Where has it fled, that Arab Spring?

BY SAEED NAQVI

If Macbeth is a tragedy of ambition, the last scenes of the Hosni Mubarak saga in Egypt are ending as melodrama on that theme. It is pitiable pathos. There was nothing heroic about Mubarak, essential for a great tragedy.

A fallen dictator, wheeled in on a stretcher, placed before TV cameras in a large, iron cage: it was cunning choreography.

Cunning because it divided the people between those rejoicing at Mubarak’s disgrace and those who have lived in three decades of dictatorial patronage. There was symbolism in the clashes which erupted between rival groups outside the court house.

A nation so divided is unlikely to arrive at an early consensus on a Constitution or candidates for Parliament or the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, who should hold the fort? The Armed Forces Supreme Council, ofcourse. This was the body given the reins after Mubarak announced his resignation on February 11, 2011.

And who handed them the baton? Vice President, Omar Suleiman, Head of Intelligence, incharge of America’s extensive “rendition” programme, transporting terror suspects to the choicest torture destinations, of which the one he himself ran has yielded such macabre stories as to make one’s hair stand. Where is he? If Mubarak’s court appearance is the beginning of a process, surely Omar Suleiman should also make an appearance in a cage some day? If not, he will one day take over the cage.

Those who have handled “renditions” or messed with Western Intelligence agencies, generally recede from public view – Omar Suleiman, Libya’s Moussa Koussa or nearer home, Pervez Musharraf, who lost his job after the determined Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry pushed him to reveal details about “missing persons”, a euphemism for Pakistan’s role in renditions. Pakistan’s enthusiastic participation in rendition is one of the reasons why the Afghan Taleban are so allergic to an enhanced Pakistani role in the Afghan Endgame which, as I have said repeatedly, is in any case not taking place anytime soon.

In recent days, there has been something of a buzz in Cairo that elections may be postponed. If true, this fact itself will place a construct on the Cairo Court drama. The army will have demonstrated the lengths to which it can go to punish Mubarak and his coterie. With this credit, the Army can buy some more time to stay in power. Then some more time, then more until engulfing tumult makes the Army indispensable for a while!

Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Europe would be comfortable with this delay. September is the month when the UN General Assembly in New York may be required to consider a vote on the state of Palestine. To have such an emotive issue in the vortex of Egypt’s electoral politics is to tilt the outcome in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood which is already being played up as a bogey – illogically, because in dictatorships the only political ventilators are the mosques. In these circumstances to pose the Brotherhood as the bearded ogre is to obstruct movement away from the dreaded Mubarak years.

The gentle Arab spring is a long way behind the region which has entered a phase of unprecedented turbulence, conflict and worse. In Libya, some European leaders are about to eat crow, not the best dish in Ramadan. The west wants Qaddafi’s head on a platter even though there is no provision for a Salome “nautch” in UNSC 1973. A prankster even in adversity, Qaddafi is now fielding his son Saif al Islam to tweak Europe’s nose. “We shall have an alliance with the radical Islamists” and make Libya look like Iran and Saudi Arabia. How can David Cameron and Sarkozy go down on their knees and plead “No, no, not like Iran and the Saudis”.

How can the west criticize the Saudis who are looking more muscular than them (for the moment) dictating the script in the region against Shia Iran. “Saudis are spreading a sectarian conflict in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon”, says Ahmad Chalabi, once candidate for Iraqi premiership.

Events in Syria, particularly Hama, are not encouraging despite a visit to the blighted town by the US and French Ambassadors. Dr. Fayssal al Mekdad, Syrian Vice Minister of Foreign Affair told S.M. Krishna in New Delhi that Saudi King Abdullah was keen for stability in Syria which was only possible if there was no power vacuum in Damascus. Does President Bashar Assad’s continuance forestall such a power vacuum, Hama massacres notwithstanding? As rotational president of UN Security Council, India “condemned” widespread abuse of Human Rights in Syria but urged for an “inclusive and Syrian led political process”. The Lebanese representative at the UN, Caroline Ziade’s vote was a caricature of Lebanon’s position. She accepted the Indian draft but refused to vote. On the west’s behalf, “willing to wound and yet afraid to strike”. She could not have abandoned the club of growing relevance: India, China, Brazil, Russia.

Americans destroyed the Ba’ath Party in Iraq creating vast spaces for the Al Qaeda. Have they now concluded that the Al Qaeda is preferable to the Ba’ath and the “murderous” Alawites. Should Al Qaeda find its feet in Syria, (says this absurd logic) it would be one force that could ram into the Hezbullah in Lebanon!

All the Kings, Potentates and Dictators in the region must have watched with a sense of foreboding the image of Mubarak looking supine and helpless. The last scene in the melodrama should have these grandees in a scrum. The song in the background (to revert to Macbeth) could be sung in American, English and French accents:
“For a charm of powerful trouble
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble”

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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