Tuesday, 22 February 2011


There is no shortage of conspiracy theories regarding the causes of the revolts. Many people, I suspect the vast majority around the world, accept on face value the revolts as expressions of people's desire for a better regime than the one that lost legitimacy in their eyes, a society with greater social justice, respect for human rights, and above all economic conditions that allow all people to enjoy a better quality of life for themselves and their children.

Rational face-value explanations, however, are for naive people as far as some are concerned who want to believe that the uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen are somehow masterminded and coordinated by some external force that is manipulating grass roots movements. The odd aspect about conspiracy theories is that governments have contributed to them as much as unconventional and mainstream analysts, blogger enthusiasts, and others who feel there is more here than meets the eye - story behind the story; and maybe there is, but unless there is empirical evidence every one of the conspiracy theories belongs to the realm of fiction adventure.

Conspiracy #1: US Defense Department representatives in the Middle East have hinted that Iran may have been behind the social uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). That theory was discussed but dismissed not only because there is no evidence, other than Iranian rushing to have their ships go through the Suez, but because Iran itself has been subjected to social unrest and anti-government demonstrations.

Conspiracy #2: In a live televised speech on Tuesday, 22 February 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi accused foreign agents of the West, pointing to the US and UK for destabilizing Libya. Of course we need to keep in mind that Qaddafi in the past has also accused the US of creating the HIV virus. In any event, UK officials immediately denied any involvement in Libya, while the US media joined others around the world accusing Qaddafi of genocide against his own people, and asked him to stop the war against protesters. In response to Libya cutting off natural gas and oil supplies to Italy and threatening to cut off energy supplies to the world, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry asked oil companies to cease operations in Libya immediately and called for US sanctions.

Conspiracy #3: Such calls as issued by John Kerry only fuel speculation in some Arab and Iranian circles that the CIA is behind all of the MENA uprisings of January-February 2011. This theory has been floated by Webster Tarpley who argues that given the Wikileaks revelations about US dissatisfaction with Mubarak, and given the US interest to impose greater geopolitical and economic control on MENA countries, the CIA had to devise a plan to destabilize all MENA regimes and replace them with friendlier ones to Washington and to Wall Street. How more friendly can a regime be, and what guarantees are there for the end result after the uprising?

Tarpley has not presented any evidence that can stand up to journalistic let alone scholarly scrutiny. Tarpley's conspiracy theory about the CIA working with the UK actually falls into the exact same pattern as that of Qaddafi. It seems that Qaddafi's staff if feeding him theories they pick up from the web. Parenthetically, this is the same Webster Tarpley who argues that 9/11 attacks were engineered by the military industrial complex and carried out by intelligence services. What are his sources? He has none, but it is exciting to pick on CIA director Leon Panetta who had to do so much explaining for failing to provide better intelligence on the MENA social and political conditions.

Conspiracy #4: Israel's intelligence Mossad together with the CIA planned the MENA revolts because the US and Israel want to weaken the Islamic world and be better able to impose their hegemony. On the extreme far right, there are claims that there are Jews and Anglo Saxons behind the MENA revolts in order to crush Islamic terrorism. On the left, Professor James Petras, whose work on Latin America I always respected, has advanced arguments that are not that far from those of Tarpley. And it may very well be true that the US sees volatile regimes in MENA countries and opted to save the state and sacrifice the dictators, but we need hard evidence in order to make such claims.

Conspiracy #5: The culprit behind MENA unrest if al-Qaeda that has been at war with conventional regimes working with the West. Does al-Qaeda really have such global reach even at the neighborhood-grass roots level throughout the Arab world? Not that al-Qaeda has any love for any of these regimes, but this assumes the absence or the minimal influence of all other social and political forces in each MENA country. There are also those who argue, and I would agree with them, that the Arab uprisings will probably diminish the appeal of al-Qaeda to Muslims.

Conspiracy 6: George Soros and billionaires looking to cash in amid chaos of global markets. If US and other billionaires have the kind of influence among the young, women, and other protesters in MENA countries, do they also have the ability to determine political outcomes; an issue that necessarily impacts global markets.

Conspiracy 7: The web (google, twitter, etc.) and the media manipulated by sinister forces are the root cause of the MENA revolts. The web and the media are certainly modern tools people use to disseminate information, but are they causes of the uprisings? Was Fidel Castro's Radio Rebelde a cause for the Cuban Revolution?

Many years will pass before we have a good grasp of the causes of these uprisings. But what if the MENA revolts are similar to those that swept across Europe in 1848, a time when Europeans were influenced by what took place in each other's country just as the Muslims are today; a time when they sensed a common destiny in the same manner that Arabs today believe they too have a common destiny?

What baffles people is the timing and why the people of MENA nations waited such a long time before rebelling. Could we not ask the same of the Europeans in 1848? Just as social, political and economic conditions converged in 1848 to send the Europeans to the streets to demand a new legitimacy that included a broader spectrum of the population, we see a similar situation today in the Arab world. 

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