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Iraq’s largest refinery at Beiji
Bombed yesterday

If, as Matthew tells us at Chapter10 verse 29, God notes every sparrow’s fall, He will have been paying special attention this last few weeks to the Middle East.

For all the recent drama, for all the acres of newsprint, these small counties are the sparrows of the world.  Unimportant economically you see!

It’s all down to Facebook we are told.  All very hip, high tech modern young you see.  The air headed press hail this as a post techy triumph for the twitter generation.

But the westernised Arab exists only in the city.  In the country his poorer peasant cousin is resolutely old fashioned, redoubtably more Islamist. Unlike his town cousin he has seen little of the benefit from thirty, forty years of appeasement with the foreign Satan.  Think Free Kirk Presbyterian as opposed to High Church Anglican.  And the country cousin outnumbers the townie.   

Let me give you an example.  Twenty six years ago, on my first trip to Egypt, myself, and a couple of other travellers wanted to get to Abydos, an ancient archaeological site deep in southern Egypt well off the beaten track.  The journey was only difficult in that we needed to arrange a wee bus to take us, and make sure we didn’t get lost among the interminable tomato fields and poor roads.  Our main disadvantage was a lack of Arabic.  When there we were treated with gentle lack of understanding, left freely by the local people to wander over sunburnt desert heaps of four thousand year old pottery shards at will.  A wonderful experience.

Such a trip today simply would not happen.  The local authorities are not encouraging about travellers going off-piste in Southern Egypt, preferring visitors see Luxor and the Valley of the Kings in closely supervised coach parties each with their own armed guards, and then escorted south to Aswan on large ferries whilst the local peasants shake their fists and make rude gestures from the shore.  Children “moon” the foreigners from their homes.   Finally they are flown swiftly back up to Cairo.   Trips to Nubia are not so common nowadays and bumbling about in deserts a thing of the past.   Even flying north out of Aswan to Cairo will mean close security, with armed army air marshals on board.  It is simply no longer as safe as it was in the south of Egypt for westerners.

Even back then the strains were obvious.  In taking a crossing over the Nile that summer I was ferried by a local who took the opportunity of not being overheard to pause in mid-stream to tell us some political realities.  As we drifted slowly downstream he brought his gauche young stranger up to speed on the problems as he saw them between Sunni and Shia, and where he felt the country was going.

None of that gives me great hope that these revolutions will not consume their children.  Those nice fresh faced, tee shirted, English placard waving, tweeting western looking students may well be shoved aside by darker and harder forces now released from under the dictators thumbs.  For me I see civil wars, pogroms, and the rise of undemocratic forces unaligned to the west or any of her values. 

We already see the shadows lengthening in Tunisia.  Tunisa is very western looking.  A lovely destination to escape the northern cold for New Year.  There they make and drink their own wine, and there are few Islamic symbols worn by women.  But even so, there the traditional red light zones long tolerated and officially sanctioned, have been visited by bearded thugs who have threatened women and fired buildings.  The Vatican this weekend has stated that a Polish priest has been be-headed.

These countries, newly freed, are not “important” to the world.  Tunisia is a backwater, Egypt poor, overcrowded, known mainly for its history and a canal. Bahrain for all its limited refinery capability, is really a island used by Saudia Arabians as somewhere to have dirty drunken weekends.  Bahrain is Saudi Arabia’s Cuba.   Libya has oil certainly, but is down the ratings, sitting 12th in the world.  Sparrows all.

So why the concern?  All this must surely be a good thing.  Freedom, democracy, happy westernised Arab countries looking westward for inspiration.  Yes?

Not a bit of it.

The history of the last century has been that of the struggle against colonialism of the west being initially won, and then lost again, as Dictators emerged propped up and embedded against the interests of their people by a West interested only in “stability”.  In this, the most important government of the west that propped the dictators up was the United States.  America forced the old Colonial powers of Italy, France and Britain out of the region by a mixture of cold threat and financial muscle only then herself to work the area as a shadow empire of her own. They it was who kept Mubarak in power, they who came to an “accommodation” with Gadaffi, they who  supported Tunisia’s dictator Ben Ali.  This is no recommendation to me that any resulting governments will be particularly warmly disposed to the United States or “the West” who kept them down.

This is America’s 1989.  This is like the revolution in Eastern Europe which  threw the Russians out.  The real fear would be that it still has a ways to go yet.  Let’s all watch Pakistan shall we?

When sparrows fall does the eagle starve?.

Copyright David Macadam 2011