Processing Bin Laden's Death in the Arab Spring

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine, checked in about new developments in the 'Arab Spring' and New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick reported on the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death in the Middle East North Africa region.

Ripple effect in Palestine

The change just keeps 'a coming in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region this year. Gideon Rose says the new unity deal between Fatah and Hamas was instigated by the fracture of old alliances.

Both Fatah and Hamas feel like the world is moving under their feet. Fatah has lost the Mubarak government which had been one of its backers, and the Syrian government which helps back Hamas is under stress right now so tensions are appearing there. So both Palestinian factions are feeling like they need to make new moves to ensure their support.

Egypt sculpts a new identity

Rose predicts the new Egyptian government will shift away from Mubarak's friendly relationship to Israel and the U.S. because it wants to transform the country's image from that of American pawn to MENA chess-master.

It associates the peace with Israel and the lackey status of American foreign policy with legacies of the hated Mubarak regime that it wants to move away from. It wants to flex its oats and regain a prominent role in Arab diplomacy and not simply as the junior partner of the U.S. imperialism in the region.

Bin Laden's Confused Egyptian Legacy

Tapping into that desire to stand up to American power is what made Osama bin Laden such a powerful figure, Kirkpatrick says. His New York Times article yesterday explained the mixed feelings in the region to the terrorist's death.

Kirkpatrick says the Arab Spring has so thoroughly transformed the political dynamics in Egypt that the name 'bin Laden' almost sounds like an echo of the past. At the same time, bin Laden was such an iconic figure that even people in Cairo who despised his tactics have a certain nostalgia for him.

He had a political significance. Because people here, a number of them said to me, 'after the end of the Cold War, it was the U.S. and bin Laden. Bin Laden was all by himself and the only counterweight we knew to American power.'

How much will Egypt's foreign policy shift?

Egypt said last week that it will re-open its closed border with Gaza, which Israel is seriously unhappy about. Israel contends weapons will flow across the border for terrorist purposes. (Meanwhile, everything from food to gas to cars gets in through a healthy underground tunnel network). Kirkpatrick says  Egypt's shift is happening because the newly democratic country must respond to the will of its people.

This is now a country that considers itself a democracy, even though it hasn't had an election yet. That means that individual policy makers are thinking, look, if I want to keep my job in a world where there are democratic elections, I need to do what the people want. The peace with Israel and the conduct of Israeli towards Palestinians and the Israeli settlements is overwhelmingly unpopular here.

Rose, on the other hand, isn't sure that much will really change in Egypt's international relationships because of the benefits that come with having peace with Israel and being friendly with the U.S.

They're kidding themselves first of all if they think that they're all sorts of wonderful other options out there for Egyptian foreign policy that don't have significant downsides. The more they move in this direction the more they'll realize that the Mubarak government did what it did for some very good reasons, and you don't want to make the U.S. and Israel dramatically unhappy. 

In the balance lies billions of annual aid for Egypt, which it surely doesn't want to disappear. All this puts the U.S. in a tricky spot too. On the one hand the U.S. wants to support and nurture the new democratic Egyptian regime, but at the same time there are some red lines that it doesn't want to see crossed.


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Comments [7]


"No word on Obama's next intended cuts to out arsenal to allow Pakistan to move up another place."

As opposed to Republicans' attempts to slash spending to collect loose nukes and nuclear material from around the world. Something which would ACTUALLY improve our security.

All the better for more excuses to keep shoveling out that sweet, sweet, corporate welfare.

May. 03 2011 11:13 AM
Stuart from NYC

Hamas showed its true colors once again by condemning the killing of OBL as 'American oppression.'

These are the people Israel should make peace with?

I don't think so.

May. 03 2011 11:13 AM
Stuart from NYC

Hamas showed its true colors once again by condemning the killing of OBL as 'American oppression.'

These are the people Israel should make peace with?

I don't think so.

May. 03 2011 11:12 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Menachem Begin wanted to give Gaza back to Sadat, who utterly refused to even consider it. If Israel could persuade Egypt to take over Gaza, that would be a plus. Not only to open the Rafah border, but to annex Gaza to Egypt, and thereby make Egypt responsible for it.

May. 03 2011 11:11 AM
gary from queens

Islam doesn't allow memorializing things or places. Shrines are not allowed. That's one reason islamists destroy shrines. So dropping Osama into the sea was not relevant. The way you must treat murderers of children and advocates of abhorent ideologies is to dispose of them unceremoneously. Take Osama out with the trash. Nothing more. Show no respect for him and for those who feel he deserves respect in death. Not even to note his death with a visit to Ground Zero, as Obama is planning.

But there is one Islamic tradition we should observe: beheading. Jihadists desacrate the bodies of infidels. Beheading was there method:

May. 03 2011 10:24 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Pakistan's protective harboring of the world's most wanted criminal is despicable (and an ominous statement about "moderates' in Islam).

But, later this year, due to it's ongoing warhead production and ambitious delivery vehicle research, it will become the possesor of the world's 4th largest nuclear arsenal , behind only the U.S., Russia and China.
We can sympathize with India's cynicism on the Pakistani's, but hotheaded responses are not the way to go here.

(No word on Obama's next intended cuts to our arsenal to allow Pakistan to move up another place...but stay tuned if he gets a second term.)

May. 03 2011 10:06 AM
RJ from New Jersey

The Indians have been saying it for a long time that the US has been duped/hijacked/stumped/stupefied into shelling out Billions in the name of capturing OBL. The Indian media is having a field day now. It has been a common knowledge and a long time joke line among Indians that OBL lived in Mussharafs bedroom, and now lived in Kayyani's. It just turned out that he lived in Khayyani's backyard.

May. 03 2011 07:35 AM

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