Posts Tagged ‘Bedouine’

A Resource for Contemporary Arab Politics: A Brutal Friendship by Said Aburish

October 4, 2013

London: Indigo 1998.

Aburish Cover

Although this book was published over fifteen years ago, it is still highly relevant for providing the historical background to the Arab Spring and contemporary events in the Arab world. Aburish’s book traces the history of the bloody relationship between the Western powers and their client regimes in the Middle East. The book describes how the conquering British and French in the 19th and 20th century carved up the Middle East into its present mosaic of state and supported various political movements and politicians in these countries in order to maintain their control and overlordship. This continued even after former decolonisation. Leadership of the free world then passed from Britain to America, who manipulated the Middle East during the Cold War in order to check Russian influence. Oil also played a major part in the political economy of the Middle East, with Britain and America supporting some highly repressive and deeply authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the oil flowing. Arab leaders, who revolted against their neo-colonial overlords were ousted, frequently through coups and assassinations. Among the various assassinations arranged by the Western powers was a plot in the 1950s to kill Iraq’s anti-Western leaders. The assassin was sponsored by the CIA, and, although the plot failed, was able to escape to Syria. The assassin? Saddam Hussein.

Aburish shows how the new political divisions and regimes created and imposed by the Western imperialists were often deeply resented by the indigenous peoples, and responsible for further hatred and violence within those nations. The Prime Minister of Iraq in the early 1950s was described in glowing terms by Western politicians and the press. He was, however, so hated by the Iraqi people that not only was he literally torn apart by a mob during a revolution, but they also ran over the pieces in a car. The atrocities committed by the Maronite Phalange in Lebanon during that nation’s Civil War in the 1980s also have their roots in Western diplomacy. When the British and French divided the Middle East during the Mandate, they enlarged the area under Maronite jurisdiction far beyond that people’s traditional homeland. When Lebanon was created, the Maronites were the largest single religious group in Lebanon, and so were given a leading position in that nation’s complex political structure. Demographic changes between the ’20s and the 80’s saw the Maronite population reduce in comparison with the Muslim sects. Fearing losing control of their nation and their expanded heartland, the Maronites reacted with appalling savagery. Aburish describes the notorious massacres they committed on the Muslim inmates of the refugee camps.

He also describes the Orientalist prejudices of the Western, particularly British, explorers and diplomats, who created the modern Near East. These, such as the great, pioneering British lady explorer, Gertrude Bell, preferred Bedouine nomads and tribal warriors to modern, educated middle class Arabs. They saw the desert warriors as representing the true, noble Arabs, while reviling what they saw as the corruption of urban society, like Beirut and its fleshpots. I can believe this. One contributor to Lobster was a colonial civil servant, who believed he had seen serious electoral fraud in Nigeria in the run-up to the Biafran War. He was bitterly critical of the aristocratic British colonial officers, whom he states were looked up as ‘polo-playing pr*cks’ by their subordinates. These had far more affection for the feudal Fulani than for the settled, agricultural Nigerian peoples. During the War, Britain secretly supplied arms to the Muslim Fulani against Christian Nigerians in order to keep the oil supplies flowing. I can believe that the British officer class were closer to the Fulani than the other Nigerian peoples. The Fulani were pastoralists with a feudal social structure. The officer class of the British army has also largely been drawn from the aristocracy, and with the same love of equestrianism and horsemanship the British army and the Fulani emirs and their warriors shared similar social classes and outlook.

In the last chapter, Aburish criticises the attitude of Arab expatriates in London ‘the Beiru-on-Thames syndrome’. He objects to the way they have taken over Western attitudes towards their peoples and society, and considers that they form a new slave class.

The anti-Islam blogs have frequently criticised liberal, pro-Arab journalists, such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk, for their support of the Arab Spring, and the deeply illiberal Salafi regimes that have arisen from it. Although it was written over fifteen years ago, this book shows why so many liberals did have such high hopes of the liberal movements that ousted the previous secular dictatorships: these regimes were so horrific, and did little but enrich themselves while serving the West. Western friends of the Arabs, like Fisk, therefore hoped and expected that these regimes would be removed by a new class of politicians, who would truly lead their people to dignity and independence. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred, and the Middle East still remains a bloody battle ground.

If you want to know more about the Middle East, and the background to the current events and bloodshed, then I recommend this book.

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