People & Politics

September 19, 2013

Sweet relief from the M’East

Sweet relief from the M’East

(From L-R) Kuwaiti Minister of Planning, Development and State Minister for National Assembly Affairs Rula Dashti, Information and State Minister for Youth Affairs Sheikh Salman Sabah al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Mohammad Khaled al-Sabah and First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah, attend a meeting at the national assembly in Kuwait City on September 4, 2013, to discuss the state’s emergency plan in case of a potential US military strike against Syria. AFP PHOTO

By Ochereome Nnanna
The Middle East is obviously the world’s number one trouble spot. It has been so forever. The Islamic Republic of Iran was a particular spot of bother, especially for the United States and its Western allies during the reign of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as the president of the country.

Ahmedinejad’s extremism bordered on lunacy. He frequently said the State of Israel “did not exist”, and vowed that at the earliest opportunity available to him, he would destroy the Jewish state.

He was fond of saying that the Holocaust, in which about six million Jews were massacred in Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich Germany, was a historical fabrication. In other words, Ahmedinejad took delight in provoking militarily powerful Israel, a country that was always poised on knife-edge and ready to lash out if not for the restraint exerted on it by its strategic ally, the USA.

Ahmedinejad also poked a finger in America’s eye with the manner it went about the development of its nuclear capability. Though Iran insisted that the programme was for peaceful purposes, America and the West believed he was desperately steaming towards developing a bomb or two. To make matters worse, Iran under Ahmedinejad, closed its gates to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, a bough of the United Nations sent to verify its claim.

In fact, Iran’s truculence was also aimed at Nigeria. Not only did the country open its doors to all sorts of Muslim groups of questionable intent towards Nigeria’s nationhood for radicalisation, an Iranian shipload of war-caliber weaponry was once impounded in Lagos ports, sparking off speculations that the Islamic country was interested in arming terrorists to destabilise our country.

Ahmedinejad was simply a nutcase. To my personal relief, his terms of office ran out and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spruced up a known moderate cleric, Hassan Rouhani, to succeed him.

Apart from holding out an olive branch to Israel and pledging to reopen the nuclear plant to international scrutiny, the new president actually, to the shock of the watchers of the region’s affairs, congratulated Israel on its New Year by wishing it merry Rosh Hashanah. Some Western and Jewish skeptics called it a mere hoodwink to weaken the vigilance over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but for me, it is a milestone for an Iranian leader under the Islamic revolution to openly wish Israel well.

And in Syria (an ally of Iran) the prospects of America-led air strikes dimmed with a diplomatic masterstroke delivered by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. America always feels compelled to intervene when Third World countries deploy weapons of mass destruction (especially chemical weapons) against civilians. When it became clear that the chemical weapons that snuffed the lives out of civilians in Syria came from President Bashar al Assad’s forces, President Barack Obama came under pressure to order air strikes against the regime.

But unlike in the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya when US presidents intervened almost unilaterally, Obama decided to seek the consent of the American parliament in the midst of stiff public opposition to the adventure. Like an angel of mercy, Syria’s ally, Russia, waded in and offered to convince Syria to place its chemical weapons at the disposal of the United Nations to avoid an American intervention that could easily end the Assad dynasty and most likely throw the entire Middle East region and beyond into a chain of violent events of unpredictable dimensions.

Everybody has been saying the proposal, which America has cautiously accepted, is a “win-win” formula for Syria, America and Russia. I want to add Nigeria to that list. It is my studied, candid opinion that more care must be taken to approach internal conflicts in the Middle East.

I believe that we should not be carried away by every attempt to depose these entrenched Muslim/Arab regimes, perhaps in the name of exporting democracy to the people of these countries. These countries in the Middle East have thousands of years of experience in handling and controlling their societies.

They have even evolved homegrown democratic models that exist side-by-side with the autocratic superstructures. These models have been able to rein in and manage extremist and radical Islamist forces to ensure stable political entities. This stability has also rubbed off positively on far-off, potentially volatile entities like our own Northern Nigeria.

Since the forceful overthrow of Muammar Gadhaffi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, those countries have not know peace, neither have we here in Nigeria. If Assad is removed from power and the bloodthirsty rebels in Syria take over, the country may simply become another Somalia, not even Lebanon.

It is important for the West, with Nigeria strongly supportive, to work with any formula that will promote stability in the Middle East. We must not be too judgemental when, for instance, the Egyptian army decides to take control of their country from a new civilian government that has occasioned permanent protests and stoked the prospect of descent to civil war.

We must respect the fact that democracy has different faces in different localities. Not every attempt to implant the American or British model of democracy into Third World countries will produce positive results. In revolution-wracked Islamic countries, it is liable to unleash anarchy and endless wars, with Islamic Jihadists flocking there like ants to do what they know how to do best – fight for the sake of fighting.

The recent events in Iran and Syria are pointers to the fact that the power of diplomacy must not be underestimated. It is only through skillful diplomacy that worst enemies become best friends, while people poised on the brink of annihilative war can sheath their swords and settle on friendly terms.