Keeping Friends Close, But Enemies Closer
For years the Israeli government and its Washington supporters have promoted some of the most vicious dictators in the Arab world. Ethical reasons and human rights violations do not matter in comparison to geopolitical and economic reasons.
Earlier in September, the Israeli government urged the Biden administration to stop criticizing Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their human rights violations. On the other side of the pond, Biden has been demanding more and more countries in the region to normalize relations with Israel.
As writer and contributor of the Atlantic, Peter Beinart says, in May, analysts at the pro-Israel think tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, requested the Biden administration to sell more weapons to Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who has jailed thousands of dissidents and journalists.
The long history of supporting dictators
Not so long ago, under former president Trump administration, the close US-Saudi partnership continued even after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and a CIA report that pointed to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) as the one who ordered the killing. Trump said that there were geostrategic and economic reasons to justify the alliance.
According to Professor Madawi al-Rasheed, Trump highlighted the lucrative financial dividends of MBS’s promise of $450bn investment, including $100bn-plus of arms purchases. Additionally, he viewed Saudi Arabia as a central player to contain Iran’s expansion in the Middle East and achieving peace with Israel.
Many Arab autocrats have had support from the US despite violating their own peoples’ rights. Some of these autocrats have been Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran (before the Islamic revolution in 1979), Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Zine Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia, King Hamad bin Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, and even Muammar Qaddafi of Libya came close to being an ally (before the uprising in 2011).
The US has shown for decades a selective morality in dealing with repressive regimes in a way that some have called realpolitik. This describes a kind of foreign policy based on practical, and self-interested principles rather than moral or ideological concerns. The US empowers dictators not only through money, the transfer of technology or surveillance, but also by giving them moral support globally.
This friendliness can be seen in the handling of the Scholar-statesman Award by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which “generally honors the kind of people you’d expect a hawkish, pro-Israeli government think tank to honor”, explains writer Peter Beinart. Unexpectedly, 2021’s winner has been Mohamed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates.
In its announcement, the Institute praised Bin Zayed for “securing the breakthrough peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, as well as his commitment to expanding religious tolerance at home.” This is just false. According to Human Rights Watch, his Sunni-dominated regime has waged a campaign of forced disappearances, incommunicado detention, and groundless deportation against Shia Muslims.
Let’s not forget that the UAE is an absolute monarchy where political parties are banned and all executive, legislative, and judicial authority rests with the hereditary rulers. According to Freedom House’s rankings, people in the UAE enjoy fewer political rights than people in Iran.
Concerns about Human rights abuses seem to slip away from the radar when regimes support the American and Israeli-dominated regional order. They only seem to care for human rights when those dictatorships can be immersed in geopolitical feuds with the US or Israel.
Thus, the ones that want to end the support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians are also the most dedicated to end US support for Arab regimes that oppress their people. Israel’s defenders are usually not passionate proponents of freedom and democracy across the Arab world.