Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The relationship between Europe and the Middle East

Roger Wingate forwarded the following item to us - an article by Rosemary Hollis on the relationship between Europe and the Middle East.

William's response is as follows: (article follows after)
Absolutely phenomenal !

I don't agree with her - not in the specifics (Kirkuk will not be a problem because the Shiites and the Kurds will do a deal over that) (Zarqawi is not an issue because Zarqawi himself is long dead) - nor do I agree with her in the general (I don't see a Mid East of crusader style walled cities, towns and states in the midst of seas of trouble). Indeed her overal Casandra style would be out of order for me because I feel the NCF has a duty to engender hope.

HOWEVER, it is a fantastic and frightening picture worthy of an old testament prophet. Sometimes dramatic warnings are useful to get peoploe to change course. All credit to Rosemary - one of the best things she has done.

AND, it begs a response.

Rosemary Hollis' Article:
Source: Chatham House Website, www.chathamhouse.org.uk

Conflict Coming

From Rosemary Hollis recently in Ramallah, West Bank

Europeans will look back on the late twentieth century as an interlude between the Second World War and the sectarian war that will soon engulf what was once the Ottoman Empire and spill over into what is now the European Union. It will not be a war between states, or superpower blocs or empires. It will be more like a civil war.

In the conflict to come, armies will not be massed for combat at the geo-strategic fault lines between continents or countries, instead the combatants will be civilians, politicians and the police. Cities will fragment into neighbourhoods, states into rival ethnic and sectarian groups linked to allies elsewhere through the internet and organised crime. Disputes will be over identity, with tolerance and social harmony the casualties.

Battles will not rage everywhere with equal intensity. Some states and enclaves will manage to stay above the fray, protected by tight security, intrusive surveillance and wealth. Mercenaries will come back into their own, as private security for businesses, gated neighbourhoods and politicians. For the rest, citizens will be obliged to choose between religious and ethnic patrons and militia, much as in Lebanon’s civil war. But only in some places will the conflict be deadly for months at a time – the suburbs of Leeds, Copenhagen, Marseille, Aleppo, Hebron, Kirkuk and Alexandria, perhaps.

In Europe states will survive but at the expense of liberal democracy. In the Middle East some states will unravel, and that is where the war will begin.

Triggers – Iraq & Palestine
Iraq is about to implode. For the Kurdish enclave in the north, Kirkuk will be the battleground, as Kurds fight Arabs, Turkomen and others to make the city their capital. In the south, Basra will be ripped apart as rival Shia factions and militias, each with backers in Iran, struggle for control on the streets and in the mosques. Baghdad neighbourhoods will divide along sectarian lines and in the western desert Al Qaeda militants will compete with local Sunnis and criminal gangs for arms, money and loyalty.

None of Iraq’s neighbours will be able to stand aside. Turkey will want to contain Kurdish nationalism on the Iraqi side of the border. Iran will be involved in Shia factional strife, but not in overall control. Kuwait will hunker down under American protection. The Saudis will be hard-pressed to seal their desert borders with Iraq. Syria and Jordan will serve as the hinterland for competing Sunni groups coming and going from Iraq.

According to some Jordanians, Iraq has been served up on a plate to the Shia and for them that means Iran. While Arab governments waver and watch in horror, Al Qaeda extremist, Abu Musab Al Zakawi, emerges strong and determined by comparison. Jordanians say this man has western Iraq in thrall and their national forces will have to deploy to fend off the threat to order and stability in the kingdom.

And Jordan, the classic buffer state at the heart of the region, does not only have a disintegrating Iraq to contend with. On the home front, the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organised opposition group, and could thrash the thirty or so other political parties at the polls if promised electoral reform goes ahead.

In and around the capital Amman, Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who outnumber indigenous Jordanians in the population as a whole, want to reverse the discrimination they feel as a result of the quota system for university places and jobs, designed to give proportional representation to East Bank tribes. All are incensed by Israeli measures to control their Palestinian brethren across the river in the West Bank.

In February an Israeli general predicted Jordan’s King Abdullah would be the last of his line, his throne toppled by a combination of militant Islamists and Palestinian nationalists. The Israeli government disowned the general’s remarks, but it continues resolutely to construct a barrier that corals Palestinians into crowded enclaves, fenced off from fields and livelihoods, ever more dependent on foreign aid to survive at all.

Chaos Threatens
In January Palestinians voted for Hamas by way of protest, but the western and Israeli response has been to cut the funds that keep the Palestinian administration and security forces going. Let these collapse, in the name of confronting terrorism, and there will be chaos. Gaza is already a mess, Hebron is an Islamist stronghold and Nablus is in the hands of rival militia.

When Israelis stormed the Palestinian jail in Jericho, just after British and United States monitors abandoned the scene, Palestinian anger was directed not only at the British and the Americans, for alleged collusion with the Israelis, but at foreign nationals generally. As the remit of the international aid agencies to pave the way the way for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks ever more fanciful, their ability to operate effectively is diminishing along with the safety of their personnel – just as in Iraq.

Already Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he has indications Al Qaeda is recruiting Palestinians. And this is only the beginning. The ground is even more fertile for the extremists in the Palestinian refugee camps around the region.

It is easy to forget there are more Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza than within. Relatively few have found a home in Egypt, but for many Egyptians the Palestinian cause is at the forefront of a wider regional quest for justice and reform. This led many of them to vote for Muslim Brotherhood candidates in recent elections, attracted by their stance against corruption in high places.

Sceptical about western efforts to promote democracy in the region, embattled secular intellectuals and liberals say that only if Europe and America help end Israeli rule over the Palestinians and land annexations, will they believe these efforts are serious. Otherwise, they contend, the appeal of militant Islamists challenging governments allied to the west will grow.

Blaming Europe
The west, including Europe, is seen as Israel’s protector at the expense of Palestinian rights. They attribute Palestinian terrorism to the effects of occupation and land confiscations.
When Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not only questioned the Holocaust but blamed Europe for the foundation of Israel, his words resonated across the Arab world. Decades of peacemaking between Israel and its neighbours could unravel as Arabs reverted to depicting Israel as the source of their ills and the vanguard of western imperialism.

It matters not that Europe has long since given up imperialism and is exporting liberal democracy through the European Union (EU). In Egypt the reform agenda at the heart of Brussels’ European Neighbourhood Policy is seen as a form of cultural imperialism. Plenty say they want the benefits of trade with Europe, economic modernisation, government accountability and better conditions in their prisons, but not European decadence and a secularism that is widely understood as prejudice against Muslims.

The crisis unleashed with the publication of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, whatever the arguments for press freedom, is the most graphic indication of how insensitivity or insult delivered in one cultural context can excite passions in others. Before mass communications this would have been unthinkable, but now the distinction between local and global has eroded and this has to be taken into account. The full impact of the affront is described in the following article by Maha Azzam.

Palpable Anger
As European officials and politicians agonise about how best to integrate Muslim minorities, they discover the extent of racism and Islamophobia in popular attitudes. Too many assumed the era of equating progress with secularism and tolerance would go on indefinitely. But exclusivist religious and ethnic prejudices are making a comeback, in Europe and elsewhere.

European governments are also prone to assume their commitments to spreading liberal democracy make them somehow benign. But in the Middle East those on the receiving end of European policies view them against the backdrop of recent history. French colonialism in North Africa only ended in the 1960s and the last of Britain’s semi-protectorates in the Arabian peninsula achieved independence in 1971. This is not ancient history.

As any British person visiting the Middle East will know, Arabs rarely fail to remind them that they still hold London responsible for laying the ground for the enduring problems of the Palestinians and the frailties of Iraq. Whereas just a few years ago such reminders were offered without hostility, since the Iraq intervention that is no longer the case. The anger is now palpable.

Unappeased by having their influence in Iraq hugely increased, Iranians are blaming the British deployed there for outbreaks of violence in predominantly Arab parts of south western Iran. In the context of mounting tensions between Tehran and the US and Europe over the nuclear issue, the Iranian authorities are threatening reprisals in Iraq and Lebanon.

Syria is also playing on US difficulties in Iraq to avoid a showdown over its role in Lebanon. But even if anti-Americanism in the Middle East is much stronger and more apparent then hostility towards Europe, that will not save Europe from being caught up in the cultural, sectarian and ethnic strife that is unravelling the regional order.

A shared history, geographic proximity, inter-communal ties, intricate communication links and economic interdependence bind Europe and the Middle East. There is no possibility of erecting a barrier between them.

European dependence on North African and Middle Eastern energy is rivalled only by reliance on resources from Russia. The states around the southern and eastern Mediterranean channel the bulk of their exports to Europe. The future of their economies depends on attracting investment and aid from Europe which European policies are designed to promote.

But it is too late for Europe to export capital in the hopes of distancing the problems of the Middle East. That might have worked if it had been pursued in earnest in the early 1990s, but continued corruption and mismanagement by Arab governments has left their populations angry not only at their own regimes but also at the foreign governments held responsible for aiding and abetting them.

Meanwhile London has acquired the status of Beirut on Thames as a centre for Arab intellectual and business activity, property holdings and financial dealings. But if the cosmopolitan character of London is some sort of safeguard against unrest between different groups, the same cannot be said about other British and continental cities where Muslim minorities are more isolated.

France is home to millions of Muslims of North African origin, many of whom live in enclaves akin to ghettos which witnessed rioting last year, apparently in protest against racial discrimination. Such neighbourhoods make fertile ground for extremist groups which offer disaffected youth a place to belong, a transnational identity, linking them to Muslims and causes outside their countries of residence.

The suicide bombers who attacked in London last July professed to be acting out of outrage at the plight of Muslims elsewhere for which they held Britain responsible. Not so long ago three British Muslims made their way to Gaza to bomb Israelis. And Europe’s Jewish communities are feeling the effects of increased racial tension too.

Policy Dangers
In their handling of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, EU leaders have demonstrated how little they realise the implications of their policies. Most member states and some officials simply did not grasp what the effects of withholding funds to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority would be, thinking they could still help ordinary people through nongovernmental organisations and UN agencies.

The Palestinian Authority pays the salaries of teachers, nurses and doctors that keep essential services running. Most members of the Palestinian security services are Fatah members, deeply opposed to Hamas. Deny them salaries and you put them on the streets, armed and feeling betrayed.

Yet by paying the bills of the Palestinian Authority, the EU has effectively financed the occupation. As some Hamas members are now saying, if European taxpayers object, they had better end the occupation not blame, starve and alienate Palestinians.

In any case, the Hamas victory is a watershed. It will not be possible to keep talking about the dangers of terrorism and the need to return to the peace process and expect to remain untouched by the fallout from the impending chaos and growing radicalisation. Equally, civil war in Iraq is about to oblige those living in the region to identify themselves in sectarian terms.

And finally, rampant sectarianism, militia warfare and anti-westernism in the Middle East will play into ethnic and sectarian tensions in Europe. Asked recently what US policy would be in the event of civil war in Iraq, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the intention was to prevent it. There is no thought yet on such a possibility in Palestine.

In either case, if civil strife does take hold, there will be little the Americans or the Europeans can do except stand back. But there will be spillover in Europe. And the Americans can hardly help much, since unlike in previous wars, there will be no clear battle lines along which to insert forces. Besides, Washington is already saying that Europe’s integration policies have been a disaster and they must face the consequences.

The coming war will be a very Middle Eastern and European affair, another round in a centuries-old saga. The Americas, China, Japan, sub-Saharan Africa, India and presumably Russia too will be thankful if they can keep out of it.

Dr ROSEMARY HOLLIS is Director of Research at Chatham House.

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