At first glance, it does not seem to matter much that an official flight from Tel Aviv to the United Arab Emirates took off for the first time on 31.8.2020. But, given the highly sensitive political relations between the Arab world and its longtime arch-enemy, Israel, such in newsconspicuous often points to new developments.
The much bigger sensation, however, was that the Saudis opened their own airspace to an official Israeli aircraft for this overflight. Knowing the sensitivity of the Arab world in the event of concessions to Israel and the US, Riyadh immediately hurried to point out that “the Saudi attitude to Palestine has not changed.”
On the other hand, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of a “new era in relations between Israel and the Arab world and … there will be more Arab and Islamic states joining the peace circle with us.” The future will show whether new developments between parts of the Arab world and Israel will be apparent.
As can be seen from the words of Jared Kushner, adviser and son-in-law of Donald Trump, bigger things seem to be in flux. “We hope it will be the beginning of an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” he said. A few days later, Bahrain also normalized diplomatic relations with Israel. Trump’s euphoric comments on Twitter show that this so-called Abraham agreement bears much of Washington’s signature.
Back in 2017, Trump had already tried to forge an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Trump is a businessman, not a politician. He thinks not politically, but economically. His primary concern is to reduce the high cost of expensive wars for the US.
The alliance sought at the time was intended, on the one hand, to place the financial burdens of the American wars in the Middle East on the Arab “friends” and allies. They were to spoon out the soup that American arrogance had baked in, believing that after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Middle East could be rearranged according to Western ideals and interests. On the other hand, the US, as a laughing third party, would supply the weapons and earn a great deal of money from them, according to Trump’s business model.
The political tasks should be carried out by reliable states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, perhaps Jordan and, if possible, Egypt as troop contributors with the help of Israel. They shared with the West the interest in curbing Iran’s influence. In addition, the Arab partners also wanted to control the threat to their own societies from the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood or jihadist groups.
This first attempt at an Arab-Israeli alliance failed. Saudi Arabia, which had seen itself as the core of these new US plans and felt secure with American support, hastily, perhaps hastily, set about implementing them. With the establishment of an “Arab coalition”, which Qatar had also been forced to join, the Arab ranks against Iran were to be closed.
But the shot backfired. Saudi Arabia, already completely overwhelmed by the war in Yemen, was not up to the role given to it by the US. After that, the Middle East was enriched by a political debris field due to American blueprints. Iran emerged stronger from the conflict. Tensions in the region had risen because Turkey had also intervened and sided with the US on Qatar’s side.
Israel was also supposed to play a role in the background in the alliance at the time. But what drives the Gulf Emirates, together with Saudi Arabia, into the arms of Israel and the UNITED States? Both are not popular in the Islamic world, and those who engage with them will have to reckon with unrest at home, possibly with rejection by other states in the Arab world. The ridge on which these rulers balance is narrow, and yet they venture on this swaying rope.
Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat had already experienced this when he struck a separate peace with Israel in 1979, thus leaving the Arab states' opposition front. Egypt was banned from the Arab League for ten years. Sadat himself was the victim of an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, the opposition front to Israel has fallen apart. “The Middle East conflict has … no longer the central position he once held for the Arab and Muslim people’s soul”.
The idea of a common Arab nation, which at times even resulted in a merger of Egypt and Libya into a common state, obscured the internal contradictions of Arab reality. The idea of a common Arab nation, based on a common Arab history, culture, language, and values, is as idealistic as the belief in Western values as the basis of Western societies.
Ideals must be able to be afforded. They are the luxury of rich societies and social groups. In most cases, they do not create a new reality, but only confuse the view of the current one. Idealism creates problems rather than solving them.
Ideals don’t get enough
The common struggle of Arab states against the common enemy Israel could only temporarily mask the internal contradictions of Arab societies. Countries like Egypt, which are not blessed with great oil wealth, but with a large population that wants to be fed, faced problems other than rich oil states such as Saudi Arabia, Libya or the many small Gulf emirates with their relatively small population.
The latter were able to share their own people’s wealth and, through extensive social services, offered them a rather carefree life. This circumstance left most citizens of these states to overlook the lack of civil liberties. Where the livelihoods are secured, the social problems are also less. By contrast, countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan have had to provide livelihoods without oil wells for their fast-growing populations.
The fact that civil liberties were poorly represented in all the oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula was due to the fact that there was hardly any bourgeoisie in them, as was known from the development of Europe. These states were not bourgeois states, but feudal states. They had been quickly catapulted to a new economic stage by oil production and its wealth, which lagged behind the internal development of society.
Agriculture as the basis of feudalism had lost its importance for life in these societies and had been replaced by the oil industry as the main source of income. Nevertheless, the state-owned nature of these societies continued to be feudalist. The nobility as the ruling class had not been replaced. He continued to govern and determined the political agenda of society.
The UAE Constitution hardly allows citizens to have a say along the lines of modern Western societies. “The 1971 Constitution prohibits … any form of organisation and political grouping; it does not provide for parties and no trade unions'. But that does not bother the forces in the value vest, which court the UAE but pretend in Hong Kong and Belarus to stand up for human and civil rights.
These old conditions in the Arab feudal states were shaken by the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. With the fall of the Shah, the rulers of the Gulf monarchies recognized a future that could be imminent. If the blessing of money from the oil business were to dry up, it was to be expected that even in their sphere of domination, the citizens would no longer be satisfied with their role as well-supplied minors.
Until the beginning of the Arab Spring, the feudalist oil monarchies hardly appeared politically. They tried to leave foreign influences outside their own borders, if necessary with violence and political oppression. To this day, Saudi Arabia is largely closed to Western tourism.
There were good reasons for this. If oil had brought wealth to the monarchies in the Middle East, the economic development associated with it had also shown that the nobility had become socially superfluous. Where the oil determines that workers are taken out of the ground, landowners are no longer needed, who live on dependent farmers, to whom they lease pasture, farmland and water rights. These are economic peanuts compared to the importance of the oil industry.
After the Second World War, the monarchs of Egypt, Libya and other Arab states, who had been chased away by popular movements or military coups, had already experienced this loss of importance in their social position. The mass protests in Iran in 1979 had shown the feudalist Arab leadership how weak their social position had become in modern societies. The Shah could not be held by either the military or the United States.
The remaining monarchies sat down, behaved calmly and tried not to be a stumbling block in the Arab world. The wealth from oil production, but also its repressive apparatus, protected them internally, the military power USA to the outside world. Nevertheless, it became increasingly clear that in the long run, ways had to be found to adapt societies to the changed conditions without jeopardizing their own claim to power.
If one wanted to break free from dependence on oil, other economic foundations had to be created in order to guarantee the livelihoods of society. Feudalist agriculture could no longer fulfil this task. But this was only through the development of modern economic forms such as an own industry. That is why the most extensive modernization efforts in the region can be observed, especially in the feudalist oil states in the Gulf.
Industry, however, needs educated, self-employed people who can and may make self-responsible decisions. Authorities are not suitable for such tasks. Thus, economic necessity reached the limits of political-social conditions and led the monarchs in the Gulf into an ever greater dilemma: the development of a modern economy while maintaining old social structures.
Spring is coming
But they were lucky. Spring was approaching, the Arab Spring was approaching. But it did not threaten the feudalist societies in the Gulf, but primarily those of the more modern secular states of the Arab world: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. The bourgeois, intellectual milieu of the cities and its Western-oriented youth, who, despite their good education, were looking in vain for work, rose up against lack of prospects and political restrictions.
Even if this modern youth rebelled in the cities, the force that ultimately led to the overthrow of Husni Mubarak in Egypt came from the country. The “March of the Millions” led hundreds of thousands of impoverished people from rural areas to Cairo on 1.2.2011. The military, which largely consisted of ordinary people from the countryside, showed solidarity with them. It didn’t shoot at his peers.
When the West signaled that a change of power was needed to secure power, Mubarak resigned to preserve the Mubarak system. The winner of this dispute was a force that was largely unknown in the West: the Muslim Brotherhood.
In it, large parts of the impoverished population in particular had organized themselves in order to fulfil the social tasks which the state was unable to perform. The extent of their influence under the surface of public perception was later demonstrated in the elections in Egypt, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, to power.
Although the elections had been held by Western standards, the vest of values had no problem, apart from a few lukewarm protests, with Morsi overthrown by a military coup and General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi appointed as Egypt’s new ruler. The West limited itself to admonitions for respect for human rights, but this did not impress Sisi and had little consequence. It was not China, Russia or Belarus.
“With their petrodollars and their media, they were the decisive force for the overthrow of Morsi and the establishment of President Abd al-Fattah al Sisi. From then on, they also interfered in Libya, Somalia and Yemen.”
In the view of the monarchs of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim Brotherhood and similar movements are the greatest danger facing each other. Thus, “no other country in the Arabian Peninsula pursues the Muslim Brotherhood as ruthlessly as the United Arab Emirates.” This shows a social force to which they can do little. Unlike the pro-Western milieu of the cities, the Muslim Brotherhood was more closely connected to the ordinary population because they professed their common Islamic roots.
If both Muslim Brothers and the rulers of the Arab monarchies see themselves as Muslims, the interpretation of the common religion is different. If some rely on Islam as the basis of their dominion, others demand a state of God in which, under a common God, justice is to prevail for all believers. In it they resembled the followers of Luther and later the peasants of the 16th century in the German Reich, whose elevation should also lead to a more just state of God and the abolition of monarchical arbitrariness.
Although the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been curbed for the time being, it is such forces and popular movements in which the monarchs of the Arabian Peninsula see their rule threatened. “A similar view of the threat to Iran and a shared dislike of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its political supporters has existed between Israel, Bahrain and the Emirates for decades.”
National “we- " ends where rule is seriously threatened by parts of its own people. This threat to rule by its own people led to the emir of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, calling Saudi troops into the country during the Arab Spring to maintain his rule.
In Bahrain, it was not Islamists who were shot together, but citizens who stood up for Western values. The United States, as a self-proclaimed defender of human rights that maintains a base in Bahrain, stood idly by. It served their interests in stable conditions in the region. A friendly dictator may then wage war against his own people and even call foreign troops into the country if his own can no longer do so.
In order to prevent something similar for the future, the monarchist forces in the region in particular have now taken the initiative politically and militarily. The secular states such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon and Algeria are no longer able to stabilise the situation in the Middle East as a a whole.
The US, in the arrogance of its Western values orientation and inability to assess the situation realistically, has destroyed states such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya themselves and made them additional factors of uncertainty. Turkey has driven them into the camp of opponents of the value vest. Only Israel remains a reliable power of order, but it largely stays out of the turmoil within The Arab Emirates.
Now the Arab monarchies are to assume these security functions, both in their own interests and in the Western one. Saudi Arabia wants to stand up to Iran, with Iran’s rise to power being explained more by the mistakes of American policy in the Middle East than by Iranian hegemony. The UAE upgraded its own army and modernised it with the help of elite Australian soldier Michael Hindmarsh.
They primarily support states and forces that fight movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or other religiously defined forces. They stood alongside General Haftar and Egypt’s al-Sisi to push back the Islamists in Libya. The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, fought the Houthi rebels in Yemen, with the occasional support from other Gulf emirates.
But it was there that they soon had to recognize the limits of their own warfare skills. In the absence of successes in the fight against insurgency, the UAE withdrew from its joint struggle with Saudi Arabia in 2019. But even the Saudis cannot defeat the comparatively weak adversary in Yemen. Moreover, the fall in the price of oil is exaggerising domestic difficulties.
So what remains for the old monarchies? Give up and wait for them to be swept away by history, like all the other blue-blooded brothers and sisters in Europe and all over the world, who had made social development superfluous? Or make peace with the old enemy Israel, so that it may help them out of the fray against their own people and the rising storms that are already emerging, especially in the Sahel?
It seems that the second way has been chosen. For this purpose, a suitable ally with similar interests, a strong military and a stable society has been found in Israel, in which similar distortions as in the Arab states are not to be expected for the time being. The democracies of the vest of values are at their side. He would rather be a backward monarch than incalculable movements in peoples and societies.