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How We Denied Democracy to the Middle East

The Brits created all those worthy sheikhdoms in the Gulf. Kuwait was our doing; Saudi Arabia was ultimately a joint Anglo-US project, the United Arab Emirates (formerly the Trucial State) etc. But when Iran decided in the 1950s that it preferred Mohammed Mossadeq’s democratic rule to the Shah’s, the CIA’s Kim Roosevelt, with Colonel “Monty” Woodhouse of MI6, overthrew democracy in Iran. Now President Bush demands the same “democracy” in present-day Iran and says we merely “excused and accommodated” the loathsome US-supported Shah’s regime.

Now let’s have another linguistic analysis of Mr Bush’s words. “The failure of Iraqi democracy,” he told us two days ago, “would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.” Here’s another take: the failure of the Bush administration to control Israel’s settlement-building on Arab land would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Now that would be more like it. But no. President Bush thinks Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is “a man of peace”.

And then there’s that intriguing Bush demand for a revolution in undemocratic Iran. Sure, Iran is a theocratic state (a necrocracy, I suspect), but the morally impressive President Mohamed Khatami, repeatedly thwarted by the dictatorial old divines, was democratically elected–and by a far more convincing majority than President George Bush Jr in the last US presidential elections.

Yes, “democracy can be the future of every nation”, Bush tells us. So why did his country support Saddam’s viciousness and war crimes for so many years? Why did Washington give its blessing, at various stages, to Colonel Ghaddafi, Hafez Assad of Syria, the Turkish generals, Hassan of Morocco, the Shah, the sleek Ben Ali of Tunisia, the creepy generals of Algeria, the plucky little King of Jordan and even–breathe in because the UNOCAL boys wanted a gas pipeline through Afghanistan–the Taliban?

A break here. Fouad Siniora is the finance minister of Lebanon. He is a believer in the American way of life, a graduate of the American University of Beirut and a former lecturer there, an ex-executive of Citibank. He has a valid American visa in his passport. Yet he has been telephoned by the American embassy in Beirut to be told he will not be permitted entry to the US.

Why? Because last year he gave $660 at a Ramadan fast-breaking iftah to a charity that runs educational projects and orphanages in Lebanon. The organisation is run by Sayed Mohamed Fadlallah–once described by the Western press as the “spiritual adviser” to Hizbollah. CIA sources long ago revealed that they tried to kill Fadlallah–they failed, but their Saudi-prepared car bomb killed 75 civilians–so Siniora, an Americanophile to his fingertips, is persona non grata in the US. Fadlallah is not Hizbollah’s “spiritual adviser”–so he could hardly withdraw his support for its victory over the Israeli army in Lebanon three years ago–but the looney-toon “security” legislation in the US has deprived Siniora of any further contact with a country he admires.

Yes, roll on democracy. Bring ’em on. The new “Rummyworld” war on terror is in Iraq. Ban the press from filming the return of dead American soldiers to the US. Liberty is what it’s about, democracy. “Accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East”, indeed. We created this place, drew its borders, weaned their grotesque dictators. And we expect the Arabs to trust Mr Bush’s promise?

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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