March 10, 2008 § Leave a comment
At the end of March, Syria will host a regional Arab Summit in Damascus, but Saudi Arabia has threatened to boycott the summit if Syria does not wield its influence in Lebanon to help end the current presidential vacuum. Currently, Syrian and Saudi relations are at a low, as evidenced by the Syrian delivery of the summit invitation to Saudi Arabia via a lower-level minister, and not Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem who had delivered all the other invitations.
Al-Quds al-Arabi has an in-depth analysis of the politics behind the Arab Summit, but it largely boils down to this: American influence vs. Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia is on Team America and Syria is on Team Iran. In the recent Vanity Fair article on American meddling in Palestinian affairs, we saw how susceptible leaders in the Middle East are to American influence and how willing many Arab officials are to comply with American demands in order to secure their hold on power in their own countries.
It would be very simplistic to say that a country’s relationship with America or any other entity determines every aspect of its policy decisions, but it is safe to say that Arab countries (and Iran) are divided into two blocs: Pro-West and Pro-Resistance.
PRO-WEST vs. PRO-RESISTANCE
Pro-West: To be a part of the Pro-West bloc, the country must normally fulfill a few qualifications: 1) Make peace with Israel; 2) Be willing to allow the U.S. military to use your country as a base or at least let us pass through it on our way to attack one of your neighbors; and 3) Be a repressive, autocratic government which prevents any type of popular Islamic movements from coming into power.
Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid in the Middle East after Israel. Most recently, the Bush administration has bypassed congressional restrictions and approved $100 million in military aid to Egypt. Egyptian President and Autocrat Hosni Mubarak has been in power since 1981, and this is not because of popular support. Many believe that if Egypt were to hold democratic elections today, the vastly popular Muslim Brotherhood would win. The Muslim Brotherhood won a fifth of seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections and since then, the Egyptian government has continued to arrest leaders of the Brotherhood.
First, watch this video of Bush in Saudi. It’s a known fact that Saudi Arabia is America’s staunchest regional ally, so I won’t elaborate. Saudi Arabia’s positions are normally in-line with the United States, but during the 2006 July War on Lebanon, popular support for Hezbullah was so overwhelming that the Saudi King actually had to give Hezbullah props. So again, the U.S. has influence, but there are times when figures make subtle gestures to assure minor support for Palestine or popular Islamic causes. You could put Kuwait in the same category as Saudi Arabia, but Qatar is more complicated because of al-Jazeera.
King Abdullah II met with George W. Bush this past week at the White House. See top three qualifications and Jordan matches all of them.
Pro-Resistance: These countries and/or groups work outside the framework of Western, primarily American, influence in the region. They have made very public stands to support Resistance movements in the Middle East, either materially or verbally, and most consider Israel to be an enemy.
Syria is certainly no democracy, but the country and its leadership have not sought to cultivate a relationship with the West and instead have allied themselves with Hezbullah and Iran. The Syrian government has been accused of providing weapons to Hezbullah and Palestinian groups, but the administration does not make secret its Pro-Resistance status. Many view President Bashar al-Assad’s support of Hezbullah and Iran as purely opportunistic and it is believed that if Israel were to offer Syria the Golan Heights, then they would willingly abandon the heated discourse.
I talk too much about Hezbullah.
See this article and you will understand.
Pro-Eh?: Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen are kind of in a nebulous category. Iraq is headed by Shi’i Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who has very close ties with Iran, but there are also 200,000 American troops in his country. Lebanon is divided between the two camps — and perhaps this is at the center of the recent presidential crisis. Yemen is kind of weird. Yemeni President Salih is as Pro-West as they come and foreign investment flourishes in the country, but the population is not about to wave any American flags.