The recent Wikileaks release of thousands of United States Embassy cables, though not as shocking as expected, has revealed part of the mysterious relationship between American administrations and Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes. The leaks challenge many of the commonly held assumptions about the dynamics of this relationship. Two main issues are worth noting here.
Firstly, it is clear that the issue of democracy in the Middle East is not among the priorities of the U.S. administration as assumed by many civil rights and democracy advocates around the world. In all the leaked cables, there is no mention of any sort of pressure on Middle Eastern regimes to accept more political reform. On the contrary, many of the cables show that America seeks advice from Middle Eastern leaders regarding the political formation of the Iraqi government which was supposed to be the model of democracy in the region. In fact, one of the cables notes that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak advised the United States in 2008 to “forget about democracy in Iraq and allow a dictator to take over. Mubarak’s advice was: “Strengthen the [Iraqi] armed forces, relax your hold, and then you will have a coup. Then we will have a dictator, but a fair one. Forget democracy, the Iraqis by their nature are too tough.”
Secondly, it seems that the U.S. influence on Middle Eastern regimes is relatively shrinking. Many of the cables referred to uncooperative attitude of some states in the region. This challenges the commonly held assumption – at least in the Middle East – that most of the Arab regimes offer excessive services to the U.S. in order to earn its support and assure their stay in power. In one of the cables, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo Margaret Scobey, describes Egypt as “a stubborn and recalcitrant ally.” In another cable, Hilary Clinton refers to the difficulty of convincing the Saudi regime to stop donations which according to her, go to terrorist organizations. She notes that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”
So far, the leaked cables don’t cover the period between 9/11 and the second Iraq War which I believe, have witnessed the most critical deals between the U.S. Government and many Middle Eastern regimes. In the next few weeks we might learn more about this mysterious relationship if more cables see the light.