The history of humanity is, in essence, the history of wars, peace agreements, balances of power, and cycles of wars. Every time any protagonist attempted to achieve hegemony, other protagonists strove to prevent him from reaching that objective by adopting a policy of balancing through retaliation and alliances.
In the course of these struggles over hegemony, unipolar, a bi-polar or multi-polar international system crystallized, and this was determining factor for the shaping of the existing political borders and establishment of the present-day sovereign political entities.
However, Neil Ferguson (Foreign Policy, May-June, 2004) raises an important question: can international relations move towards an era in which there are no hegemonies and there is no balance of power? Does nature acknowledge a phenomenon of imbalance? And if so, what are the operative ramifications of that reality in an era of active transnational protagonists possessing radical world perspectives, and seeking to create a different international reality, as is the case with the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups.
Why is a possibility that an era of non-hegemony liable to develop?
The Weakness of the United States. Three impending crises undermining the United States ability to lead the free world: legitimacy, economic pressures, and isolationism. Our reality is characterized with hatred of the rich and the powerful, and the United States is afflicted with both of those, which manifests itself in profound hostility from both allies and enemies.
The problem with the US is that is seeks to establish a world order based on liberal-democratic regimes and by elimination authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. This has become a belief system, almost a religion. The US deeply believes this approach will facilitate moderation, promote freedom, and prevent wars.
However, the US is faced with external economic dependency; internal pressures for isolationism; and an attrition of its military might. It possesses enormous power but lacks the legitimacy to exercise it around the world. In that respect, Rousseau was right: “The powerful will never be powerful enough to sustain its domination unless he transforms power into a right and obedience into an obligation”. The US lacks both.
Bruce Bauer, in his “To Hate America,” claims that anti-Americanism is a chronic enmity. Studies indicate that it is not significant in Asia and Africa; more significant in South America and Europe and very significant in the Islamic countries. Lee Harris (Policy Review, December, 2002), notes that hatred of America is absolute anti-Americanism. To oppose America means to be on “the right and just side of history”. Hatred of America has become the “opiate of the intellectuals”.
Fareed Zakaria (Foreign Policy, September-October, 2004) stresses that in the post-modernist, which is a post-ideological era, anti-Americanism has become an extremely powerful trend, more powerful than any other country in history and that arouses extreme antagonism against it. However, a world in which the US will not take a global role is a world lacking a unifying adhesive political stability and unable to deal with the new dangers posed by the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups, a world of outlaw nations and pervasive violence.
Fuad Ajami deals with the fallaciousness of anti-Americanism. Everyone seeks to imitate America, but at the same time hate America. The most outstanding example is Saudi Arabia. Its policy expresses harsh anti-Americanism, though it depends on the US security belt and military umbrella. Saudi-Arabia is busy with an intensive active policy to spread its Wahhabi-Hanbali version of Islam around the world, by spending many billions of dollars, and at the same time, it pays other billions of dollars as “protection” money to Islamic organizations and terrorist groups around the world.
Bernard Lewis formulated this attitude regarding to the Arab-Islamic political culture: on the one side, an admiration and the desire to imitate the progressive West, but on the other, hatred and hostility.
The Decline of Europe. Evidence show clearly that Europe is old, multinational and multicultural, and in a fast process of collapse. This is the same old Europe, assuming new dimensions of a common union seeking to achieve economic power and to establish a different cultural system. At the same time, Europe is afflicted by new problems, which are liable to lead to its decline:
a) The severe trauma of two World Wars manifests itself in an unmitigated aspiration to maintain quiet, even if it is imaginary, and reflects a policy of hedonistic pacifism, a phenomenon that symbolizes lack of willingness to fight for basic national values. Europe despises the US, which is perceived as a factor that disturbs international order and interfere with Europe’s ability to hegemony, and expresses hostility towards Israel, as if were it to disappear the Middle East would cease to be a “keg of dynamite.” Pathological hatred for Israel has become the major generator of Europe policy. It believes that the cycle of terrorism and violence in the Middle East is due to Israel, which slaughters Palestinian children at will. For Europe, the problem is not the Islamic religious ideology to occupy the world, and Europe is the forefront, but the “ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Since Europe believes that “Islam and terrorism do not go together,” Israel has become the scapegoat to all European troubles and hardships.
b) The advanced age of the native European population, while the birthrate is negative (1.4 children per 1000 people, as opposed to a required even minimum of 2.1). By the year 2040, one of every three European will be over the age of 65, and at the same time the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims, with a birthrate three and four times that of the Europeans, causes severe social and cultural problems, and arouses fundamental questions of national identity. A reliable forecasts agree that in 2040, there will be a Muslim majority in several Western European countries.
c) Appeasement policy and political correctness as the primary strategy to attain quiet. The fear of arousal of widespread domestic violence, especially in the Muslim neighborhoods, who have no desire to assimilate, creates a “mental paralysis” in European public opinion and policy-makers. The expanding Muslim population poses the greatest threat to pluralistic democracy of the free world.
Samuel Huntington, in his The Clash of Civilizations, claims that the most significant division between the US and Europe is cultural. The United States is a religious country, and old Europe is secular. The Americans are devoted and patriotic to their country and to their religion, and define many issues in terms of good and evil; while Europe has a very low commitment to religion and nationalism. In a series of surveys, the countries were rated according to the level of their religiosity. The US was first with a ranking of 1.7; Ireland: 4.1; Poland: 5.2; Italy: 5.9; Britain: 11.6; Germany: 12.1. For Europe, there is a strong trend that transforms secularism and pacifism into a religion.
Jean Francois Ravel, in his “Europe’s Anti-American Obsession”, Europe believes that Americans are controlled by money, and their foreign policy is characterized by isolationism, and degenerate fascist politics. But it is specifically Europe, which invented the most repulsive ideologies, in which totalitarian regimes flourished, and it was precisely the US which rescued Europe from itself. Possessed by the obsession of their hatred, the anti-American fools forget that the US acts for world peace. It is specifically the security provided by the US that enables Europe to claim, paradoxically, that military might is no longer important as if they are residents of a post-historical world.
Economic Crises in Asia. Asia is seeking to become a significant factor in the International politics, by means of economic growth. In recent decades it was Japan, by employing a policy of competition through imitation. However, in the last decade it has slowed down, and local giants have begun to challenge it. Firstly, it was Korea, which followed the Japanese model, in the shadow of the North Korean military threat. Thereafter, China began its march, with an economic policy, which poses a substantial threat to the old world markets, and India, a nuclear power, which is also threatened by a neighboring enemy – Pakistan, aligns itself, like China, in more specific economic areas. China has the best chance, as within three decades its GNP surpasses that of the United States. At the same time, researchers claim that a severe economic crisis is threatening China, which will have dire ramifications and consequences throughout the world.
The significance of these three trends – the weakening of the legitimacy of the US; the continued decline of Europe; and the possibility of economic collapse in Asia in general and in China in particular – is that the world is not progressing towards a multi-polar world, but rather is liable to be a world without hegemonic power, a world without polarity. The upshot will be an era of declining empires and religious fanaticism, which will initiate processes of multi-dimensional decline: First, severe economic crises, which are liable to lead to a world-wide collapse; second, a dreadful rise of Islamic vicious terrorist groups on a world scale; third, an era of military crises, wars which will unfold over sources and resources. The result is likely to be political anarchy, to the withdrawal of civilization into fortified enclaves where chaos reigns.
To this future reality, a world of anarchy with no stabilizing world powers to enforce order and of continued trends of aggressive, fanatical Islamic terrorism – two scientific approaches have crystallized.
One approach, by Samuel Huntington, in his July 1993 article and his 1995 book, regarding the clash of civilizations. He proves that seven or eight civilizations exist in the world and Islam is at odds and antagonistic conflict with all of them throughout the world. Huntington claim, that “the Arab borders are blood borders” and this has brought The Economist to identify 32 major conflicts conducted in the world in the year 2000. 70% involved Muslims against others. Bernard Lewis in his April 1990 Atlantic Monthly article, determined that this was not a religious cold war between the Third World and the secular world, as Juergensmeyer claimed, but rather a genuine clash of cultures and was the first to coin the phrase “clash of civilizations”.
The second approach, is that of a “clash within Islam”, as expressed by Emanuel Sivan (A Confrontation within Islam), Moshe Maoz (YI, January 13, 2002), and other Israeli orientalists and Political Scientists, who claim that the primary, substantive clash is within Islam, between the moderate branch of Islam, who are the majority, and the extreme branch, who are the minority and will fail.
However, though all evidence clearly show that Huntington is by all means right, still, one can view these two approaches along the same continuum: In the first stage, the motto is activity within Arab-Islamic society. Fanatic Islam seeks to overthrow the existing Arab and Muslim regimes, which it refers to as the “New Jahiliyah, being the near enemy (al-‘Aduw al-Qarib), and in the second stage, it aspires to challenge the Western infidels, which it refers to as the “New Crusaders” or the far enemy (al-‘Aduw al-Ba’id).
This is the position of the religious exegetes of fanatic Islam, like Abu al-A’la al Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and many others, and this is the essence of the Islamic struggle: the genuine Islam according to the exegesis against both the New Jahiliyah (Arab-Muslim) and the New Crusaderism. In between they play a mix-operative terrorist strategy – against the West and Arab-Islamic countries.
When do empires decline? Quigley’s raises three trends: a) when they begin to squander their internal resources and do not turn to create new ones. b) When the mutual bond between the components of society weakens and the internal gaps increase. c) When ignorance spreads and the masses are drawn towards extreme religious fanaticism.
Huntington in the summary chapter of his Clash of civilizations, characterizes it as “cultural suicide”. The manifestations: a) an increase in the levels of crime, drugs and violence, which create a turbulent society with deep cleavages. b) A sharp decline in the institution of marriage and an increase in the rates of divorce and one-parent households. c) A decrease in interpersonal trust, with a rise in social alienation and anomic society. d) A slackening in the work ethic and in collective giving and enhancement of the trends of personal satisfaction. e) A decrease in the commitment to scientific intellectual activity for the continuation of progress and modernity. f) Absence of a unifying consensus and a decrease in national identification and loyalty. Multi-nationalism and Multiculturalism.
On the basis of understanding these dimensions one can assert that scientific and technological superiority does not override moral decay and political collapse of states. It was Jan Maserik, former Czech Foreign Minister who claimed: for a nation whose back is broken, it will be of no avail that each citizen has a tank in his yard and a warplane on his roof.” Indeed, a National strength can never persist without national honor, patriotism; commitment and determination to defend national interests, and adhesive common grounds. Defeatism, Douglas MacArthur stated, engenders a much more difficult and cruel war. There is not even one case in history in which defeatism has produced peace.
It is frightening to observe that the reactions in the free world today and the absence of a joint vision and common strategy regarding the threats stemming from the challenges posed by Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups, reflect, in an astounding way, the international situation on the eve of World War II, and the absence of a uniform policy regarding Nazi Germany.
In May 1939, when it was clear that the clouds over Europe are leading to an all-out war, the influential British newspaper, The Times of London, published a harsh editorial, criticizing Churchill and his “belligerent, war-mongering” government, which was leading Britain into war, while a successful alternative exists, the “Munich Agreement”, which proves that it is possible to bring peace to Europe by means of diplomatic agreements. However, it was Churchill who was remarkably on target, in reacting to Chamberlain’s defeatist policy: “You have chosen shame out of fear of war and you have received both the shame and the war”. Indeed, these words are tantamount to the political situation today regarding Islamic onslaught to occupy the Free World.
The circumstances are that the world witness a violent aggressiveness of Islamic Bolshevism, according to Huntington, which will manifest itself in pressure to bring about changes in regimes and politics, massive immigration, but primarily attempts to gain control, first of the Dar al-Islam lands, from China to Spain, and after succeeding, to expand at the expense of the Dar al-Harb. World terrorism is primarily Islamic. More than 90 percent of world terrorism and more than 70 percent of world violence are Islamic. This religious fanaticism flourishes in societies that do not aspire to modernization and progress, which reject the basic values of democracy, pluralism, freedoms, open criticism, and equal rights.
The dominant idea in Islam, as defined by Islam itself, is absolute submissiveness and devotion to Allah and that humanity must respect the laws of the Islamic religion, while they have neither respect nor appreciation for other religions. Everything is perceived as legitimate self-defense, “the soul, religion, the land and Arabism”.
This phenomenon manifests itself in the syndrome: he hits me and he cried-out, he overtook me and grumbled (Darabni wa-Baka Sabaqni wa-Shtaqa). Aggression is perceived in the Arab-Islamic political culture as a routine and consensual phenomenon, while in contrast, any defensive action taken by its opponents in response to its acts of aggression evokes a severe reaction: “What did I do”? “Why am I being attacked”? “I, the miserable, the exploited one, who has done nothing, am standing against brutal belligerency and aggressiveness” Indeed, this is a deeply rooted cultural phenomenon: “the victimhood Syndrome.” They sincerely wholeheartedly believe that they are the pure victim and that all of their horrific vicious inhumane actions are merely justified acts of retaliation, in order to preserve their honor, their soul and their lands.
In contrast, Western culture acts as if it bears responsibility for being the victim. Everyone continues to declare that it is not a war against Islam in order to underscore his political tolerance. For Western leaders, in ignorance or cowardice, Islam is a religion of peace and there are only few extremist Muslims who hijacked the religion. It is even forbidden to put together “Islamic” and Terrorism.” For them, poverty and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the true cause, but not Islamic aggressiveness, terrorism, supremacism and brutality. No wonder the Free World is in a so deep mired situation, due to this shameless behavior.
However the truth is that the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad groups have declared war against the Free World in the name of Allah. From their vantage point, it is their duty to control and occupy the world; that their religion is the only legitimate religion to impose on the entire humanity; and that it is a religious war and they are pretty sure Allah’s religion will prevail. This is the reason why we must stop apologizing and appeasing, and paying protection money, because we are fighting for our own lives, for our own existence. We fight to defend the Free World and all what have achieved against the epitome of evil and primitiveness. This is the “just war”, ever in history, as much as the Free World waged against Nazism and Communism.
However, the problem lies precisely in the cultural dimension, in the profound differences in cultural values, in the externalization of guilt syndrome. The Middle East is a greenhouse, unprecedented in its intensity, of authoritarianism, despotism, patrimonialism, corruption and incitement of hatred by the ruling political elite, while at the same time of poverty, exploitation and the misery of the masses.
The connection line between these two trends is in externalizing the guilt towards colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and racism against Western culture, which is hostile to Islam and the Arabs. However, Arab-Islamic political culture has no feelings of guilt or remorse; a culture that has no guilt conscience toward the other, and is unwilling to assume responsibility and self-criticism. This is a culture with the deep feeling that it is always right, and for that it externalizes the guilt and blames the “other” for that which transpires. It is essential to appreciate the significance of the phenomenon.
Jews and Christians internalize guilt. Jews turn one cheek in the sense of “we have sinned, we have transgressed, and we have committed crimes”; and the Christians turn the other cheek in the sense of “mea culpa”. In contrast, Arabs externalize guilt: “do I have a problem? You are guilty!” You will not find among them the phenomenon so characteristic to the Judeo-Christian culture: Doubts, guilt feelings and remorse, the agonizing conceptions perhaps we are not right, perhaps we should have acted or reacted differently? And what is our share of the blame? Western culture attempts to understand the other side; to learn his misery, to see the logic behind his actions and understand why he did what he did. All these are contrary to the Arab-Islamic political culture.
The Egyptian intellectual, residing in the US, Nonie Darwish has put it directly:
‘Arab’ means never having to say you are sorry. To expect Arab and Muslim leadership to apologize is a reflection of the West naïve and wrong expectations of Arab culture. In the Arab world to take responsibility and say sorry is taken as unmanly sign of weakness that may get a person into more trouble. Those who admit guilt, even it is accidental are given no mercy and may end up taking all the blame and being brutally punished.
It is a norm for the Arabs to deny a fact and to blame the other rather than admit to the wrongdoing and apologize. Honesty is not rewarded. Any admission of guilt is a sign of weakness. Yet, how can we expect them to apologize, when most of Arabs blame Israel for all the world wrong-doings, even September-Eleven? How can we expect the Arab countries to sincerely cooperate to end terror and its barbaric brutality. American should stop judging other cultures with American value system, and especially stop expecting Arab-Muslim culture to respond rationally according to Western standards.
Herewith the explanation of the Egyptian ‘Amr Ismail (Ilaf, October 30, 2004):
Why do we not see things the way the rest of the world sees them? Why do we always feel that someone is plotting and conspiring against us, and that they are the cause of our social and economic problems and our cultural backwardness? Why are we not capable of criticizing ourselves and we consider everyone who tries to do so a resolute enemy of our people and their principles? Why do we speak by means of rifles, bombs and car bombs and hurry to accuse all of our critics from within of treason and of being influenced by the West? Why are we the only nations in the world still using Islam as a religion in all aspects of life? Why are we slitting throats and detonating cars in the name of Allah, while at the same time protest when Muslims are described as terrorists? Why our brain is incapable of comprehending that democracy is the best regime and that it brought those who adopted it advancement and comfort?
The Egyptian writer, Sayyid al-Qimi (Roz al-Yusuf, May 5, 2005) blames that the responsibility for terrorism in Egypt lies with those who create a cultural atmosphere conductive to terrorism. The fight against terrorism requires combating extremist trends among Muslim clerics and in the Arab media. For him, a barrier separates the Muslim’s mind from the rest of the world around him, making him loose the capacity to distinguish Good from Evil. He only recognizes the values of Halal and Haram, permissible vs. prohibited. Muslims are burdened with many repressive restrictions. Freedom of thought and expression are fenced in by Islamic restrictions. He brings many day by day examples of Arab behavior and activity to prove his claims, declaring that terrorism had grown when the Arabs allowed Islamist thought to infiltrate Media and Schools. This is the legitimacy to kill and terrorize innocent people.
Who are the real betrayers of Egypt, Critics or Sycophants?
“You are betraying your country by exposing its defects!” is a common accusation made by the sycophants to the ruling regime in Egypt who have managed to well situated themselves in our society simply by blindly praising the ruler’s policies. Apparently, these sycophants place a higher value on the privileges that they have gained to living in a truly advanced nation. In fact, the real betrayers of any given authoritarian nation are those who justify this immoral ruling mechanism for their own personal gain.
Despotism is the evilest ruling mechanism ever devised; apart from its cruelty and unfairness, it works on inflating the ruler’s ego by mirroring his thoughts that are always passionately endorsed by his flatterers, regardless of their merits! Meanwhile, the ruler’s manipulation of the entire political sphere impairs the state’s ability to detect and correct its blunders. Concurrently, the harsh and inhuman treatment of the state’s critics, which includes threats to their personal lives, results in spreading fear throughout the entire society.
A successful strategy for running a country ruled by a tyrannical government is to enable ignorant citizens to dominate the state media exclusively, thus empowering them to express their opinions on a much wider scale than knowledgeable citizens. This approach consequently creates significant friction between knowledgeable and ignorant citizens, resulting in the polarization of the entire nation. The state methodically fuels this process by labeling the mediocre as loyal citizens and accusing its critics of treason.
The privileging of sycophants financially, along with advancing their power and upscaling their status, have prompted many Egyptians to join this beneficial club, which prerequisites praising superiors and justifying their faults, thus compensating for the natural dullness and incompetence of the flatterers. Meanwhile, the state’s critics who demand freedom and stand by their values are aware that they are engaged in a long-lasting battle and are risking their lives for generations to come!
In fact, sycophants are the weakest link in the state’s ruling dynamics. They hypocritically heap intense praise on the security apparatus who sacrifice their lives to defend our nation – but do their utmost to ensure that their youngsters abandon their military duty; just one facet of their deceitful conduct. Sycophantic behavior and false testimony are the most sinful acts in Islam; yet they have become, ironically, a habitual pattern of behavior in our social norms.
That Egypt needs to be ruled by an Iron-fist is a common argument put forth by the flatterers. It is translated into applying harsh measures to critics and laxity toward lawbreakers – a proposition that reflects the low moral values espoused by flatterers to secure their status. The policy of maximum repression adopted by the current ruling regime might be successful in controlling society; however, it has certainly contributed to an escalation of terrorism activities by political Islamists against the military apparatus.
In my former party, the Egyptian Democratic Front, a few executive party members used to instantly report our internal discussions to the State Security apparatus. In addition totheir immoral conduct and betrayal of their peers, they used to enhance their ratting out by exacerbating our opposing political stands. I argued, at that time, for either offering those ratters a crash course on “minutes-taking” or inviting the State Security apparatus to participate in our meetings to better learn about our viewpoints.
“Cairo is a dirty city” – a painful remark that I occasionally hear from international visitors to our capital. The Egyptian State will never be able to manipulate the perception of millions of diversified tourists who visit Cairo yearly, but we can easily work to bring order to our city and live in a hygienic place. The same applies to other qualities of life such as freedom, dignity and justice; we need to highlight deficiencies in these areas to be able to advance our nation.
President Al Sisi has a clear desire to be a remarkable leader; he believes that expanding our roads and building new flyovers will make Egypt an advanced nation and that these developments will be credited to his legacy. The president is unaware that the future of our country will be written and judged by the youths of today, who are extremely angry with him due to his policy of demolishing humanity and freedom, compounded by his inability to create decent jobs for youngsters.
Egypt is currently confronting a number of complex internal and external challenges, including an economic slowdown, a civil war on our eastern borders, a potential water shortage due to the filling of Ethiopian GRED and rising unemployment. All of these challenges, and many more, will simply be intensified by our deep polarization, further weakening the state. The sycophants’ deliberate misleading of Egypt concerning these challenges is dragging our nation downward, transforming us into a fragile state.
Advancing an old-fashioned country like Egypt requires honest citizens who have bold ideas and enough courage to implement their ideas. These qualities are found more among knowledgeable citizens and critics of the state who are already sacrificing for their country; large numbers of them are spending their best years in prison simply for having voiced their opinions. Modernizing Egypt will require our president to unite our nation, appointing well-educated citizens to key positions and completely discarding state sycophants.
Israel-China Relations: Staring Into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling
Israel knew the drill even before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boarded his flight to Tel Aviv earlier this month four days after the death of his father. It was Mr. Pompeo’s first and only overseas trip since March.
Echoing a US warning two decades ago that Israeli dealings with China jeopardized the country’s relationship with the United States, Mr. Pompeo’s trip solidified Israel’s position at the cusp of the widening US-Chinese divide.
Two decades ago the issue was the potential sale to China of Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Israel backed out of the deal after the US threatened withdrawal of American support for the Jewish state.
This month the immediate issue was a Chinese bid for construction of the world’s largest desalination plant and on the horizon a larger US-Chinese battle for a dominating presence in Eastern Mediterranean ports.
Within days of his visit, Mr. Pompeo scored a China-related success even if the main focus of his talks with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was believed to be Iran and Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Israel signalled that it had heard the secretary’s message by awarding the contract for the Sorek-2 desalination plant to an Israeli rather than a Chinese company.
The tender, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
China’s interest in Israel is strategic given the fact that the Jewish state is one of the world’s foremost commercial, food and security technology powerhouses and one of the few foreign countries to command significant grassroots support in the United States.
If there is one thing Israel cannot afford, it is a rupture in its bonds to the United States. That is no truer than at a time in which the United States is the only power supportive of Israeli annexation plans on the West Bank.
The question is whether Israel can develop a formula that convinces the United States that US interests will delineate Israeli dealings with China and reassure China that it can still benefit from Israeli assets within those boundaries.
“Right now, without taking the right steps, we are looking at being put in the situation in which the US is telling us we need to cut or limit our relations with China. The problem is that Israel wants freedom of relations with China but is not showing it really understands US concerns. Sorek-2 was a good result. It shows the Americans we get it.” said Carice Witte, executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) that seeks to advance Israeli-Chinese relations.
Analysts, including Ms. Witte, believe that there is a silver lining in Israel’s refusal to award the desalination plant to a Chinese company that would allow it to steer a middle course between the United States and China.
“China understands that by giving the Americans this win, China-Israel relations can continue. It gives them breathing room,” Ms. Witte said in an interview.
It will, however, be up to Israel to develop criteria and policies that accommodate the United States and make clear to China what Israel can and cannot do.
“In order for Israel to have what it wants… it’s going to need to show the Americans that it takes Washington’s strategic perceptions into consideration and not only that, that it’s two steps ahead on strategic thinking with respect to China. The question is how.” Ms. Witte said.
Ports and technology are likely to be focal points.
China is set to next year takeover the management of Haifa port where it has already built its own pier and is constructing a new port in Ashdod.
One way of attempting to address US concerns would be to include technology companies in the purview of a still relatively toothless board created under US pressure in the wake of the Haifa deal to review foreign investment in Israel. It would build in a safeguard against giving China access to dual civilian-military use technology.
That, however, may not be enough to shield Israel against increased US pressure to reduce Chinese involvement in Israeli ports.
“The parallels between the desalination plant and the port are just too close to ignore. We can’t have another infrastructure divide,” Ms. Witte said.
The two Israeli ports will add to what is becoming a Chinese string of pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean.
China already manages the Greek port of Piraeus.
China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) is looking at upgrading Lebanon’s deep seaport of Tripoli to allow it to accommodate larger vessels.
Qingdao Haixi Heavy-Duty Machinery Co. has sold Tripoli port two 28-storey container cranes capable of lifting and transporting more than 700 containers a day, while a container vessel belonging to Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO docked in Tripoli in December 2018, inaugurating a new maritime route between China and the Mediterranean.
Major Chinese construction companies are also looking at building a railroad that would connect Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to Homs and Aleppo in Syria. China has further suggested that Tripoli could become a special economic zone within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and serve as an important trans-shipment point between the People’s Republic and Europe.
BRI is a massive infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven effort to connect the Eurasian landmass to China.
Potential Chinese involvement in reconstruction of post-war Syria would likely give it access to the ports of Latakia and Tartous.
Taken together, China is looking at dominating the Eastern Mediterranean with six ports in four countries, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and Syria that would create an alternative to the Suez Canal.
All that is missing are Turkish, Cypriot and Egyptian ports.
The Chinese build- up threatens to complicate US and NATO’s ability to manoeuvre in the region.
The Trump administration has already warned Israel that Chinese involvement in Haifa could jeopardize continued use of the port by the US fifth fleet.
“The writing is on the wall. Israel needs to carve out a degree of wiggle room. That however will only come at a price. There is little doubt that Haifa will move into the firing line,” said a long-time observer of Israeli-Chinese relations.
Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for Gulf states has done far more than play havoc with their revenue base and fiscal household. It has propelled massive structural change to the top of their agenda in ways that economic diversification plans had not accounted for.
Leave aside whether Gulf states can continue to focus on high-profile, attention-grabbing projects like Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion USD 21st century futuristic city on the Red Sea.
Gulf rulers’ to do list, if they want to get things right, is long and expensive without the burden of trophy projects. It involves economic as well as social and ultimately political change.
Transparency and accurate and detailed public reporting go to the core of these changes.
They also are key to decisions by investors, economists, and credit rating companies at a time when Gulf states’ economic outlook is in question. Many complain that delays in GDP reporting and lack of easy access to statistics complicates their decision-making.
Nonetheless, if there is one thing autocratic Gulf governments have going for themselves, beyond substantial financial reserves, it is public confidence in the way they handled the pandemic, despite the fact that they failed to initially recognize crowded living circumstances of migrant workers as a super spreader.
Most governments acted early and decisively with lockdowns and curfews, testing, border closures, repatriation of nationals abroad, and, in Saudi Arabia, suspension of pilgrimages.
To be sure, Gulf countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia that receives millions of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe each year, have a long-standing history of dealing with epidemics. Like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, they were better prepared than Western nations.
History persuaded the kingdom to ban the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in late February, days before the first case of a Covid-19 infection emerged on Saudi soil.
Beyond public health concerns, Saudi Arabia had an additional reason to get the pandemic right. It offered the kingdom not only an opportunity to globally polish its image, badly tarnished by human rights abuses, power grabs, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also to retain religious influence despite the interruption in the flow of pilgrims to the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is still a reference for many Muslim communities around the world,” said Yasmine Farouk, a scholar of Saudi Arabia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It also allowed Saudi Arabia to set the record straight following criticism of its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 when the kingdom became the epidemic’s epicenter and in 2009 when it was hit by the H1N1 virus.
Saudi Arabia is also blamed for contributing to a public health catastrophe in Yemen with its frequent indiscriminate bombings.
A country in ruins as a result of the military intervention, Yemen has grappled for the past four years with a cholera epidemic on the kingdom’s borders.
Trust in Gulf states’ handling of the current pandemic was bolstered by degrees of transparency on the development of the disease in daily updates in the number of casualties and fatalities.
It was further boosted by a speech by King Salman as soon as the pandemic hit the kingdom in which he announced a raft of measures to counter the disease and support the economy as well as assurances by agriculture minister Abdulrahman al-Fadli that the crisis would not affect food supplies.
Ms. Farouk suggested that government instructions during the pandemic were followed because of “trust in the government, the expertise and the experience of the government [and] trust in the religious establishment, which actually was following the technical decisions of the government.”
To be sure, Ms. Farouk acknowledged, the regime’s coercive nature gave the public little choice.
The limits of government transparency were evident in the fact that authorities were less forthcoming with details of public spending on the pandemic and insight into available medical equipment like ventilators and other supplies such as testing kits.
Some Gulf states have started publishing the daily and total number of swabs but have yet to clarify whether these figures include multiple swabbings of the same person.
“It is likely that publics in the Middle East will look back at who was it that gave them reliable information, who was it who was there for them,” said political scientist Nathan Brown.
The question is whether governments will conclude that transparency will be needed to maintain public confidence as they are forced to rewrite social contracts that were rooted in concepts of a cradle-to-grave welfare state but will have to involve greater burden sharing.
Gulf governments have so far said little about burden sharing being allocated equitably across social classes nor has there been transparency on what drives investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds in a time of crisis and changing economic outlook.
Speaking to the Financial Times, a Gulf banker warned that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “needs to be careful what he spends on . . . Joe Public will be watching.”
Headed by Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has gone on a $7.7 billion USD shopping spree buying stakes in major Western blue chips, including four oil majors: Boeing, Citigroup, Disney, and Facebook. The Public Investment Fund is also funding a bid for English soccer club Newcastle United.
The banker suggested that Saudi nationals would not appreciate “millionaire footballer salaries being paid for by VAT (value added tax) on groceries.” He was referring to this month’s hiking of sales taxes in the kingdom from five to 15 percent.
The fragility and fickleness of public trust was on display for the world to see in Britain’s uproar about Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who violated lockdown instructions for personal reasons. Mr. Johnson is struggling to fight off demands for Mr Cummings’ dismissal.
To be sure, senior government officials and business executives in the Gulf have cautioned of hard times to come.
A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey of CEOs predicted that 70 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ companies would go out of business in the next six months, including half of its restaurants and hotels and three-quarters of its travel and tourism companies.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan warned earlier this month that the kingdom would need to take “painful” measures and look for deep spending cuts as a result of the collapse of oil prices and significantly reduced demand for oil.
Aware of sensitivities, Mr. Al-Jadaan stressed that “as long as we do not touch the basic needs of the people, all options are open.”
There was little transparency in Mr. Al-Jadaan’s statements on what the impact would be on employment-seeking Saudi nationals in a labor market where fewer migrant workers would be available for jobs that Saudis have long been unwilling to accept.
It was a missed opportunity considering the 286 percent increase in the number of Saudis flocking to work for delivery services.
The increase was fueled by an offer by Hadaf, the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, to pay drivers $800 USD a month, as well as a newly-found embrace of volunteerism across the Gulf.
The surge offered authorities building blocks to frame expectations at a time when the kingdom’s official unemployment rate of 12 percent is likely to rise.
It suggested a public acknowledgement of the fact that well-paying, cushy government positions may no longer be as available as they were in the past as well as the fact that lesser jobs are no less honorable forms of employment.
That may be the silver lining as Gulf states feel the pressure to reinvent themselves in a world emerging from a pandemic that potentially will redraw social, economic, and political maps.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
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