Looking At the Middle
East Through Arab Eyes

By Joel Bainerman

ZICHRON YAACO, Israel -- It is ironic that in the entire history of the Middle East conflict it has always been the claim of the pro-Israel camp that, "the Arabs view their history as one long conspiracy against them", when in fact- such a view is completely accurate and the view that the Israeli side receives- is not at all realistic.
Unlike Israelis- Arab intellectuals aren't swayed by the propaganda of their own national leaders. If Arab intellectuals complain of exploitation and colonialism at the hand of the foreigners- this isn't because of some "wild conspiracy theory that all Arabs have of foreigners" but because it is the truth. Israelis would do themselves a favor by stop arrogantly thinking their political culture is so much further advanced than the "primitive Arabs" and realized that their perceptive and perception of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not accurate.
So if one is dive into the history of the Arab world- and leave the Arab-Israeli conflict aside for the moment- it would be helpful to accept the Arab perception of reality.
That reality is based on one simple principle: legitimate Arabs leaders were never allowed to develop or surface because unless an Arab national leader did what the foreigners wanted them to do- they found themselves victim to a coup concocted by foreign elements- or branded as a "radical Arab dictator" and thus a "threat to regional security." As a "radical Arab threat" this served to bolster the Israeli government's claim that "radical Arab leaders/nations threaten the continued existence of the Jewish state.
There have been about thirty-five coups and coup attempts in the Middle East in the past 50 years. Only one of them came into being without Western involvement. The absence of a system or an acceptable governing group made it easy for the pro-American and pro-British army colonels to do what they did- covertly. .
Any proper review of modern Middle East history reveals that except for Egypt, the boundaries of every state which emerged after the First World War were drawn by European powers. Indeed, every Arab state of the time was run by what Desmond Stewart (The Temple of Janus, p. 166) calls as "client dynasty" or under the direct control of the West.
Says Middle East scholar, Dr. Mohammed Daud Miraki : "Most of the time, the elite controlling the governments of Muslim states views their survival parallel to the interests of the elite in the United States and her allies, and view the continuation of their hold on power in their submission to the will of the United States." (essay January 28th, 2003)
In Richard Becker's October 2002 article: The Battle For Iraqi Oil: US Corporate Skullduggery Since WW1, we learn about the real history of the foreigners' involvement in the Arab Middle East:
"In February 1919, Sir Arthur Hirtzel, a top British colonial official, warned his associates: "It should be Bourne in mind that the Standard Oil Company is very anxious to take over Iraq." (Quoted in Peter Sluglett, Britain in Iraq, 1914-32, London, 1974)
Becker continues: "In 1927, major oil exploration got underway Huge deposits were discovered in Iraq and the Iraqi Petroleum Company was created by Anglo-Iranian (today British Petroleum), Shell, Mobil and Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon)- was set up. Within a few years it had totally monopolized Iraqi oil production.
During that same period the al-Saud family, with Washington's backing, conquered much of the neighboring Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia came into being in the 1930s as a neocolonial of the United States. The US embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, was located in the Armco (Arab American Oil Company) building. But the US oil companies and their government in Washington weren't satisfied. They wanted complete control of the Middle East oil, just as they had a near monopoly of the Western hemisphere's petroleum reserves. This meant displacing the British, who were still top dog in the region."
In 1953, after the CIA coup that put the Shah in power, the United States took control of Iran. By the mid-1950s, Iraq was jointly controlled by the United States and Britain. Washington set up the Baghdad pact- which included its client regimes in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Iraq, along with Britain, in 1955. The purpose of The Baghdad Pact was to oppose the rise of Arab and other liberation movements in the Middle East."
Rami Khouri, a syndicated columnist for The Daily Star in Beirut, offers this view of the history of the Arab elite's ties to foreign elements:
"We Middle Easterners (Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Israelis, Kurds, and others) have a long track record of both arranging others, national configurations and having our own rearranged by others. The modern Middle East was largely configured by British and French who sought to ensure their own colonial interests; they created new countries whose fundamental assets and attributes often make little logical sense. One of the problems we suffered after our last reconfiguration by the British and the French around 1920 was that most of the Arab countries had closer relations with London and Paris than they did with each other. The scheduled flights of our national airlines went to Paris and London more frequently than they went to other Arab capitals. This indicated that political and economic ties with the former colonial powers were more important for the nascent Arab ruling political powers than relations with other Arabs".
Khouri contends there is nothing inherently wrong with being rearranged; peoples, societies, and states do it all the time, to themselves and to others. "However our experience in the Arab world indicates that if the people being reconfigured have a say in the process, and their new national map corresponds to their identities and aspirations, the resulting reconfigured region may prove both satisfying to its citizens and state within the global context," he argues. "The British and the French did not do this around 1920, and left behind a mess of fragile, often violent, states. That episode resulted in unsatisfactory, intemperate Arab statehood in many cases, a terrible modern legacy of security states, and tensions that finally exploded into political terror in the 1990s and beyond." (February 13th, 2003)"
If one really wants to understand how the Arabs view the west, they should read "A Brutal Friendship" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1997) by the well-known Arab journalist, Said Aburish.
Aburish claims there are no legitimate regimes in the Arab Middle East. The House of Saud, King Hussein of Jordan, Presidents Husni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Yaser Arafat and the remaining minor Arab heads of state run various types of dictatorships. They depend on phony claims to legitimacy while representing small special interest groups- minorities whose members owe their allegiance to them rather than the state as the representative and guardian of the interests of the people.
The result is religious, tribal, army-based or hybrid ruling cliques and leaders who have one thing in common: they are opposed to the desire of the majority of the Arab people to develop legitimate governments. By overlooking the absence of legitimacy and affording dictatorships unqualified recognition, the foreign powers directly and indirectly, supports the paramount of individual leaders, army groups, sects, clans and families who run the Middle East and determine its shape and direction. Aburish claims that perpetuating Western political hegemony and protecting economic interests from real or imagined threats take precedence over considerations of legitimacy.
Aburish believes that it isn't Islam the West is battling, but the notion of populist, popular political movements which represent a threat to the West's clients and interests. The bad image the West creates for them isn't meant to explain them; it is meant to justify declaring war on them.
He explains: "The ruling groups in the Middle East use income from oil and their armed forces (including the security forces) to stay in power. Because the West controls or influences the acquisition of arms which make the armed forces effective and because it manipulates the oil market through oil companies which decide where to buy, refine, distribute and use the income generated from oil, it relies on both tools to determine the policies of these countries. This is why the West, in cooperation with friendly regimes and against the wishes of the unfriendly ones, seeks to perpetuate its monopoly of both businesses. The rich Arab states were discouraged from developing their petrochemical industries, moving into refining and distribution, investing in the industries of the West or any moves towards a more equitable distribution of wealth."
On the subject of what the rich oil states did with their newfound wealth, Aburish explains: "The surplus from oil was linked to the world capital market controlled by US, British and French banks. Placing the surpluses in Western banks ensured the continued use of money to fuel Western economies, to act as the primary lenders in the world financial market, and meant that the depositor countries realized less benefit than is available through different routes. There was no attempt to use the surpluses to develop the Middle East and whatever small money trickled through towards regional development was comparatively small."
Regardless of how the mainstream media ignores the role oil plays in the conflict in the Middle East, the fact is if the Middle East had no oil reserves- there probably never would have been a Middle East conflict for the past 75 years.
As to where this policy of the British (and later the Americans) originated, we needn't look further than a series of meetings held in Britain starting in 1905 headed by Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. From this, a High Committee was formed. It specialized in matters of colonialism consisting of members from the participating states, of leading historians, social, economic and agricultural analysts, scholars, geologists and experts in oil and gas. The members of this committee met in London in 1907. The final decisions made by the conference were threefold:
1) Separating the Muslim lands in the East from those in the West, making their unity more difficult.
2) - Planting a new enemy for the Muslims on their lands, in the first Qiblah and the third of the Holiest Mosques. This would draw their attention to a new enemy, focusing all their energies on defeating him and in turn weakening their capability of resisting Western aggression, causing them to forget what occurred during the days of the Crusades.
3) Establishing an advanced base for the disbelieving colonialists, at the head of them Britain, to protect their interests, implement their plans and schemes and ensuring the outflow of natural resources from the region, as well as the import of their goods and products into the markets of the region
The goal of the colonialist powers- then and now- is to keep Arab peoples backwards by not enabling them to elect popular leaders- and to control the vast mineral wealth that the Arabs were fortune enough to possess.
Joel Bainerman writes on Middle East political and economic issues from Israel. He can be reached at and his published archive of articles and essays can be viewed at <>



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