Gerard Silvere/Demotix. All rights reserved.
As I am writing these lines, Ramadi fell into the hands of ISIS; Egypt executed six ‘militants’, three of whom are claimed—by Amnesty International—to have been in prison at the time of the supposed terror attack for which they were being executed; the war in Syria is still raging on; the war in Yemen is intensifying; and the EU has decided to use military force to tackle the migrant problem.
In the middle of what seems to be an avalanche of bad news, I had a conversation with a European friend, who was fortunate enough to have attended a speech by a 'white man in a suit' who claimed, “Headlines are negative, but the trend lines are positive”. This man was Bill Clinton.
I tried to explain to my friend that this was the 'white men in suits' perspective. In other words, the representatives of western economic and political elites mainly concerned with their narrow agenda of transferring wealth from the periphery to the core, with disregard for the human suffering this causes.
This conversation reminded me of another ‘white man in a suit’ who tried to convince me, and millions of others, at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution that Mubarak was not a dictator. This man was Joe Biden, the current Vice President of the United States. Connecting the dots, I realised I had a deep antipathy for white men in suits.
Growing up in Cairo, I remember Mubarak receiving and visiting a plethora of European and American heads of state, who praised the economic performance of the country and sometimes made (inaudible) comments on the human rights situation in the country. The praise appeared only in the local, not international, media—government controlled of course—for the purpose whipping up national chauvinistic feelings as the basis of support for its ailing military dictator, desperately attempting to build a semblance of legitimacy.
Now that I am older, I still see the military dictator of Egypt, this time President Sisi, who is responsible for the harshest government repression in modern Egyptian history, being received by European heads of states, including the King of Spain, like a conquering hero. He’s obviously also receiving political and economic support from the west, as numerous representatives of the core flocked to the Sharm El Sheikh international economic conference—a propaganda stunt by the regime aimed at a local rather than an international audience.
Once again, the international community is overlooking the abuses of the Egyptian state, as thousands suffer in prison, and hundreds have been and are still being sentenced to death. This excludes the semi-serf like state of millions of ordinary Egyptians, who are languishing under a military dictatorship.
I also remember the terror attacks of September 11, and having an eerie feeling at the time that my life, as a teenager in Cairo, was about to change. Then a white man in a suit, this time President Bush, declared a crusade—a statement he later retracted. Interestingly, this is the same man I saw shake hands with Mubarak, as a close friend and ally. Bush went through with his crusade and invaded Iraq.
I also remember another ‘white man in a suit’ by the name of Paul Bremer, who decided to disband the Iraqi military and preside over the dismantling of the Iraqi state and the sectarianisation of the Iraqi political system, by creating an exclusive, rather than inclusive, elite bargain. This effectively disenfranchised the old elites, and they are now the backbone of ISIS, whose expansion seems to be unstoppable.
The Iraqi army, which was able to withstand years of conflict with Iran, is now unable to hold its grounds against a non-state actor and is losing large swaths of territory, including Mosul and Anbar. This is the direct result of the American occupation and the secterianisation of the Iraqi polity.
In the meantime, the west is washing its hands clean of playing any kind of role in the rise of ISIS; the 'white man in the suit' seems not to be overly concerned with the beast he has unleashed, and the bloodbath that is very likely to follow. On the contrary, the same policies of supporting an openly sectarian regime in Iraq remain in place.
Interestingly, it was the same ‘white man in the suit’ who made an appearance at the beginning of this article, whose administration presided over the strangulation of the Iraqi people. When Madeline Albright was asked about the death of several hundred thousand Iraqi children, she boldly stated “The price is worth it”. One is left wondering when it will no longer be “worth it”?
I can also remember white men in suits visiting Riyadh, the capital of Arab autocracy and pulse of counter-revolution, propping up autocratic regimes from Bahrain to Egypt and ignoring the records of human rights abuses.
There is also the iconic image of Arafat and Rabin signing the now dead peace agreement on the lawn of the White House, in the presence of a 'white man in a suit'.
There were once promises of peace and justice for the Palestinian people. However, after more than two decades of negotiations, Gaza has been turned into a large prison, with regular Israeli attacks that leave thousands dead and injured. The occupation of the West Bank is as entrenched as ever, and the prospect of peace couldn’t be further away. The Palestinians are now left powerless.
As the Arab people suffer, the white men in suits continue to support autocrats, while the people are vilified as dangerous to the fabric of western societies, either as external threats or worse, immigrants who are attempting to infiltrate. Even those who manage to escape the suffering in their homeland are not spared; economic and social marginalisation follows them to their host countries.
In the end, I hope that I am excused in politely disagreeing with the notion that “Headlines are negative, but the trend lines are positive”. The Arab world is in shambles, and on the road to this destination 'white men in suits' praised and supported the local autocrats who aided them.
This trend does not show any signs of decay. On the contrary, now there is more justification than ever for the support of autocracy, security and 'fighting terrorism'. The logic is so bizarre it is almost comical. Supporting autocrats, breeds terrorism, to fight terrorism.
In the meantime, the Arab people are still waiting for these “positive trends” that have been promised by white men in suits!