Thursday 1 November 2012

After Sandy, a hurricane to slam the Arab world

Hurricane Sandy on October 25 (Wikipedia)

By Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of al-Hayat daily, writing in Arabic
I watched in awe superstorm Sandy wreak havoc across the U.S. East Coast. I saw homes in ruin, flooded streets, cars floating downstream and boats stacked atop one another. TV screens kept everyone informed about Sandy’s powerful gusts and storm surges, the human and material losses it was causing and its likely impact on the impending Election Day.
Nature’s power can at times be so destructive and devastating as to wreck all Man’s endeavors and inventions and send them spinning.
But despite the killer-storm pounding New York and other places into submission, I felt envious. The Americans have a state, a president and a Congress to legislate and oversee the executive branch. They have fire brigades, civil defense authorities and a president to declare “major disaster” areas, where the number of deaths is nowhere near the daily quota of massacre and suicide fatalities in our cheerful capitals.
A guilty conscience nagged at me for focusing on a distant hurricane. So I switched back to TV channels focusing on Damascus, Maarat al-Nouman, Beirut, Baghdad, Sana’a and other such “disaster” cities.
Watching the news leads me to believe a megastorm is moving to the Middle East, where it could change long-established maps and sweep regimes and countries, precipitating rivers of blood in the process. The gusts of wind and rain gathering ahead of the hurricane’s landfall are the following:
1.   The Israel-Iran war did not break out yet, but we’ve seen some of its preambles; the assassination of scientists; the targeting of tourists; the bombing of Iranian weapon and ammunition depots in Sudan; and the sending from Lebanon of an Iranian-built drone to fly over Israel. The drone’s mission shows Iran at Israel’s doorstep via Hezbollah. It also confirms South Lebanon will flare up on the outbreak, or eve, of the war. It’s difficult to imagine the United States staying out of the fray, if only because Iran’s expected retaliation will necessarily undermine American interests in the region.
2.     It’s not difficult, however, to imagine the explosive nature of the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Iranian regime cannot tolerate concomitant defeats on her Syrian and nuclear fronts. Iran will most probably play all her cards to protect her Syria outgrowth and nuclear ambitions. This war will be more dangerous than the Iraq War for many reasons, given the looming war’s multiple theaters.
3.   The worsening of Sunnite-Shiite relations is unprecedented. A look at the situations in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and other places will suffice. Bloody flashpoints are sprouting across borders.
4.     Despite the “spring” nature of the early stages of the uprising in Syria, the blood-soaked conflict there cannot be dissociated today from the crisis among Syria’s constituent elements or the fate of Iran’s nuclear program or the Sunnite-Shiite estrangement.
5.   The fact international borders are no more sacrosanct is noteworthy. Whenever turmoil besets a country, it becomes a magnet for roving fighters who proceed to impose their ways, colors and slogans on events, creating unsightly scenes incompatible with “spring.” At the same time, masses that overthrew despotic rulers are disappointed to see the new powers that be sailing to the past, not the future. Add to these masses’ disenchantment the growing despair from the international community’s empty rhetoric of a two-state solution.
Everything suggests the hurricane is approaching. The Arabs are the more vulnerable side in the region. That’s why they are in the eye of the megastorm. The settling of Iranian-Turkish accounts on Syrian soil is evident. Iraq has clearly failed to mend its national unity. Lebanon is insisting on defying the monster storm. Jordan is frantically fumbling around its borders.
Poor hurricane Sandy – it barreled a U.S. region and left. It might still look like a breeze compared to the hurricane about to pummel our lands in the absence of safety valves. It is no exaggeration to say the Arabs can expect to be hit by a hurricane. They are already in its clutches.