Alliances with the Middle East Dictate International Hesitancy

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by Amanda Bloom

Dr. Abubaker Saad.  Photo by Laurie Gaboardi, c/o Litchefield County Times

THE UNITED STATES should be putting pressure on its Middle Eastern and African dictator “friends” to open up their respective governments and lessen their control, according to Dr. Abubaker Saad, a former Libyan diplomat who fled the country after a failed coup in 1970s.

Saad, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Danbury’s Western Connecticut State University, spoke for over an hour about the revolutions in the Middle East on the February 27 edition of “The Advocate” on WestConn’s radio station, WXCI 91.7 FM.

by Amanda Bloom


THE UNITED STATES should be putting pressure on its Middle Eastern and African dictator “friends” to open up their respective governments and lessen their control, according to Dr. Abubaker Saad, a former Libyan diplomat who fled the country after a failed coup in 1970s.

Dr. Abubaker Saad.  Photo by Laurie Gaboardi, c/o Litchfield County Times

Saad, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Danbury’s Western Connecticut State University, spoke for over an hour about the revolutions in the Middle East on the February 27 edition of “The Advocate” on WestConn’s radio station, WXCI 91.7 FM.  Now, nearly two weeks later, the International Committee of the Red Cross has declared Libya in a state of civil war, protests are beginning in Saudi Arabia, and the international community remains cautious in their handling of the growing Middle Eastern turmoil.

Saad encouraged listeners to recognize the uniqueness of each country’s individual revolution.

 

“There is a popular revolution in the Middle East, but we should look at each one of them in its own context,in its own local circumstance.”

– Dr. Abubaker Saad, WestConn professor of Middle Eastern Studies and former Mibyan diplomat

“There is a popular revolution in the Middle East, but we should look at each one of them in its own context,” he said, “in its own local circumstance.”  Saad referenced the early February protests in Algeria, which were not about unemployment or poverty, as is the case in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia.  The issues among Algerian protestors were inflation – which reached 37% – and lack of political representation in the government.

Early in the program, Saad separated the Middle Eastern and African countries into two groups: the rich and the poor.  The poor group includes Morocco, Jordan Tunisia, Eqypt and Syria, and the rich group – rich from “petrol dollars” – includes Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few.

Saad explained that in Egypt, a country of 18 million people, 55% of the population live at the poverty line or below.  He said it takes 5 to 6 years to get a job in Egypt, no matter one’s education.

“Most of the projects are controlled basically by a small number of owners who actually revolve around Hosni Mubarek and his group,” Saad said.  “1% own everything in Egypt, including the president and his close entourage.”  Eqypt has been under military rule since Mubarek was forced to step down last month, but Saad impressed that it was the military who pushed Mubarek out, not the protestors, and that it did so to protect its own interests.  He also said the military’s decision to freeze the country’s constitution was more of a symbolic move than a serious one.

“I have to look at it with suspicion,” he said.  “Because the Egyptian constitution was not in function since 1981.”  Saad also said that the international freezing of Mubarek’s assets, estimated at $70 billion ($17 billion more than Forbes lister Bill Gates), was too slow.

“The demonstrations started on January 25,” Saad explained.  “If you are a sneaky dictator, don’t you think you will have time from January 25 to his fall in February to distribute that wealth around and hide it?  That’s precisely what happened.   We say we have his $70 billion, but if we go out there we are not going to find more than two or three.  The rest is all dispersed.”

In contrast to Egypt’s poverty, Libya is a very wealthy country with $104 billion in oil revenues, according to Saad.  He explained that when he was growing up in Libya, education was free, health care was free, and the government subsidized the cost of essential commodities, and many of these incentives still exist today.  Unemployment is not applicable, and the government eradicates inflation.

Saad said that we can expect to see gas at $5 or 6 a gallon by the summer due to slowing production in unstable countries and increased demand worldwide.

“But you open your mouth and criticize the government, you’re dead,” Saad said.An opposition fighter fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a Libyan jet.  Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

This political repression is the commonality connecting the protesting countries unilaterally.  Saad explained that Turkey and Israel are the only true democracies in the area – the other countries are run under monarchies or military dictatorships.  He also said that the Middle East’s widespread animosity directed at Israel is effective in suppressing democracy.

Then there are complications with alliances and oil interests.  Saad said that the United States is the second most affected by Mubarek’s ousting – many people believe the U.S. was too slow to support the protestors, thereby affecting U.S. relations throughout the Middle East.  Oil, the U.S.’ primary interest in the Middle East, according to Saad, is likely influencing its extreme care in  deciding how to handle the unrest.  Saad said that we can expect to see gas at $5 or 6 a gallon by the summer due to slowing production in unstable countries and increased demand worldwide.

Saad explained that the unrest in Bahrain is also greatly affecting the U.S. – this is the location of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters.  He also explained that the regimes that are falling throughout the Middle East and Africa are friends of the U.S. – Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are all friends or cooperates of the U.S., so begs the question: will the next in power cooperate also?

When asked if he thought Moammar Gadhafi, who has held power in Libya for 42 years, would fall, Saad said that it could happen; however, he had seen the brutality of the Gadhafi regime in the 60s and 70s, which was able to subdue uprisings easily.  The U.S.’ top intelligence adviser, James Clapper, has predicted that Libyan rebel forces will not defeat the government.

Saad concluded the program by saying that the democratic movement in the Middle East could be a blessing for everyone, or a curse – all of those involved in the movement could stumble and fall, or they could be building a region we have always dreamed of.

“The Advocate” airs every Sunday at 10am on WXCI 91.7 FM.  Visit Dr. Saad’s WesConn page here.

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