I noted a few days ago the similarities between the late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
We noted that the unsettling footage circulating on the Internet and some news channels of his death were eerily reminiscent of the brutal murder of Gaddafi in October 2011.
And we also noted that Saleh (pictured above with two other casualties of the Arab Spring, Gaddafi and Mubarak) had other similarities to Gaddafi in terms of his decades-long rule, his carefully nurtured relationships with the Yemeni tribes and factions that allowed him to keep order and stability in the country for so long, and how he – like Gaddafi – fell victim to the ‘Arab Spring’.
Something else Saleh had in common with Gaddafi had been a belief in the ideas of pan-Arabism and a particular admiration of President Nasser in Egypt, who, as it happens, was also a major inspiration for Gaddafi.
I have for a long time been intending to post an article here about pan-Arabism or the age of Arab nationalism – but I’ve failed to finish writing it yet. The pan-Arab ideas were particularly zealously pursued and promoted by Gaddafi in the 1970s, the general idea being an alliance of strong, independent and secular Arab nationalist states who would share common interests, including common defense and economic policies.
In some form or another (and to varying degrees), these ideas were pursued for some years in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
That there was corruption and dictatorship and suppression isn’t in doubt. There was also order, stability, strong economic growth, and there was no room for anarchic jihadist/Islamist groups or agendas to achieve anything. Those countries were being held together around a national identity and a strong sense of independence and sovereignty.
It is difficult to wholeheartedly defend regimes that were so dictatorial and so harsh in their suppression of opposition. But it is also a fact that the collapse of those regimes and ideas has done little or nothing for the populations of those countries: unless anyone thinks what has happened in Iraq after the US-led invasion or in Libya, Syria or Egypt or Yemen after the Arab Spring has been good.
Which, I’m sure, is no one.
With all of that in mind, it is very interesting to note what Saleh himself said about the Arab Spring.
In a 2014 TV interview, Saleh called it the “Zionist Spring”, describing it as a Zionist-Western conspiracy to “bring down the pan-Arab enterprise.”
This idea was in fact the basis for the very long article I was writing (but never finished) on Pan-Arab Nationalism – the idea that the ‘Arab Spring’ was in fact part of a programme to kill off what was left of those ideas and to cause the collapse of several strong, independent and secular Arab states and turn them into chaotic, sectarian quagmires at the mercy of extremist factions and feuding idealogies.
This was clearly the view Ali Abdullah Saleh also held.
Here are some excerpts from that interview, which was broadcast by the Egyptian CBC network in 2014.
I’m not necessarily agreeing with every element of what he says here; but his position is very interesting.
Interviewer: You mentioned the “so-called” Arab Spring…
Ali Abdallah Saleh: It was a Zionist Spring.
Interviewer: Please explain why you call it the Zionist Spring.
Ali Abdallah Saleh: Since there was no democracy in some Arab countries, young people expected this “Arab Spring” to improve things, in culture, economy, security, and politics. But instead, it brought about a sweeping anarchy as you can see in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria, as well as in Egypt. This led the youth and the people who sought improvement to despair. I was one of the rulers, but I hoped that they would give rise to someone who would function better than me and my government.
Interviewer: Would such a thing have made you happy?
Ali Abdallah Saleh: Completely happy. But it brought nothing but anarchy, the disintegration of nations, the destruction of the infrastructure and the economy, and the deterioration of the army and security services. The Muslim Brotherhood entered the units of the army and security services, with no training, qualifications, or organization. Anarchy! That is why I called it the “Zionist Spring.”
Interviewer: Do you think it was a Zionist-Western conspiracy?
Ali Abdallah Saleh: Absolutely. They wanted to bring down the pan-Arab enterprise, which existed since the days of the late Abd Al-Nasser.
Saleh, corrupt and self-serving to whatever extent (find an Arab leader who isn’t), also appears to have been genuinely interested in what he saw as being best for Yemen and even neighbours in the region.
A few years ago, for example, he openly reported what he claimed was a plot by Saudi Arabia to carry out a coup against the Prince of Qatar. He claimed that the Yemen government had discovered the conspiracy, though he also added that the Qatari-Saudi conflict was “due to earlier accumulations” and not religion, adding that “they all follow the Wahhabi sect.”
Like Gaddafi, Saleh also became an ally of the United States in the so-called War on Terror and, like Gaddafi, had been very successful in suppressing terrorist and jihadist elements.
But curiously, according to Foreign Policy, Saleh had been so successful at combating Al-Qaeda that ‘Washington’s priority in Yemen shifted from counter-terrorism to promoting democracy.’ Washington may have therefore been complicit in Saleh’s downfall during the Arab Spring.
What’s clear is that the Arab Spring – even though it was largely populated by genuine idealists who were marching for change, democracy and progress – was being used or directed from its very inception to be a vehicle for collapsing several nations, doing away with strong and stable Arab nations, and creating the chaos and suffering we see today.
With the exception of Tunisia, no country that experienced the Arab Spring has benefited from it.
Libya is completely collapsed. Syria has had several years of horrific, bloody Civil War, with the regime still intact. Egypt returned almost immediately to a military dictatorship that is now much worse than the one the protesters marched to overthrow in the first place.
And Yemen has been virtually decimated, with a colossal humanitarian tragedy and no solution in sight.
Curiously, in another interview during the Arab Spring events in Yemen, Saleh said something almost identical to something Gaddafi had said in Libya as that country was also being plunged into chaos (“They will turn Libya into another Iraq, another Afghanistan…” Gaddafi had warned). During the Arab Spring, Saleh said “Yemen, I hope, will not be a failed state or another Somalia…”
At this moment in time – after years of violence and over two years of continuous bombing from the Saudi-led coalition, with a massive humanitarian problem – it is looking sadly like Yemen may well end up as “another Somalia” or failed state.