June 17, 2013

The Gulf-Maghreb: Marginalizing Egypt and Empowering Militarism

This is the illustration made by Gulf News for Sultan's column;
notice out how Western-looking the Algerian dude is. yeah.
A week ago, UAE's commentator Sultan al-Qassemi wrote a column for Gulf News about the continuous cooperation between his country and Algeria. He illustrated several points in his article: 
1) UAE is more invested in Algeria now for being in complete conflict with the Brotherhood ruling of Egypt
2) Algeria's economy continues to grow 
3) Algeria has the largest military budget in Africa 
4) Algeria kicked the Islamists' asses. 
5) Algeria will be better soon if a [young man] gets elected democratically
As some of you might have noticed, the column is bombarded with a problematic set of ideas, however, they tell us much about the Gulf's standing towards the Maghreb region. Following the Arab uprisings and the rapid changes the Arab world is going through (especially when it comes to the political power of Ikhwan, interior dissent, and foreign policies), Gulf regimes looked for the Maghreb region as their alternative answer considering the long history of the Western-backed military dictatorships of the Maghreb.

Replacing Egypt: Make Them Starve

When Egyptians were protesting against Mubarak, the Saudi king was absolutely against the idea of Mubarak stepping down, and he speculated that other Arabs will be encouraged into politics and protests afterwards. The old dude was (fortunately) right. Other Gulf states (except for Qatar which explains its policies through Al Jazeera's approaches) were hesitant and in fear for their buddy Mubarak. Nevertheless, they tried to put themselves together and step in the aftermath. They were not against the idea of giving loans and funds to Egypt up until (you guessed it right) Ikhwan came in power. Funding Egypt meant to fund Ikhwan, which meant to empower a regional movement of political Islam.

Does Egypt need that money? Unfortunately yes. The loose conditions that a country like Kuwait would put on such loans (which mostly Jordan wins) for Egypt are a much better option than the high interest rates imposed by Qatari loans or the terrible nightmare of the IMF. Already, Morsy has been going around asking for loans but no one is helping because of crises (Libya) or political stands (Gulf).

Egypt is being punished for its political choices. If we assume hypothetically that Ikhwan get out of power, will the money come back to Egypt? It might come in good will from a country like Kuwait that is (thankfully) not interested in being a regional player but Saudi money and Qatari money will come in with hard conditions to fund certain groups or to demand restrictions over the popular political gains of the Egyptian peoples brought by the revolution.

In the UAE, there are Egyptians in jail accused of being Ikhwan. Egyptians around the Gulf are continuously harassed and now face more restrictions for being looked at as the fuel of revolts. Airports gave them a hard time throughout the year of 2011. Recently, the Egyptian community in the UAE tried to protect itself from UAE's sharp nails by releasing a statement denouncing Essam al-Erian's description of the UAE as "the land of devils." It is certainly ridiculous that a group would feel obliged to denounce the talk of a politician who is not even in an official post; this speaks volumes to how terrified those migrants feel in the Gulf.

Bottom line, the Gulf countries are strangling Egypt, cracking down on Egyptian migrants, and now trying their best to use the Arab Spring to make Egypt as irrelevant as possible. In order to be an opponent of Saudi Arabia, Qatar will do its best to have the Ikhwan of Egypt in the driver's seat. 

Binaries binaries binaries, motherfuckers not givin us a break. 

The Gulf as an Imperial Woman

Wearing a Moroccan caftan and lifting the Moroccan flag. Nationalist crack. 
I did not watch this shit called "Arab Idol" but I surely realize how it is keeping some millions busy at their homes. The UAE star Ahlam (who is by the way a nationalized Bahraini) is back to TV and press because of this TV show after having sucked so bad from one album to another. Her statements continue to blow my mind (we actually wrote a quick post on this) and recently she became one of the first Gulf stars to sing in the partially state-funded Mawazine Music Festival of Morocco (which has been protested as a state-practice of corruption.)

It should be understood that this invitation was not innocent. Recently, Moroccan press has been ass-kissing Fatima Bint Mubarak (wife of UAE's ex-president and mother of crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayd) for building a hospital for cancer treatment, of course named after her (that's why it was built in the first place!)

Just the way privileged middle-class Khaliji women and those of the high class are used to brighten the image of the Gulf against criticism over gender policies, women are being used in some cases to deploy the new Gulf policy towards the Maghreb; your hot exoticized women come to serve masculine fantasies, and our women act on our behalf as missionaries and "cultural representatives."

Conferences are Evil!

Check those two conferences jointly organized between the Gulf and Maghreb IN THE PAST FOUR WEEKS ALONE:

- The Third Meet-Up for Gulf-Morocco investment in Tangier. 
Qatar can really win the name of "capital of conferences." Smartly, all those looking for money to make conferences are welcomed in Qatar. It is a way to monitor discussions and to maintain political visibility. Those conferences are not innocent and should be questioned. Unfortunately many of the so called activists and journalists would not think twice before jumping on a plane to Doha.

That aside, the Arab leaders, as good students of US war propaganda, are using Islamists as if they are the only political player. Regimes want everyone to think this is between them and Islamists. Then, with all the stereotypical imagination of Islamists, it becomes easy to expand on militarism. What Sultan mentioned about Algeria should be taken seriously. In that example, UAE will one day like to use the Algerian militarist experience for political oppression if needed. It doesn't matter that a civil war happened in Algeria, that corruption, oppression, and poverty drive thousands of Algerians running from their country, that this powerful militarism is backed by a terrified West and a fascist elite.

Do Not Give Up Yet

All those projects illustrate a big part of our political and economic realities but we need to understand two points here:

1) There is much political action being done all around the region and those regimes continue to be surprised: how it goes in Syria, how powerful Tunisians can resist Ikhwan, how longer can the youth in Morocco protest neoliberal policies and PR campaigns, how Algerian politics might change, etc. The same goes for the Gulf: an opposition in Kuwait, a screwed-up economy and lack of stability in Bahrain, the accumulating debts of the UAE, and the oppressed protests around Saudi. I am not only talking about simple political protesting, but more...a continuous act of destabilization that those shitless-scared regimes are facing.

2) The Gulf is not one and neither is the Maghreb. Although dictators surely bound to their interests but their conflicting approaches weaken them. Think of what Qatar wants, of what Saudi Arabia wants, and of what the UAE wants. Then think of how Kuwait is not playing much abroad, and how Oman and Bahrain are too busy inside to do anything else. The same applies to the Maghreb region.

Resist and Do Not Listen to Ahlam!

By Mona Kareem

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