America Is Sabotaging the New Arab Spring
This piece originally appeared in antiwar.com
Months back, when protests rocked Algeria and Sudan, toppling two autocratic strongmen, observers almost immediately dubbed it a “New Arab Spring.” This, of course, was a reference to the popular demonstrations that rocked the Arab World in 2011, ranging from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and Syria, Bahrain to Yemen. The results of Spring 1.0 were ultimately disappointing – Egypt’s elected president was ousted in a military coup, Libya remains in a state of near civil war, Syria’s Assad emerged victorious over the rebels, Yemen is a war-ravaged humanitarian disaster area, and the Saudi Army invaded and quashed unrest in nearby Bahrain. Only in Tunisia was there a semblance of (fragile) success and relatively limited violence.
Perhaps, then, it should come as little surprise that matters are shaking out in a similarly disappointing fashion in Algeria, and, especially, Sudan. Military juntas (they call themselves “transitional” governments) hold power in both states and, in the case of Sudan, soldiers and militiamen have taken to slaughtering their own people. It seems there shall be no Jeffersonian Democracies in North Africa any time soon. Pessimism aside, it’s still a tragic and rather disturbing state of affairs. Nevertheless, I’m no proponent of U.S. intervention – how’d that work out in Syria and Libya? – in these complex affairs in distant lands. Indeed, I’ve previously asserted that Uncle Sam ought to “keep his hands off” the New Arab Spring this time around.
Solutions, such as they are, must be Algerian and Sudanese solutions. Recent regional history firmly demonstrates that foreign meddling tends only to stoke already chaotic fires and make matters far worse. Here’s the problem: the US may not be directly engaged, but, rather than staying out completely, continues to back Arab autocracies – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE – that are actively destroying any hope for democracy in Sudan. It’s unconscionable. And, coming from a country that’s a self-proclaimed “city on a hill” and “beacon of democracy,” its also embarrassingly hypocritical.
What’s unfolding in Sudan, and America’s tacit role in these events, is far worse than it seems, and nearly ignored in US mainstream media. Want to get actual news on North Africa? Better tune into the BBC or Al Jazeera, because you’ll get minimal coverage and zero context from CNN. Here’s the rub: a mass uprising in April toppled the thirty year incumbent, indicted war criminal President Omar al-Bashir. Not a bad turn of events. Problem is the military – in tenuous alliance with government supported militias – took power and failed to hold democratic elections or transition to civilian rule. When the brave protesters refused to go home, a paramilitary group calling itself the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began slaughtering peaceful demonstrators, gunning down at least 100 on June 3rd alone.
Since then matters have turned from bad to gruesome. The RSF, which, incidentally, grew out of the infamous Janjaweed militia responsible for the genocide in Darfur a decade ago, has gone on a murderous rampage in the capital, Khartoum. Protesters have been thrown off bridges, shops looted, men and women raped. Just when it seemed matters could hardly get worse, well, that’s when America’s best buddies in the region stepped in. That’s right, our chums the Egyptians, Emiratis, and Saudis – all dictatorships themselves – actively back the Sudanese junta. They’ve offered a combined $3 billion in cash to the military regime. The Saudis go one step further, loading the notorious genocidal militiaman (and #2 leader in the junta) Hamdan Dagalo up with bundles of money and guns with which to slaughter the innocent.
So what, you might ask, does the US, does President Trump, have to say about all this? Crickets, that’s what. Washington has released paltry platitudes at best and done absolutely nothing to restrain – pay attention now – its brutally dictatorial “friends” from empowering a genocidal maniac and military junta whose foot soldiers toss peaceful activists screaming from bridges to their deaths. Trump has nothing but praise for the Egyptians and Saudis. He proudly pronounced that Egypt’s strongman, Abel Fattah al-Sisi is “doing a great job.” His son-in-law, Jared Kushner – nepotism incarnate – carries on a bromance with his literal pen pal, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin-Salman (MBS). Trump even declared a national emergency so as to defy Congress and push through a hasty $8 billion arms deal to the Saudis. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that some of those guns and bombs are going to make their way into the clutches of the murderous RSF. That puts Sudanese civilian blood on Americans’ collective hands.
It gets just a bit worse. Why, one might ask, does MBS back the war-criminal-in-chief of Sudan? Well, beyond the crown prince’s general affinity for fellow Arab dictators, he’s especially fond of Dagalo. That’s because Dagalo’s militias reportedly supply thousands of mercenary Sudanese foot soldiers – including child soldiers – as cannon fodder for the Saudi terror campaign in Yemen. It is truly a twisted state of affairs when two states – Yemen and Sudan – that are already the world’s worst humanitarian disaster areas, are manipulated even further by the Saudi theocracy to add to the bloodshed and preclude any hope for democracy. And still we’re told the Saudis are our “friends.”
Let us review, then: the United States unconditionally backs a Saudi absolute monarchy that is terror bombing Yemeni civilians, and then trading guns to a genocidal Sudanese dictator in exchange for child soldiers that add to the fighting in Yemen. As such, any hope for democracy, or even basic human rights, dies in both locales. You can hardly make this up! One last thing, our friends the Saudis, well, they recently had a teenager on death row for a crime – simply protesting the government – that he allegedly committed when just ten years of age. What friends Uncle Sam makes these days; talk about running with a bad crowd.
Not that many Americans notice. Media silence, ample profits for the arms dealer corporations that own many congressmen, and public apathy about foreign affairs, combine to keep the despicable, twisted Saudi-Sudanese nexus off the American grid. Still, what we ignore, the global community – especially in the Mideast region – does not forget. The United States has widely come to be associated with imperialism and militarism. It’s certainly no friend of regional democracy. As such Washington acts as the terrorist recruiting sergeant’s best friend. This country of ours will one day reap the whirlwind for these sins. When it does, our government, and our people, will have no one to blame but themselves.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
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