The “Convergence of Interests” in the Arab Revolts


In the wars currently waged on the backs of the Arab revolutions, one particular term stands out in the lexicon of Arab politicians and their columnist and media acolytes: the phrase “convergence of interests,” which has made a big comeback.

In Tunisia, liberals of the worst kind, and Islamists of the opportunist variety, have spoken out in gratitude to the US and Europe for supporting the revolution that overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.  They interpreted this shift in the position of Ben Ali’s historic Western allies as expressing a change in the latter’s interests.  No problem, then, if these should converge with the interests of the revolutionaries.

In Egypt, the army opted to withdraw from the battle to keep President Hosni Mubarak and his party in power after it realized that clinging on to Mubarak was futile.  Field Marshal Tantawi and his team decided to announce that they were all for the youth and the revolution.  Some opportunists proceeded to join the regime’s entourage in praising the army, its commanders, and their wisdom — without forgetting to thank the West for supporting their just cause too.  Before you wonder, they hasten to explain: it’s just that our interests converge.

In Libya, NATO’s clients justified summoning the West to destroy the country by saying that it was essential to save the people from a prospective massacre Gaddafi was about to commit.  Some continue to do so to this day.  It was pointed out at the time that the integrity of the revolution would be hard to maintain if it reached out to a West that had been begging or stealing money from the colonel and singing his praises.  The reply was adamant: this is not an alliance; it’s an expression of our converging interests.

Incidentally, we fail to comprehend why this convergence persists after Gaddafi’s downfall and disappearance from view — and also why NATO has been summoned again to destroy Sirte and Bani Walid over the heads of their inhabitants.  It would of course be off-limits for anyone, Gaddafi included, to summon the likes of NATO or worse to save the citizens of Sirte from the massacre actually underway — or for it to be said that this might constitute a convergence of interests.

In Yemen, the interests of the ruling regime and certain tribal and military chiefs converged with the interest of the House of Saud, the US, and other Western states in ensuring that Ali Abdallah Saleh does not leave power now — not until an alternative acceptable to these players is secured.  But the revolutionaries are not allowed to look elsewhere to pursue their interest in being spared further killing and bloodshed.

In Bahrain, the dismal regime, along with an elite who has been robbing the country since independence, found that their interests converged with those of the Gulf states and the American occupation — in shedding the blood of the acknowledged popular majority who seek nothing more than their rights as citizens.  The petrodollar-fuelled Arab media continue to cover up the crime in Bahrain, justifying it as a result of a temporary convergence of interests.  The Bahraini opposition is meanwhile prohibited from turning to anyone anywhere for support, not even the media.  No interests may converge here.

In Syria, meanwhile, there seems to be a labyrinth of converging and intertwining interests.  Some opposition figures concede that the Arab Gulf states are not qualified to give anyone lessons in democracy, equality, and freedom.  But they explain that they are aligned with them now, and turn to them to host their meetings or provide supportive media coverage, purely as a matter of converging interests.  A second category of opposition figures insist that their lobbying of the US, French, British, and Turkish administrations is not aimed at luring them into overthrowing the regime of President Bashar Assad by force.  But there is nothing wrong with cooperating with these powers, they maintain, even if that leads to intervention at a later stage.  It’s all in accordance with the principle of converging interests, nothing more.

On Tuesday, influential figures in the Syrian National Council set up by some Syrian opposition figures intervened with French security and diplomatic authorities to prevent fellow Syrian dissidents from holding a press conference in Paris.  The French authorities have nothing against freedom of expression, but agreed to perform this squalid role because their interests converge with those of the rival opposition faction.  These people were until recently trying to bribe Russia and China.  They told them that, if they abandoned Assad, their interests in Syria would be safeguarded after the opposition took power.  They could then agree on the convergence of their interests, as is being done with Europe and the US now.

Question: Can the other side have convergences of interests too, or is that prohibited?

Does Assad have the right to forge alliances with Russia and China, Iran and Iraq, given that their interests converge?  Or is America closer to Syria and its people than Iran; or is the deranged Nicolas Sarkozy closer than Hugo Chavez; or does Britain have more in common with the country than Brazil or South Africa?

The same can be asked in Lebanon: are Saad Hariri, Amin Gemayel, and Dory Chamoun more attuned to the Syrian people and their interests than Hezbollah, the Arab nationalists, and much of the left?  Or is Walid Jumblatt more cognizant of Syria’s interests than Talal Arslan or Wiam Wahhab?  Does it not bother Burhan Ghalioun that a murderer like Samir Geagea should welcome the formation of his Syrian National Council and offer it support?  Or was he pleased to see demonstrators in Tripoli on Friday raising pictures of Adnan al-Arour while voicing their confidence in the Council as representative of the Syrian people?  Is this, too, a convergence of interests?

Is there any need to ask?  Or do George Bush’s rules — either with us, or against us — still apply?

This article was first published in Al-Akhbar English on 13 October 2011 under a Creative Commons license.  Read it in Arabic at <>.

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