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Commentary: Black swans galore

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Aug. 5, 2011 at 9:15 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A mid-summer poll in Arab nations Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the Arab-American Institute found the "Arab Spring" isn't good news for the United States.

Sample Zogby poll results:

-- U.S. and President Barack Obama's favorable ratings are at an all-time low.

-- Obama is less popular in the Middle East than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

-- Killing Osama bin Laden hasn't improved U.S. relations with the region.

-- Far from seeing the United States as a leader of the post-Arab Spring movement, the countries surveyed viewed "U.S. interference in the Arab world" as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East.

-- Top concern is the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian Territories is blamed on the United States.

-- In five of the six countries surveyed, the United States was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France -- and Iran.

-- Iran's policies are viewed more favorably than America's.

The U.S. administration's ability to influence events in the Arab world in the wake of the "Arab Spring" is severely curtailed by the widely held view in the U.S. Congress that the strategic interests of the United States and of Israel are identical.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the yet to materialize Palestinian state is the common leitmotif of Islamist terrorist groups.

The Mideast peace process is moribund with no early hope of progress, which reinforces the extremists. For a Palestinian state to be recognized at the United Nations next month, it would have to be voted by the U.N. Security Council where the United States wields a veto. The latest plan to bypass the veto is to submit a "non-state" Palestinian state to the General Assembly, where it would be approved 192-2 (Israel and the United States).

One of Egypt's most prominent liberal voices, speaking privately, sent this reporter a message that said, "Those who for weeks kept saying all will be well are either naive fools or have their own power play and agenda.

"But those of us who can still focus on Egypt objectively and analyze what is happening," the message continued, see the following:

-- The rise of political, militant Islam (not religious Islam) in its different forms.

-- The chaotic debacle of the liberals.

-- A weak and ineffectual government with personal agendas that are chiefly the work of wannabes.

-- A mob mentality and a media frenzy.

-- Is any of this to Egypt's benefit? A loud NO.

-- The question is can there be a strong third way, one in which realistic Egyptians take the political process away from political Islam and chaotic liberals to a realistic center that is credible for Egypt's future? A center that is wise and prudent that puts Egypt on the map as an example of a successful and sustainable change to benefit the people -- and not a slice of interested zealots?

This prominent Egyptian liberal concluded, "We are at the abyss staring at Zimbabwe."

Shortly after sending this message, the man who had been head of the Egyptian air force, vice president to President Anwar Sadat for six years and then president for 30 years was wheeled into a cage on a gurney, along with two sons, to be charged with corruption and the killing of demonstrators when he ordered the revolution suppressed. The trial was postponed to Aug. 15.

Egypt is at a crossroads. One road looks to the future with vision, leadership, courage and the ability to promote the changes demanded by the overwhelming majority. The other road looks to the past with hatred and vengeance and to the future by seizing power to redefine Egypt as a political Islamic state.

For Islamist extremists, bin Laden's death isn't the loss of a hero but the ascension of a martyr who gained a place in paradise.

Al-Qaida's Capo did Capi since June 16, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is the son of an aristocratic Egyptian family who was arrested as a suspect in the 1981 assassination of Sadat. He was tortured but wouldn't confess to any wrongdoing and was released after three years.

A medical doctor, he then made his way to Peshawar, Pakistan, with a medical team for the mujahedeen guerrillas fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Like bin Laden, Zawahiri believes they defeated the Soviet empire and can now do the same to the United States.

To avoid perceptions of a weakening movement, any direct attack on the United States would have to be more devastating than 9/11 and there is no indication they have that kind of capability.

The oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf are the most likely priority targets. Millions of poor laborers, many from Pakistan, provide the bulk of the heavy lifting labor throughout the Persian Gulf states.

The image of the United States as the planet's sole superpower is beginning to fade. The Iraq, Afghan and Libyan wars, costing so far $1.5 trillion, and the perception that they are partly to blame for the current world economic and financial chaos, have turned U.S. public attention to more pressing domestic priorities.

Since perceptions are the new reality, the 27-member European Union teeters on the edge of collapse as individual members like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland blend budgetary profligacy with political dysfunction.

The resulting geopolitical chaos can only spawn extremism. China, with almost 6 million workers building projects and developing future markets in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South, Central and Southeast Asia and Australia, while bringing its military up to 21st-century standards, keeps making magazine covers all over the world as the "Next Superpower" -- followed by a question mark.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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