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About Alexander Maistrovoy
Alexander Maistrovoy is a columnist for the Israeli Russian-language newspaper Novosty Nedely.
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Middle East Through the Looking Glass
Alexander Maistrovoy
July 17, 2014
Thomas Friedman's article is a reflection of an inverted world in which the West exists. A world where minor, secondary characters are villains, where genuine villains never appear at the scene, and people are united by good intentions and ties of friendship.

"Arsonists and Firefighters." This is the title of Thomas Friedman's article, who is referring to Nader Mousavizadeh, co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners, a geopolitical advisory firm. Together with Mousavizadeh he tries to answer the question: Who Is Setting the Sectarian Fires in the Middle East?

They claim that the arsonists are the following: Assad who "provoked Syria's Sunni majority to respond with violence against his Alawite minority regime... and presents himself as the defender of a secular Syria against Sunni fanatics"; Prime Minister of Iraq Nuri al-Maliki who "triggered a Sunni response ... and in the last election as the defender of the Shiite majority"; Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt who "launched a violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, killing, wounding and arresting many hundreds, and then he ran for president as the defender of Egypt against Muslim Brotherhood 'terrorists'"; unnamed "Palestinian Extremists" (not Hamas, maybe some unknown sect?) and leaders of "Jewish Home" party in Israel that "announced plans to build 700 new housing units for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem -- timed to torpedo Secretary of State John Kerry's shuttle diplomacy."

This is a very peculiar list that doesn't include Iran and «Hezbollah» nor the Sunni fundamentalists, as if they don't have any relation to the Middle East. The main villains are either secondary characters as Assad and al-Maliki, or firefighters like Sisi. Assad did not see the need in setting off any religious conflict because a lot of Sunnis in Syria have been relatively wealthy and educated group of urbanized population; they did not suffer from discrimination and were loyal to the regime. Like the family of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass some of them were in high positions, and got dividends from all sorts of regime's commercial activity in Lebanon. Sunni fundamentalists were the ones who really needed to instigate the conflict to the extent of religious war: Salafis, "Muslim brothers" and "al-Qaeda", who were strongly supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey. The goal of these countries was to curb Iran's expansion.
Obviously, Al-Maliki isn't very successful and far-sighted politician. However, first and foremost, he represents the Shia majority (Shia are 65% of the population, Sunnis are a half of this), which expect him to protect their interests, and second, his hands are tied by hegemonic policies of Iran.

"Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt was engaged in explicit incitement. They shamelessly implanted Sharia laws, instigated the persecution of supporters of defeated Mubarak, and threatened to break the Camp David agreement and strike at Ethiopia for dam construction on the Nile. Their leaders openly called for the creation of "World State of Islam" through "jihad."

The General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Badie: "improvement and change that the Muslim nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death, just as the enemies pursue life." Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi: "We can see how the dream of the Islamic Caliphate is being realized, we can see how the great dream, shared by us all - that of the United States of the Arabs. ...Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing." A veteran member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Ahmad Gad called "honorable Al-Azhar to rally the Islamic streams in order to unite the Muslim word and effort, restore the Caliphate... O Allah, guide us, open our hearts to faith, and restore this nation to its previous self – one united nation worshiping You and You alone.

If this is not incitement, than Mao Zedong is the Pope. After only one year of Muhammad Mursi's ruling the country was on the brink of civil war, and if it wasn't for the involvement of the army, Egypt would fall into an abyss.

Regarding the peace process and the construction of the settlements, the Oslo agreement never demanded to terminate the construction. This issue had to be resolved within the framework of the final negotiations, yet even Arafat had never demanded this as a precondition for the talks. Only after Barack Obama brought it up in 2009, Abbas had to request the termination. But what about the fact that Abbas is constantly praising his "martyrs"? Isn't it a clear provocation?

And now to the real arsonists.

The first one is Qatar. Over the years Qatar financed "Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt, and its "Al-Jazeera" has generated "Revolution in Tahrir" and Libya. Qatar provided refuge to Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, an extremist preacher of "Muslim brothers", who incited to overthrow Mubarak. He once uttered the following: "Constantinople was conquered in 1453 by a 23-year-old Ottoman named Muhammad ibn Murad, whom we call Muhammad the Conqueror. Now what remains is to conquer Rome." Is he one of the firefighters? Perhaps.

Since the Libyan revolution Qatar encouraged all kinds of Islamists in this country, in particular, Abdelhakim Belhadj, the "emir" of the "Libyan Islamic Fighting Group", associated with "al-Qaeda." Qatar subsidizes "jihadists" in Syria as well. It wants to lay out a gas pipeline through Syria's territory to the Mediterranean Sea (Assad had paid twice for rejecting Doha's request). During three years, from 2007 to 2010, Qatar has transferred to the Hamas regime in Gaza about half a billion dollars. The tiny princedom became a major destabilizing factor in the Middle East, and Qatar's support of "Muslim Brotherhood" had led to a conflict with other governments of Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain. Is el-Sisi an arsonist after all that?
The second is Iran. Iran, through its agents, dummies and supporters such as Muqtada al-Sadr, had turned Iraq into a hostage - after the US troops left the region, Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, said that from now Iraq would be in full dependence on Teheran. In Bahrain and Kuwait Iran has built a network of Shia agents aimed to undermine and overthrow local dynasties; it has controlled Lebanon via "Hezbollah"; in Gaza it has provoked rocket attacks by Hamas to divert world attention from civil war in Syria, and it led to the Israeli operations "Pillar of Cloud" in 2011 and "Protective Edge" now.

In 2011, Iranians planned to kill Adel al-Dzhubeyra, Saudi Ambassador to Washington; they blackmailed Riyadh by threats to drop oil prices and by inciting Shia Muslims from the kingdom's Eastern Province, which has vast oil reserve concentration. Assad and al-Maliki are merely Iranian chess pieces to maintain and widen the expansion.

The third place, in the list of arsonists take Sunni fundamentalists, including "al-Qaeda", whose goals have nothing to do with the interests of local ethnic groups, nations and religious groups. Their task is to establish "Islamic Caliphate State" from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, and they are already on a path to realization. They brought local conflicts in Syria and Iraq to the level of an overall religious war.

The very fact that Mousavizadeh and Friedman turn minor figures in the middle eastern conflicts into villains, and do not recognize the main antagonists at all is a sad proof of either deliberate delusion or extreme naiveté. In any case, it is a manifestation of complete failure of Western policy not only in the Middle East.

Friedman, like Mousavizadeh, draws a pastoral picture of co-existence between various communities in the Middle East, where Kurds smoke "shisha", "the Shiites of Basra still long for the famous yoghurt of Erbil", and Sunni and Shia "often intermarry." Without the arsonists such harmony could prevail forever.

Such ingenuous optimistic findings are acceptable only if made by middle school students, and not by mature men and all the more so, by geopolitics analysts. During two World Wars Germans adored American cigars, Scottish cognac and French operetta. Soviet youth dreamed about American jeans and porn magazines, but in the collective consciousness of Russian people America was perceived (and still is perceived) as the worst enemy of Russia. Serbs and Croats speak the same language, and their cuisine and preferences can hardly be distinguished. This did not prevent the Croats to exterminate the Serbs with fervor during the Second World War. Israelis adopted the taste for hummus and falafel from Arabs, Arabic songs and Arabic proverbs. Arabs enjoy Tel Aviv nightlife and meeting with Jewish girls. Does it have a serious influence on the intensity of the conflict? It's very unlikely. Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine and in Kiev drink the same vodka, eat the same lard, use the same curses, and, of course, fall in love, while exercising mutual destruction.

Cultural and social inter-penetration has never been an obstacle for deep and gruesome irrational hatred, dormant in the collective consciousness of the crowds. Positivists do not want to see this, they want to put the world into the Procrustean bed of their abstract schemes, but it wouldn't make the world better.

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