How long before all the dominoes start to fall?
The West seeks to divide Arab states into those it supports and those it wishes to see toppled. But the recent revolutions display a momentum all of their own. Robert Fisk reports
Published 25/08/2011 | 08:00
The remaining Arab potentates and tyrants have spent a third sleepless night. How soon will the liberators of Tripoli metamorphose into the liberators of Damascus and Aleppo and Homs? Or of Amman? Or Jerusalem? Or of Bahrain or Riyadh? It's not the same, of course.
The Arab Spring-Summer-Autumn has proved not just that the old colonial frontiers remain inviolate, but that every revolution has its own characteristics.
If all Arab uprisings have their clutch of martyrs, some rebellions are more violent than others. As Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said at the start of his own eventual downfall, "Libya is not Tunisia, it's not Egypt... It will become civil war. There will be bloodshed on the streets." And there was.
And so we gaze into the crystal ball. Libya will be a Middle East superpower and a less African, more Arab country now that Gaddafi's obsession with central and southern Africa has disappeared.
It may infect Algeria and Morocco with its freedoms. The Gulf states will be happy since most regarded Gaddafi as mentally unstable as well as mischievous.
But unseating tyrannical Arab rulers is a dangerous game when unelected Arab rulers join in. Who now remembers the forgotten 1977 war in which Anwar Sadat sent his bombers to pulverise Gaddafi's airbases after Israel warned the Egyptian president that Gaddafi was planning his assassination? But Gaddafi's dictatorship outlived Sadat by 30 years.
Yet, like all the others, Libya suffered from the cancer of the Arab world: financial - and moral - corruption. Will the future be any different?
We have spent far too much time honouring the courage of Libyan 'freedom fighters' and far too little time examining the nature of the glutinous Transitional National Council whose supposed leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has still not been able to explain if his own chums connived in the murder of their own army commander last month.
And how soon will the world be knocking on the door of the supposedly dying Abdulbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber - if indeed he was guilty of the crime - to discover the secret of his longevity and of his activities within Gaddafi's secret service?
How soon will the liberators of Tripoli get their hands on the files of Gaddafi's oil and foreign ministries to find out the secrets of the Blair-Sarkozy-Berlusconi love affairs with the author of the Green Book? Or will British and French spooks beat them to it?
And how soon before the people of Europe demand to know why, if Nato has been so successful in Libya, it cannot be used against Assad's legions in Syria, using Cyprus as a territorial aircraft-carrier, devastating the regime's 8,000 tanks and armoured vehicles as they besiege the country's cities.
Israel, which has been so skewed and immature in its response to the Arab awakening, has much to ponder.
Ben Ali gone, Mubarak gone, Saleh more or less gone, Gaddafi overthrown, Assad in danger, Abdullah of Jordan still facing opposition, Bahrain's minority Sunni monarchy still suicidally hoping to rule for eternity - these are massive historical events to which the Israelis have responded with a kind of appalled, hostile apathy.
At the very moment when Israel might be able to claim that its Arab neighbours are only seeking the freedoms that Israelis already possess - that there is a brotherhood of democracy that might go beyond frontiers - it sulks and builds more colonies on Arab land and continues to delegitimise itself while accusing the world of trying to destroy it.
But the Ottoman empire cannot be forgotten at so critical an hour. At the height of its power, you could travel from Morocco to Constantinople without papers.
With freedom in Syria and Jordan, we could travel from Algeria to Turkey and onwards into Europe without so much as a visa. The Ottoman Empire reborn. Except for the Arabs, of course. Be sure they will still need visas.
We are not there yet. How soon will the Shiites of Bahrain and the listless Saudi masses, sitting atop so much wealth, ask why they cannot control their own countries and press on to overthrow their effete rulers?
How gloomily Maher al-Assad, brother of Bashar and commander of Syria's infamous 4th Brigade, must have listened to al-Jazeera's last 'phonecall to Mohammed Gaddafi. "We lacked wisdom and foresight," Mohammed complained to the world before gunfire broke across his voice. "They are in the house." Then: "God is great." And the line went dead.
Every unelected Arab leader - or any Muslim leader 'elected' through fraud - will have pondered that voice. Wisdom is certainly a quality much lacking in the Middle East, foresight a skill which the Arabs and the West have both neglected.
East and West - if they can be divided so crudely - have both lost the ability to think of the future.
The next 24 hours is all that matters. Will there be protests in Hama today? What is Obama to say on prime-time? What is Cameron to say to the world? Domino theories are a fraud?
The Arab Spring is going to last for years. We better think about that. There is no 'end of history'.