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July 20, 2006



Gotta make you wonder whether these steps will make these regimes any dearer to their populations. Certainly, one could add that they are already so distrusted that they can't sink any further, but that's especially dangerous if one seeks to hope for any kind of democratization--looks to me like the most stable sort of democratization is democratization from within, where those within the government recognize the gap between themselves and the public and strive to close the gap (e.g. Taiwan or South Korea). If the regime, as seems to be taking place in these three countries, decides to commit to being against the wishes of their own people (and not care), the prospects for democracy gets a lot harder. If this move is being taken at the behest of an already unpopular foreign power (e.g. the US), our credibility will have taken a huge blow along with these regimes'.

Rowan Berkeley

Good man, Aardvaark. Please press this point home to Prof Cutler, who tends to read too much into the celebrated "Sunni Shia Divide":

Philip Grant

The Israelis - or at least this former spokesman for Rabin and Peres writing in the Independent http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article1188847.ece seem to rather like the "red herring" idea, talking of "the overall scheme of Iran, Hizbollah's patron, to take over predominantly Shia southern Iraq, and outflank the Sunni Arab world" and on the other hand making positive noises about "voices" coming from Saudi Arabia condemning Hizbullah.


Ya Abu Aardvark, you should spend a bit of time scanning the three main Israeli English online sites (unfortunately the 4th, Maariv, no longer has its English version). They are examining the Arab press and have discovered that in reality most of the Arabs are on their side and support their bombing of Lebanon! It's funny because they take all the points that you show are emblematic of elite-popular divisions (and they take one side of the heavily divided Lebanese coin), and then spin it into a tale of support for their actions. MEMRI has also been running a long series of pieces pushing the Israeli line, they are in full gear these days.


You're a fool, Jamal. I can tell you that Israelis have absolutely no illusions that the Arab public will see things their way under any circumstances. They do, however, understand that the ruling elites of the pro-American dictatorships are on their side, and that's what matters to them. The Israelis have no democracy-promotion agenda for the Arab world, and can happily accept what Mubarak and 'Abdallah think as what matters. After all, it's not al-Jazeera that exercises command and control over the Egyptian and Jordanian armies. The Arab public already despises Israel; the PR fallout from these latest operations is just a drop in a big bucketful of Arab-Israeli enmity. Why should the GOI care about what the Arab media is saying so long as they are achieving their military objectives?

Amy H

Good piece, but I think you missed the key point: these regimes have nothing to gain, and from their perspective even something to lose, from any response that is vague, silent, or seen as a tacit endorsment of the violent, dramatic, and world-attention getting cross-border actions of a militant Islamist group that wants revolutionary change in the regional status quo! Egypt, Jordan and KSA simply *cannot* accept a nonstate actor steering events with Israel and possibly shaping the fate of the region. The fact that Hezbollah is Shiite only makes it that much more worrisome for them (KSA in particular). What groups are all three regimes struggling to contain at home? Islamist movements that seek to overturn (by whatever means, peaceful or violent) the domestic and regional status quo. These regimes probably feel that without clear statements vs. Hezbollah, they would in effect be ceding political ground to a nonstate, militant, anti-status quo group - and thus declaring their own irrelevance and impotence vs. their main challengers! I really think this was the main calculation, *not* scoring points with the USG. These regimes are far too shrewd to make pleasing Washington first on their list in any decision-making process. Instead, they figure out a way to do what they need to stay in power/protect their own position and then try to placate or hoodwink Washington. Often, as in this case, the two converge rather easily --in the short term (how these regimes respond to mounting media coverage of Lebanese deaths is a question for next week). And, let's just admit that the US "pressure" for democratization in these three particular countries was hardly strong enough (!!) to make fighting off such pressure a major consideration in this situation. The "pressure" was never there with Jordan and KSA, and it was faint with Egypt at its high water mark, which has long since passed.


I agree with your argument, but I think you overplay the dichotomy between the regime vs. people and sunni vs. shia interpretations - shi'ism was in many ways a form of rebellion against sunni hegemony in the early caliphate. though you're right to challenge the essentialism trope.


The illustrious Amy H makes some good points. I think that "control" has a good deal to do with what is going on, in addition to a desire to deflect democratization pressure and return to the 90s status quo. That is to say, the regimes want to be the ones who decide policy toward Israel, and it makes them very nervous to see a wild-card like Hizballah, which is allied with Syria and Iran, able to destabilize the region so easily.


Or maybe just maybe there is glimmer of sense in these capitals and also a realization that Hizbullah is a destabilizing influence, and if anyone cared one bit about lebanon, its demilitarization is actually a good thing, not that I am advocating this way of demitilarization.


More from the Weekly:


According to Egyptian diplomatic sources, Cairo did not need to think twice before adopting the official stance it declared earlier in the week in relation to developments in Gaza and Lebanon. Sources say that Cairo, "at very high levels," was disturbed by the news of the kidnapping of the soldiers and thought it was counterproductive.

On Friday, following their talks in Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak and visiting King Abdullah of Jordan issued a joint statement lamenting the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza but put much blame at the doorstep of Hizbullah and Hamas for the current state of affairs. The statement referred to "uncalculated adventures that do not serve the interests of the region".

The language, Egyptian officials explained, was aimed at sending a clear message to Hamas and Hizbullah that they cannot count much on total, official support when they decide to rub Israel's nose.


AA: I really don't see what is so strange about these regimes' stance on the issue. Everybody knows that they are pro-American, and that "the masses" are not. I don't see the "setup" because I don't see any difference.

"The masses" can comfortably protest the regimes' stance because they know that their venting of steam will come to nothing, and that the regimes will protect them from their own self-destructive instincts. Nobody wants Israeli bombs falling on their heads. People are anti-Israel and anti-US, but they are not stupid.


"Bush's recent decision to waive sanctions on Saudi Arabia for violating religious freedoms"

When was this?

And then of course, there are is the new billions in arms shipments. Meanwhile the Saudi gov promises a measely $50 mil in chump change aid to Lebanon, while Prince bandar's house in Aspen, by contrast, is on the market for something like $125 mil)


Delmarva, I was not actually referring to what most Israelis think but to press commentary (and even to some Israeli government - for example the Israeli UN Ambassador's comment to the Lebanese Ambassador that deep down he really supports Israel's assault). I'm referring to at least two analysis/commentary pieces I read a few days ago on the jpost.com and ynetnews.com websites. Unfortunately I'm not turning them up now in a search (maybe you'll have better luck), but the gist of the pieces was that comments from Lebanese bloggers and Saudi-owned newspapers show that everyone in the Arab world knows that this is not Israel's but Hizbullah's fault. The reality of course as extensively written about on this blog is that this is quite a misreading of things. But it's a totally separate issue from what the Israeli public thinks.


Sunrunner, here's Al Jazeera's English website on the recent backing down from Saudi sanctions:


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