that the U.S. had to follow his lead as long as Israel is a major pillar of the old order in the MENA. He is not wrong. The U.S. has a hard time pulling itself away from the most outrageous positions taken by Israeli in its dealings with its neighbors, and the Palestinians. If these three new elements (the unity of the political forces, the nonviolent protests, and the move to the UN) continue, it is going to make things very difficult for the Israeli Right and for the U.S. – they have got used to Hamas’ rockets, which are easy to dismiss and to use. It is much harder to legitimize what Baruch Kimmerling calls the “politicide” of the Palestinians because of peace marches toward the Israeli line of control.

KZ: And finally, what’s your idea about the destiny of the revolutions in the Middle East? What are the implications of this wave of uprisings for the United States and its European allies? Iranian authorities say that the Middle East revolutions are modeled on Iran’s 1979 revolution. Do you agree with them?

VP: The Arab Spring is remarkable. It has now taken hold in Morocco, where demonstrations have been taking place each day. Syria as well is wracked by protests. What is impressive is the sheer fortitude of the Arab people, who have decided that enough is enough, that even where they might have a decent standard of living, as in the oil rich countries, such as Bahrain, they want more: dignity and democracy. One cannot underestimate the power of democracy, of people having the right to create their world in a manner that suits them, that allows them to live dignified lives. This is an essential lesson re-awakened by the Arab Spring.

There is an appropriate, although apocryphal story. Zhou En-Lai, the Chinese premier, was asked what he thought of the French Revolution (1789). This must have been in the 1970s. He answered, “it is too soon to tell.” What we know for sure is that the time of the Pharonic State, of the possible government, is now over. Even if such states remain, their legitimacy is now gone. The time of the impossible has presented itself. In Egypt, where the appetite for the possibilities of the future is greatest, the people returned to Tahrir Square on May 27 to re-invigorate the Revolution. They do not want to allow it to settle back into the possible forms, the Pharonic State without Mubarak, the neo-liberal security state that is also what Qaddafi had been erecting on the ruins of his attempt to create a national-liberation state. They want something more. For them the slogan is simple: Down With the Present, Long live the Future. May it be so.

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