Monty Python and changes in the Arab World 2011

“Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition” was one of the great catch phrases of the UK comedy team, Monty Python. Stupid, funny, yet poignant, this simple idea illustrates how little America and the West understand the Arab world.

Few analysts, if any, predicted the domino effect of the current protests, stretching from Algeria to Oman and into Iran. In parallel, few of the region’s leaders have learnt one of the basic rules of 5,000 years of history. As Barbara Tuchman eloquently surmised in the March of Folly: If you treat your people like scum, they will find a way to revolt.

These countries share much in common; poverty (usually coupled with valuable mineral resources), Islam and autocracy. One reason for the “disconnect” by Western policy makers is their consistent inability to how perceive how desert sand distorts your perspective on myths and facts. Here are some examples of what I mean:

It’s all about democracy, as the British Prime minister almost pleaded this week in the House of Commons.

Actually, it is not. Just look at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the middle classes mixed with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All they share is a hatred of Mubarak. And in Iran, do not think for one moment that the opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are looking to copy Eastern Europe’s Velvet Revolution of 1989.

The protests are an opportunity to solve the Palestinian issue.

I wish. An analysis on the BBC shows just how those regimes, supporting a mutual peace process, have taken a beating. Egypt is the prime example. Jordan has seen street protests. Bahrain and Oman are strong friends of the West. And the West had intended to use these countries to lead the Arab world in recognising Israel. The move would allay Israel’s fears. And today? Those fears are larger than ever.

In order to calm the Arab world down, it is time to pressure Israel.

You sure? Just before a Tunisian villager burnt himself to death, the Palestinian cabinet imploded. Its chief negotiator with the Israelis resigned, as Al-Jazeera leaked that Abbas is prepared to consider concessions on Jerusalem et al. Only Abbas and co cannot admit it. (No surprise – even Palestinian geography books in schools do not even show a map of Israel within 1967 borders.)

For the past month, Abbas has not made one statement in favour of a negotiated settlement. He has run in the other direction. But the Quartet is looking to force the hand of its one democratic friend in the Middle East, Israel.

With Libyan protesters now claiming that Ghaddafi is a Jewish plot, could we have expected the Python crew to write such a bizarre scenario?

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