February 24, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2061

Al-Jazeera Host Dr. Faisal Al-Qassem: The Cold War is Back, What a Relief; Egyptian Liberal Kamal Ghobrial: Despite the Arabs' Hopes, No Cold War

February 24, 2009
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 2061

Russia's invasion of Georgia sparked discussion in the Arab press, as elsewhere, of whether the Cold War was making a comeback. In an August 23, 2008 article in the Qatari Al-Sharq daily, Dr. Faisal Al-Qassem, host of the popular weekly Al-Jazeera talk show "The Opposite Direction," wrote that the Muslims and Arabs had suffered from U.S. hegemony after the fall of the U.S.S.R., and that he therefore welcomed the return of the Cold War.

In a September 15, 2008 article in the liberal e-journal Elaph, Egyptian liberal author Kamal Ghobrial called the Arab states "scavengers" who would like to glean the crumbs from a new Cold War – but added that in his view the new international order was here to stay.

Following are excerpts from both articles:

Al-Jazeera Host Al-Qassem: "The Dominant Mood of the Arab Public Is One of Relief" at Renewed U.S.-Russia Tension

On August 23, 2008, Al-Jazeera host Faisal Al-Qassem wrote: "The dominant mood of the Arab public is one of relief now that relations between America and Russia have come to a head, in accordance with the principle of one people's misfortunes being another people's gain.

"Without a doubt, many Arabs always hoped that what the late Russian president Boris Yeltsin called the 'cold peace' between Russia and the West would turn into a new cold war. How could it be otherwise, given that our lives were many times better in the days of the Cold War than they are now under the unipolar hegemony [of the U.S.]?

"You can't blame the Arabs for their elation at Russia's return to the international stage – because it was the Arabs who suffered most from America's might following the fall of the Soviet Union. No sooner did the Eastern bloc fall than Uncle Sam chose the Muslims, including the Arabs, as a new enemy of the Western world – even though the Muslims are many times weaker than the former Soviet Union. This is especially true given the fact that they are not a single bloc and possess neither a nuclear arsenal nor serious experience with technology.

"Nonetheless, the Western propaganda machine undertook to make the 'green [i.e. Islamic] peril' into a new bogeyman, to take the place of the 'red peril.'"

"Tragedies and Disasters… Have Befallen the Arabs Since the Russian Bear Fell to the American Cowboy"

"There is no point in reviewing the tragedies and disasters that have befallen the Arabs since the Russian bear fell to the American cowboy, from the invasion of Afghanistan to the occupation of Iraq, the attack on Lebanon, the subjugation of the Palestinians, and the targeting of Syria, Sudan, and Iran – not to mention the interference in the Islamic faith itself and the school curricula.

"The cartoonist in [the London Arab daily] Al-Quds Al-'Arabi summed up the Arabs' feeling of relief at the return of the crisis in U.S.-Russia relations when he drew two Arabs, with one saying to the other: 'Russia, Georgia, America – man, let the world pay attention to someone other than us for a while.' And indeed, it appears that the world is witnessing new transformations in the international balance [of power]."

"Oh, How Splendid It Was When… Khrushchev Picked Up His Shoe and Started Banging It"

"True, the Arabs need to stand on their own two feet and stay away from previous policies of axes and reliance [on others]. But at the same time one cannot but regard it as a good sign that the international balance [of power], which for two decades leaned too far towards the sole American pole, is evening out.

"Who among us does not want to return to the bygone days when the Soviets and the Americans fought in the Security Council – which in the [subsequent] era of Yankee hegemony suffered from a case of very easily issued resolutions hostile to the Arabs and the Muslims?

"Oh, how splendid it was when then-Russian head of state Khrushchev picked up his shoe and started banging it on the podium at the U.N., to the acclaim of the downtrodden and oppressed of the world: Arabs, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans!"

"The Americans Have Reverted to Their Old Game, Replacing… the Communist Peril with the Alleged Shi'ite Peril"

"There is not the least doubt that even the Islamists, whom the Americans used as fuel against the alleged red peril in Afghanistan and elsewhere, have begun to see the light after learning their lesson, and after tasting the bitterer of the two [options] at the hands of the Americans, in terms of brute oppression, persecution, and torture. [At least] I hope this is so, especially since the Americans have reverted to their old game, this time replacing the Communist peril with the alleged Shi'ite peril.

"Some had been deceived and seduced into overlooking America's brute oppression of Islam and the Muslims, and were blindly prepared to swallow the new American bait. It is high time we learned from the recent past, so as to refute Moshe Dayan's famous statement that 'the Arabs are a nation that doesn't read, and if they read they don't understand, and if they understand they don't act.'

"In the second half of the 20th century, America rallied many Arabs and Muslims to its side under the pretext that they were all engaged in a common battle against the infidel atheist Soviets. But this canard was dealt a fatal blow when Russia abandoned its communism and socialism and became a capitalist state, and when America trampled on the holiest of our holies.

"Note that the first thing that America did after the invasion of Afghanistan was to strip the Afghani women of their traditional dress, under the pretext of modernizing and civilizing [Afghanistan]. And they told us that the Soviets were infidels!

"I don't know what new fables America will come up with this time to confront Russia's growing influence – but will the Arabs and the Muslims swallow them like they did in the past?"

"Welcome Back, Reciprocal Fear!"

"Thus some of the Arabs did well when they expressed their desire to conclude strategic and military alliances with Russia. This should be applied to the other Arabs [as well], and not remain restricted to those Arab states that had strategic relations with the former Soviet Union. Even the countries tied to America, past and present, should take advantage of the new international transformations and profit from the outbreak of the escalating cold war between the East and the West. What's wrong with playing both sides, and with taking advantage of those competing for control of the international stage, for our own benefit? Isn't that how politics works?

"Welcome back, struggle between East and West! Welcome back, balance on the international stage! Welcome back, reciprocal fear!..."[1]

Egyptian Liberal Kamal Ghobrial: The Arab Regimes Are the Last of the Scavengers, Waiting for the Big Predators to Leave Behind Some Prey

In his September 15, 2008 column, Egyptian liberal Kamal Ghobrial wrote: "The Georgia conflict revived the Arab dream after long years of clinical death.

"[During these years,] the fighting Arab regimes, with their troop of bold pseudo-intellectuals, drumbeaters, and pipers… would prick up their long ears and their short-range antennae [to pick up] any problem between Russia and the West that would bring the Cold War atmosphere back to the world and to [these] parasitic scavengers.

"In the animal kingdom, scavengers are creatures that are unable to hunt their own food, and, since they are carnivorous, they are accustomed to feeding on carrion…

"…There is also something similar [to these creatures] in the international community: a group of regimes that in the past hid their ignominy under a big fig leaf called the 'third bloc,' or the non-aligned states, or positive neutrality.

"This group included regimes of adventurers and military men who lorded it over peoples that had failed to acquire the fundamentals of modernity and productive capacity. They found no way [open to them] other than that of the hyena, which suffers in hunger until the big [predators] leave behind some prey, or remnants thereof.

"The fig leaf was the slogans stating that the third bloc was midway between the two warring camps, and wanted to bring them together and calm the disputes between them. But under the fig leaf was an ignominy that was a fright to see… the illusion that these marginal, scavenger nations could drive the great powers to fight their wars for them, and perhaps strike one another with nuclear weapons…

"This so-called third bloc has broken up, and each [country] has gone its own way – with many of them managing to catch up to the modern global [world]. Many others are on the path to bringing themselves into line with the age, its notions, and its conditions – and first and foremost of these is formerly Maoist China.

"Despite all this, the rest of these regimes – which constitute a type that is on its way to extinction, and the remaining ones of which can be counted on the fingers of one hand – the blessed leaders of this remainder still please the ears of the bold pseudo-intellectuals in our Arab world with their tales of heroism and their quarrels, with rosy, bloody dreams, and with the return to the Cold War era.

"The strange thing about these dreamers is that the era of which they dream was never one of achievements and victories. It was merely an era of clamor and microphone-rocking slogans, that millions of powerless people applauded until their hands stung. On the practical level, these regimes were a failure, failing even at skilled scavenging."

"All We Got from the Cold War Was Disasters and Setbacks"

"All we got from the Cold War was disasters (nakbas) and setbacks (naksas). At the beginning of the Cold War, the huge Arab armies lost to the Zionist gangs, after the U.S.S.R. was one of the first to recognize the state of Israel.

"At the height of the Cold War, Israel struck at three fighting Arab states and occupied their lands, in addition to swallowing up all of Palestine, which we had still been treating as merchandise… And at the end of the Cold War, we lost our self-respect after the world lost its respect for us, with what Saddam Hussein did to Kuwait. The single Arab nation with its eternal mission broke into two parties – one that praised and came to the aid of Saddam, the inspired hero and leader, and another whose knees trembled with fear at what Saddam might do next time around.

"Our experience and memories of the Cold War are painful and bitter. But they are our nature, perhaps even our identity as parasitic scavengers. We are forced to await a disaster in the world so that its powers will clash and engage in conflict, knowing that in the crumbs and the scattered body parts we will find something on which we can feed."

The Return of the Cold War Is an Arab Pipe Dream

"It is to surrender to pipe dreams, or a chronic inability to see the world as it is, that drives us to imagine that the Cold War (or a hot war) could return, that Russia could again piece together the evil empire and confront the West and America, and that the world, which is moving ahead on one single path, can be re-divided.

"Behind these notions is that perpetual disconnect between our ideas and the facts of the real world. Beginning with the end of the last century, the world's ideological division into entrenched warring camps ended once and for all.

"The global arena today is one single holding company, and the relations among its branches are based on cooperation and mutual reliance. It is also based on competition, and this leads not infrequently to episodes of conflicting and clashing interests – which can then lead to limited, tactical conflicts – but these are by no means unending strategic conflicts…

"Russia, which emerged from the Soviet Union phase literally on the brink of famine and with all of its institutions – and first and foremost its armed forces – in near-total collapse, has begun to stand on its own feet. This did not come about through embarking on a path of conflict and hostility to the Western world; the revival was based on the fruit of constructive cooperation with the forces of civilization in the world – namely, the U.S. and Western Europe. Turning back in this new path means only a return to its former weak and backwards state, politically, socially, and technologically.

"The same could be said of the Chinese giant, to which our 'heroes' look, hoping it will once again become a threat to the free world and its civilization. That is precisely what it will never do. The Chinese, unlike us, are not motivated by hostilities and deep-rooted hatred of civilization and its people. They are, as we have recently seen, a productive people, capable of contributing to the path of civilization – and those capable of contributing are not enticed by destruction, hostility, and perpetual conflict.

"It cannot be expected to change its ways – the ways that delivered it from its stumbling and collapse – just because the Syrian lion (asad) or the Venezuelan lion offered to host its missiles and submarines. Likewise, it cannot be expected that Russia will leave its seat on the train of human civilization for the possibility of sitting on the throne of the [North] Korean-Iranian-Syrian-Venezuelan resistance front.

"Our thinking is as far as can be from the world of rational people, who help one another, debate one another, compete with one another, and [may even] enter into conflict with one another, but who always keep the interests of their peoples before their eyes…"[2]


[1] Al-Sharq (Qatar), August 23, 2008.
[2], September 15, 2008.

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