The first bloc: Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians, and state-controlled religious institutions (Islam of the state):
They are reactionaries, yet they may display pragmatic and progressive skills whenever are needed; publicly pious and modest but gaudy and hedonistic when they sneak to their “Jardin Secret;” the sort of rulers who might have homosexual inclination but they still execute severe punishment upon homosexuals; they may not impose the wear of hijab but still refuse to stop fanatic orators from cursing unveiled woman in Friday sermons; they might even had sealed a peace treaty with Israel while allowing, even encouraging the media to communicate regularly an anti-Jewish message to the public and charging schools curricula with anti-Semitic materials.
The members of the other bloc (Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, the Islamist movements, the majority of the Arab street, and Jordan, although it has one step in the former bloc and the other in the later) are staunchly committed to the Islamist utopia— they are eagerly after the holy grail; unwilling to compromise or bargain over their principles and cherished hope for the promised Day when they would be reclaiming all lost territories that once were under Muslim rule from Alhambra of Granada to Taj Mahal of India passing by Jerusalem.
They dream big. An Islamic empire who would send consecutive shock waves of Jihad to the West; tremendous armies led by brazen giants riding fearlessly their glorious Arabian horses, and turbaned conquistadors sailing gorgeously their fleets across the Atlantic. A Caliphate, a superpower reviving from the ashes of oblivion like a Phoenix.
What kind of aspirations, dreams and convictions a man like the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan could hold dearly and cultivate passionately when he recites now and again with a taste of bittersweet in his tongue those verses of an Islamist poem of a clear Jihadist connotations:
The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…
The image and the message behind the metaphor… he cannot be clearer than that.
They dream, yes. The historical sets where all the components of an ideological narrative around which their deep imagination revolve, are still there, vivid and alive. Here is Baghdad the cradle of the Abbasid Caliphate, the creation of the great Haroun Al-Rashed who once ruled a vast empire from the Spanish shores to the Hindu Kush… Here is Cairo the capital of the Ayyubids, the sword of Saladin and the long history of the crusades… Here Damascus the center of the Umayyad dynasty and the Arab armies devouring the Roman Empire, and here Istanbul the abode of the last Caliph. It’s like the remnants of a fire that modern civilization didn’t quite stamp out and they are blowing desperately to rekindle it.
“It’s a pipe dream!” One may say with a confident sarcastic laugh! But still, it is a lethal mistake to dismiss it as insanity, for it is a dream materialized and propagandized by the lure of some of the richest countries on earth (Qatar, Kuwait) and maneuvered and stage-managed by a country of considerable potentialities (Turkey).
Notwithstanding, that dream won’t be realizable unless the “profane” and “impious”( to borrow some Islamist locutions) Arab rulers are actually toppled and relieved of their titles one by one like falling dominoes and eventually replaced by true believers who will rise the beacons of the eternal jihad (the concept of “Jihad Al-Talab” is intrinsically eternal and offensive, and certainly not a temporary defensive military measure.)
Make them Sin—somewhere between enlightenment and darkness:
So the Saudis and the Emiratis have started to feel the heat since the outbreak of the Arab spring; they realized that “the chickens have come home to roost,” and that the Islamists whom they have sheltered, financed and cultivated for decades against the old secular regimes of the 1960s have become a real threat to their very existence.
But they have a problem: their legitimacy is largely if not completely founded upon Islamist dogmas, and the corpus of the modern Arab culture, education, literature and legal system is inseparable from the one endorsed by Islamists. The same vision and the same meta-narrative circulating throughout the Arabsphere for decades.
So, How could they fight the members of the other clan who are fighting them with their methods, rules and tools?
Could they rid themselves of the burdens of Islamism by implementing radical secular methods to their political, legal, and educational system?
It’s indeed a far-fetched solution because it demands the charisma and the intellect, the solemnity and the determination of a strong political champion—someone like Kemal Atatürk for example. While most of the Arab rulers are weak, conservatives, uncultured, and lacking determination. However, if they do it abruptly without laying sincerely and patiently the philosophical foundations for such a change, and after their systematic obliteration of liberal voices, they will likely face similar fate that the Shah of Iran had to face after his ill-fated White Revolution.
So they resorted to a rather intriguing way to keep the population away from an overwhelming Islamist craze, but also away from enlightened ideas like democracy and freedom that would ultimately challenge their traditional theocratic rule, too.
It’s what we could call the “strategy of Sins” (in Arabic Ma’asi). Instead of implementing a policy of enlightenment through modern education and genuine process of acculturation with Western values to confront Islamism, they are seeking to distance the young people from Islamist influence and political engagement through musical spectacles, nightclubs and the appeal of the sensational and sensual life.
Lately, in Saudi Arabia, they have opened a nightclub in the city of Jeddah and they have promoted historical sites for tourism that once was regarded by the religious authorities as doomed villages of cursed sinful nations.
But what happens is that the “sinful” youngster who has been taught and indoctrinated since his childhood upon rigid Islamist doctrines, sooner or later will most likely find his way back to his “origins.” In the same way the normalization of relations with Israel that would include all the layers of society is inconceivable not because of the Palestinian dilemma but essentially for the dark and distorted image of the Jews promulgated and sustained by the Arab state-intelligentsia since the creation of the state of Israel.
Iran and Egypt:
Sunni Islamists could easily get along with Shiites of Iran. They both seek the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a genuine medieval Islamist order (Nizam Islami), and while they might’ve crossed swords over some inherited sectarian credos, their supreme ideological bond has always preserved a certain degree of unity and fraternity.
That’s partly the secret behind the warm relationship between Qatar, the MB, and even Turkey, with the Mullahs of Tehran. Iran for them is the negative end, without it the “bulb” of theocracy would be significantly less radiant.
Khomeini was a one-time reader of Sayyid Qutb, the Godfather of Sunni Islam worldwide, and he (Qutb) was a Sunni who sympathized with historical Shiite grievances.
The Iranian revolutionary Ali Shariati is considered a great Muslim thinker by Sunni Islamists and hardly ever when you get to a Sunni library that doesn’t display his books translated to Arabic from Farsi. And whereas Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq were engaging in a barbaric sectarian war, Iran kept funding the terrorist Sunni movements of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza and Taliban in Afghanistan.
As for Egypt, traditionalist Abdul fattah Al-Sisi (a onetime pupil of the late anti-Semite cleric Mutwali Sharawi once considered billy graham of the Middle East in the 1970s and ‘80s) seems in desperate need for the political and social support of the Salafists and the Azharites (members of the powerful Alazhar religious authority.)
In a twist of irony, and to the astonishment of liberal and leftist Egyptians alike, who sought the army intervention in 2013 to overthrow the theocratic rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi reshuffled his cards and interchanged the MB with Wahhabi troglodytes who are already putting Egypt on the brink of the Dark Ages.
Sisi regime is the less interested to effectively normalize relations with Israel in the Saudi-led block, mainly because the Egyptian army has built its legend and grandeur in the eyes of the Egyptians over its wars and struggles with Israel—a friendly relationship would definitely undermine that celebrated legend. However, as a precarious dictator depending on Saudi and Emirati’s bailouts and US aid, reorienting Sisi and re-educating his army won’t be a hard task at all.
Sharing power and influence with the US in the Gulf:
In my opinion the first block is currently between a rock and a hard place. In one hand the deteriorating situation with Iran make them in need to form an alliance that includes Israel as a potential protector with an army for which the Gulf states have great esteem, and as much as the Iranian threat looms larger the need for an Israeli military and intelligence support become greater. Israel could trade that with full acceptance and public normalization—the Palestinians themselves weigh little to Arab kings when it comes to saving their heads and thrones. In fact, the Palestinians will be in need of Israeli protection if another wave of barbarism breaks out throughout the region.
In the other hand, good relations with Israel would give the first bloc a new political identity they long for to separate themselves from the bloc that support the Islamist cause, and maybe promote a Jewish-friendly discourse that would challenge and derange the ideology equilibrium and diminish the celestial aspect given to both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terror groups.
In that sense, Israel should be attentive to seize this historic moment that the Mossad chief Yossi Cohen called “a window of opportunity that is perhaps one-time-only,” and try to elevate its power and posture by building up military bases and political bureaus across the region.