‘Friendly’ interventions in internal affairs inevitable

Jamal Khashoggi

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Although he visited the West Bank and Jordan, the U.S. President Barack Obama’s only targeted Israel in his tour of the Middle East. This is how the U.S. and Arab media have dealt with this visit. All the focus and analysis tackled the American-Israeli relations, or to be more precise, Obama's relations with Israel: the “region” term has vanished.

It will deliberately disappear; there is nothing left but very few “current regional issues that were discussed by the two leaders,” the final statement of the visit said, such as the Syrian situation, the Iranian nuclear file, and of course the Palestinian cause. History is accelerating the path to resolve these cases, either through taking decisive steps or by disregarding them.

There is no doubt that their interventions’ wave is coming: it was clear from the visit of the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt a few days ago

Jamal Khashoggi

When Obama or any other American president visits the region, he disregards discussing the “current regional issues” upon his return. Rather, he discusses the “mutual relations” between the two countries which includes the economy, the Reform , along a number of critical internal issues.

Regional alliances

During the years of the Cold War and the division of the region into alliances, there was always a certain number of “current regional issues” that are the main topics of officials’ visits and meetings. For example, some of the topics that were constantly discussed in the sixties the expansion of the National Nasserism that split the region in half. In addition, the Iranian revolution along with the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein started on Kuwait.

However, there are special cases to note, including the special relations the rapidly progressed relationship between King Faisal and President Kennedy, which led to the “commendable American interventions” in Saudi Arabia. The interventions reinforced the reformation and development projects in the kingdom. marked by the services provided by “Ford Foundation” such as advisory studies and proposals that were developed to help the Kingdom, or the Institute of Public Administration. On the other hand, there were intrusions that Saudi leadership hesitated to adopt such as the Provisional system and the formation of an elected municipal council that has wide-ranging authority: these files are still in the library draws of the Saudi Ministry of Planning.

Similar scenarios occurred in other countries following the rule of “non-interference”, unless both parties agreed say otherwise, as foreign intervention is a sensitive topic. The local leader was always disturbed by his European or American friend’s questions about internal affairs, but finally resorts to informing him about all internal issues. Eventually, the relations were based on the “non-interference” and on the understanding of each country’s internal situation. What strengthened this scenario were the international political and economic interests, thus, Saddam Hussein was not held into account on the Halabja massacre, nor was Hafez al-Assad and his brother Refaat on Hama’s massacre.

Intervening for reconciliation

Even in terms of inter-relations between the Arab countries, the “non-interference” principle is dominant – except for Lebanon, where everybody can interfere. For instance when Saudi Arabia wanted to practice its influence, it used to intervene for reconciliation between Iraq and Syria, or Morocco and Algeria, while Abdel Nasser’s Egypt interfered in many countries of the region, in order to urge a tremendous revolutionary change that Nasser thought it was about time for it, and that he was the right man for that phase, but he paid a high price for it and it weakened him as well as Egypt. He then bequeathed this bad attitude to others like Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein; they crudely and recklessly practiced it on largest spectra, and so did Hafez al-Assad but he was strategically better and more cautious.

It all ended with the “Arab Spring”; the “relations rules” between the Arab world with the United States and Europe have changed. This change particularly took off as of 9/11, which can be briefed by the famous statement of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “For 60 years my country, The United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people”. It is true that she said these statements before the Arab Spring’s emergence and particularly in Cairo in 2005: the U.S. Neoconservative had reached a conviction – that I believe is correct – stating that the cause of terrorism, which reached the United States was due to a case of political deadlock which hit the Arab world, along with the consequences of the closed-mindness and bad management, wrong distribution of the wealth and poor education, reaching a list of Arabs’ diseases. The Americans have then lost their enthusiasm after their failure in Iraq, and therefore the democracy waves that they hoped and planned for in the region, did not happen.

They were then surprised as well as the region’s leaders and even people, by the Arab spring wave, which most important consequence was the seizure of power by the people in some countries and its impacts on other countries; it put off the “current regional issues” and favored the peoples’ interests to live in a fair environment, while they enjoy their right to participate, right for freedom and dignity, all of which are internal issues that actually were on the U.S. agenda which was explained at the time by Condoleezza Rice: they were brought to the front again with the re-birth of the Arab world.

It is useless to discuss the U.S. intentions and whether these intentions were honest or not. There is no doubt that their interventions’ wave is coming: it was clear from the visit of the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt a few days ago. He spent his time there caught up by the details of the Egyptian internal issues: the relations between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, the economy. He also advised the opposition leaders not to boycott the elections. A quick tour on the Egyptian newspaper headlines will reveal the U.S. “influence” and the argument over it in the Egyptian internal issues.

It is necessary for the region's leaders to prepare for that: they might call these new relations “exchanging advice between friends.” They are not always rude and solemn, but rather a smooth pressure, a brief conversation about the minorities’ rights, showing their concerns about the arrests that took place, asking for clarifications on the country’s policy regarding inflation or unemployment and informing them that they are ready to help. Despite the diplomatic statements about equal powers, the relations’ balance will always range between the influential and the influenced, the party that put pressure and the one that endures these pressures, especially in light of the overlapping economy, globalization, and the high cost of isolation. What is the solution?

The solution is not to grant anyone an excuse for interference.

This article was first published al-Hayat on March 23, 2013.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

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