A word of advice about the Middle East – we’ve reached the ‘tipping point’ with cliches

You've got to be careful when Syria's rebels are perpetually "closing in"

Share

Remember the days when we thought Egypt’s path to democracy was a done deal? Western-trained Mohamed Morsi had invited the people to come and meet him in Hosni Mubarak’s former presidential palace, the old military toffs in the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” had been pensioned off and the International Monetary Fund was waiting to bestow some of those cruel deprivations upon Egypt that would ready it for our financial benevolence. How happy the Middle East optimists were by mid-2012.

Next door, Libya produced a victory for nice, pro-Western secularist Mahmoud Jibril, promising freedom, stability, a new home for the West in one of the Arab world’s most fecund oil producers. It was a place where even US diplomats could wander around virtually unprotected.

Tunisia may have an Islamist party running its government, but it was a “moderate” administration – in other words, we thought it would do what we wanted – while the Saudis and the Bahraini autocracy, with the purse-lipped support of Messrs Obama and Cameron, quietly suppressed what was left of the Shia uprising which threatened to remind us all that democracy was not really welcome among the wealthiest Arab states. Democracy was for the poor.

Closing in

So, too, in Syria. By the spring of last year, the Western commentariat was writing off Bashar al-Assad. He did not deserve “to live on this earth”, according to French Foreign Secretary Laurent Fabius. He must “step down”, “step aside”. His regime had only weeks to go, perhaps only days. This was the “tipping point”.

Then by summer, when the “tipping point” had come and gone, we were told that Assad was about to use gas “against his own people”. Or that his supplies of chemical weapons might “fall into the wrong hands” (the “right hands” still presumably being Assad’s).

Syria’s rebels were always “closing in” – on Homs, then Damascus, then Aleppo, then Damascus again. The West supported the rebels. Money  and guns aplenty came from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, moral support from Obama, Clinton, the pathetic Hague, Hollande, the whole factory of goodness – until, inevitably, it turned out that the rebels contained rather  a lot of Salafists, executioners, sectarian killers and, in one case, a teenage head-chopper who behaved rather like the ruthless regime they were fighting. The factory had to put some of its machinery into reverse. The US still supported the good, secular rebels but now regarded the horrible Salafist rebels as a “terrorist organisation”.

And poor old Lebanon, needless to say, was about to explode into civil war for the second time in less than 40 years, this time because Syria’s violence was “spilling over” into its neighbour’s territory.

Wasn’t Lebanon’s sectarian make up the same as Syria’s? Wasn’t the Lebanese Hezbollah an ally of Assad? Weren’t the Sunnis of Lebanon supporting the Syrian rebels? All true. But the Lebanese did not oblige the overpaid “think-tank” bores and journos and “experts” because, assaulted as they were by Syria’s intelligence killers, they were too intelligent and well-educated to return to the midden of 1975-1990. Iran, of course, was about  to be bombed because it was –  or was not yet – manufacturing nuclear weapons, or might – or could – manufacture nuclear weapons in a month, or a year,  or a decade from now.

Terror

Obama might not bomb Iran, he didn’t really want to, but – wait for it – “all options” were “on the table”. And so, of course, with Israel, which wanted to bomb Iran because it might, or could, manufacture nuclear weapons or was in the process of doing so, or might have them in six months, or a year, or several years’ time but – again – “all options” were “on the table”. Netanyahu’s “window of opportunity” would last, we were told, until the US presidential election. And so this nonsense continued until... well, until the US presidential election, by which time we were warned again that Iran was producing,  or might, or could produce a nuclear weapon.

Israel also threatened Lebanon because the Hezbollah had thousands of missiles and threatened Gaza because the Palestinians had thousands of missiles. And many were the Israeli journalists – along with their American clones – who prepared their readers for these two wars against “terror”. In the event, Lebanon remained unbombed while a highly unsatisfactory conflict (from Israel’s point of view) broke  out between Israel and Hamas which ended when Morsi –  the West’s avuncular ally – persuaded the Palestinians to abide by a ceasefire, which Netanyahu then mournfully accepted. He thus boosted the prestige of Khaled Meshal who subsequently announced that Palestine must exist all the way from the River Jordan to the sea. In other words, no more Israel. Just as the soon-to-be resigned Foreign Minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, and his chums had been saying for a very long time that Israel must exist between the sea and the River Jordan. In other words, no more Palestine. It was left to the courageous – and very ageing – Israeli Uri Avnery to point out that if both had their wish, only an open grave would exist between the river and the sea.

A defunct language

So at year’s end, friendly, cuddly Mohamed Morsi was playing Mubarak and hoovering up any old dictatorial powers available to him while a very dodgy constitution was  ram-rodded on to the secular population of the land, whose Muslim and Christian people Morsi had all along promised to serve. In Libya, of course, the US turned out to have more enemies than it thought; the ambassador was murdered by – and the jury must remain out on this despite the obfuscations of Clinton – an al-Qa’ida-type militia.

Indeed, al-Qa’ida itself – politically bankrupt by the time of Osama bin Laden’s murder  by a US military assassination squad in 2011 – was virtually written off by the White House in advance of the Obama re-election. But the ghostly desperadoes of Wahabism acquired that habit so beloved of movie monsters; they began to recreate themselves in different form in different lands. Mali replaced Afghanistan, just as Libya replaced Yemen and just as Syria replaced Iraq.

A word of advice, therefore, for Middle East potentates, dictators, Western poseurs, television presenters and journos. Do not use the following words or expressions in 2013: moderate, democracy, step down, step aside, tipping point, falling into the wrong hands, closing in, spilling over, options on the table or – terror, terror, terror, terror. Too much to hope for? You bet. We’ll even get another load of cliches from the goodness factory to replace those that have already served their purpose.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam