Stephen Zunes : Middle East–Overview
President George W Bush announced during his recent Middle East trip that he is formally serving notice to Congress of his administration’s decision to approve the sale of bomb-guidance kits to Saudi Arabia. This announcement follows notification on five other arms deals to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait that are part of a $20 billion package of additional armaments over the next decade to the family dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf emirates announced by President George W. Bush last summer….
The strong showings by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois in the early contests for the Democratic presidential nomination don’t just mark a repudiation of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and “war on terrorism.” They also indicate a rejection of the Democratic Party establishment, much of which supported the invasion of Iraq and other tragic elements of the administration’s foreign policy.
This is a letter of apology from an American who has witnessed in horror the extreme anti-Danish reaction in parts of the Islamic world. While the spark may have originated in your country, the tinderbox which caused that spark to explode in such a violent conflagration is largely a result of the policies of the United States.
Peace Review Sep 04 Int’l Law, UN and ME Conflicts (PDF)
President George W. Bush’s November 6 speech before the National Endowment for Democracy emphasizing the need for greater democracy and freedom in the Arab world, while containing a number of positive aspects, was nevertheless very misleading and all-too characteristic of the longstanding contradictory messages that have plagued U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The tragic events of recent months have only strengthened the stereotype here in the United States of the Islamic world as an area of violent conflict. However, the region also has an impressive and growing tradition of nonviolent resistance and other unarmed challenges to authoritarianism.
1. Who are the Arabs?
Arab peoples range from the Atlantic coast in northwest Africa to the Arabian peninsula and north to Syria. They are united by a common language and culture. Though the vast majority are Muslim, there are also sizable Christian Arab minorities in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Originally the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, the Arabs spread their language and culture to the north and west with the expansion of Islam in the 7th century. There are also Arab minorities in the Sahel and parts of east Africa, as well as in Iran and Israel. The Arabs were responsible for great advances in mathematics, astronomy and other scientific disciplines, while Europe was still mired in the Dark Ages.
The perceived growth of radical Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and beyond has not only caused major political upheaval in the countries directly affected but has placed political Islam at the forefront of concerns voiced by U.S. policymakers. One unfortunate aspect of this newfound attention has been the way it has strengthened ugly stereotypes of Muslims already prevalent in the West. This occurs despite the existence of moderate Islamic segments and secular movements that are at least as influential as radicals in the political life of Islamic countries.
As in much of the third world, many of the national boundaries of the Middle East and North Africa are artificial creations of the colonial era. Because most of the region’s inhabitants are Muslim Arabs and thanks to relatively high tolerance levels for minorities in traditional Islamic societies, the denial of self-determination has not been as widespread as in many parts of the world. Still, disputes in the Middle East involving people struggling for the right of self-determination remain some of the most dangerous and intractable conflicts in the world today.
Throughout the centuries, Western nations have tried to impose their order on the region now commonly known as the Middle East. For certain periods of time they have succeeded, only to find themselves at the receiving end of a popular and oftentimes violent backlash. Now, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph in the Gulf War, the United States stands—at least for a time—as the region’s dominant outside power.