Friday, November 16, 2012

Middle East Stories Behind the News: Libya, Palestinians, Anti-American Terrorism, Lebanon, Egypt

By Barry Rubin

The most interesting developments in the Middle East aren't in the news stories but can be discovered by analyzing those reports. Here are a few developing right now.

--The Libyan government gave 50 percent of the funds to finance the budget of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) budget. Since Libya is very much a U.S. client, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Obama Administration encouraged this generosity. Yet this money was financing a Muslim Brotherhood front. A lot of arms have been flowing from Libya to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and to radical forces in Syria. Some claim that the U.S. government was coordinating that traffic though this has not yet been proven. The SNC has now been replaced by a new umbrella group whose role and even survival is still unproven.

This means the Obama Administration was using a barely disguised channel to pay for a revolutionary Islamist movement seeking to take over Syria. The fact that this group was also anti-American, antisemitic, and genocidal toward Jews seems significant.

The rest of the SNC budget came from Qatar (38 percent) and Saudi Arabia (12 percent). Now the SNC has fallen apart but U.S. efforts to broker a new Syrian opposition leadership have failed completely.

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--Not only is al-Qaida not dead but its sympathizers and those influenced by it have planned a remarkable number of terrorist attacks on American soil, 95 in the last three years according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s interesting to note that the committee lists the Fort Hood attack among them, despite executive branch denials that it was terrorism.

--As if to ensure strong opposition to making Palestine a non-member state in the UN—the only diplomatic initiative the Palestinian Authority has come up with in the last four years which in no way s advances peace with Israel—Abbas Zaki says once this happens the Oslo accords will be void. One implication of this stance is that a state of Palestine will exist which has denounced any recognition of Israel's existence. Granted that he is a traditional PLO hardliner crony of Arafat but this really underlines the point that such a step would destroy any basis for a peace process and potentially reopen the conflict fully.

--An attack from Lebanon on Israel is increasingly unlikely because that country is moving toward a civil war of its own. Currently, Lebanon is dominated by Syrian and Iranian clients, Hizballah, the Shia Islamist group, and pro-Syrian Sunni Muslim politicians. In contrast, the opposition has been led by Sunni moderates

But Syria’s civil war is shaking this situation. Hizballah and its patron Iran have been supporting its other patron, the Syrian dictatorship. The opposition, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Sunnis, is outraged. If the current Syrian government is overthrown, and this is already visible, the opposition is going to go after the Lebanese regime.

Not only will it support the Sunni Muslims there against the Shia but it is likely to sponsor a transformation of the Sunni side with radical Islamists replacing moderates. A sign of that coming civil war has been several days of fighting in the Lebanese city of Sidon. The Sunni Salafist leader demanded that Hizballah banners be taken down, then tore down a poster of Hizballah’s leaders. Gunfire followed and people were killed. With the home front so insecure—and likely to be more so—Hizballah isn’t going to have the forces to spare to go after Israel.

--The New York Times continues its bizarre coverage of an Egypt in which the Muslim Brotherhood can do no wrong. There is a rather humorous aspect to the newspaper’s reasoning. The issue in question is the new Egyptian constitution, about whose text rumors are leaking, though only seeing the full draft text will be authoritative.

 According to the Times, “the principles of Islamic law” would be the main source for Egypt’s legislation but the precise definition of what is or isn’t properly Islamic would be left to the parliament and courts. David Kirpatrick says:

“Little is expected to change under the current courts and Parliament — dominated by Islamists who mostly favor a relatively flexible or gradual approach to adopting Islamic law….”But…if  literal-minded ultraconservatives—known as Salafis and who currently hold about a quarter of the seats in Parliament — gain more influence in the legislature and eventually the courts, they could someday use the provisions to try to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.”

In other words, as long as the Muslim Brotherhood holds most of the power there’s nothing to worry about, as if that movement doesn’t have the imposition of Sharia law as its main principle. How can having a parliament in which 75 percent of the seats are held by radical Islamists suggest that they aren’t going to impose Islamic law? And who’s going to be appointing the judges who make such determination in courts?
Yes, the wording might be similar to that of the old, pre-revolution constitution. But a Muslim Brotherhood regime is going to interpret things differently from a Western-oriented, anti-Islamist government.

The article continues that “liberal delegates who signed onto the deal noted that the guidelines were broad enough to leave substantial room for debate over just what Islamic law should require in the context of modern Egypt.” That’s true but many liberals boycotted the constitution-writing process precisely because they believed no such thing. And, again, who cares if there’s a debate when the debate will be settled by a Muslim Brotherhood president, an Islamist-dominated parliament, and increasingly an Islamist-dominated court system?

At any rate, I’ll wait until the full text is available for analyzing what the new Egyptian system will look like.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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