The Crazy Game of Snakes and Ladders in the Middle East

It looks like Hosni Mubarak has returned among the living. One thing is for sure: the Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo, where he’ll spend some time before he is released on house arrest, will be a place for both pilgrims and protesters. The confusion around Tora Prison is nothing compared to the confusion about what his release means in symbolic terms. General Sisi has released the enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been defeated and, in the wake of their defeat, he has put an end to the revolution that began two and a half years ago that led to Mubarak being overthrown. But now Sissi is Egypt’s new pharaoh; Mubarak merely represents the government that was overthrown. The charges of corruption have been dropped. No sentence has been handed down for the charge of murdering Egyptian citizens but, seeing the rais free, you can’t help but think your eyes are playing tricks on you. The Middle East is like a game of snakes and ladders where there’s a lot of movement but, in the end, nothing changes. Tragedies are forgotten. Even Assad’s use of chemical weapons just smolders before burning off and we’re right back to where we were before, ready to throw the dice again. Our lapse in memory makes it feel like Mubarak’s return is of little importance. We forget what the figure of Mubarak represented, how he never really liked the West even though he worked with Western governments to sign accords in order to keep his regime alive. He was the protector of the peace with Israel even though he couldn’t stand the country and shared in its fight against Hamas and the jihadists in the Sinai. The 85-year old was guided by the principle that stability together with economic progress was much more valuable than democracy.

Mubarak is old and has suffered from cancer for three years. Sissi knew when he released him that he does not represent a threat. But the image is powerful, bringing us back to two and a half years ago: Mubarak with his dark sunglasses on his emotionless face, his martial and stoic air, his thirty years of dictatorship that led to the revolution. The game of snakes and ladders is a paradox if we look at El Baradie, one of the leaders of the coup d’état, who returned to Vienna, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offices, which he ran.

The game of snakes and ladders can also be brutal: deaths, violence and bloodshed in the Middle East don’t lead to robust, moral and logical politics. The most Europe has done about Egypt is to convene its Foreign Ministers and shut off military supplies. Otherwise the countries of the E.U. have done nothing, except issue their usual condemnations. Nothing new. But what’s worse is that the game of snakes and ladders has cruelly begun again in Syria: one year later, after hundreds of thousands of deaths and the use of nerve gas, we’ve done nothing but issue declarations against Assad.

A year has now passed since Obama promised the whole world that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated and was the line in the sand for the civilized world. That line has been crossed. After the sarin gas attacks against civilians, women and children and a series of other deadly distinctions, we’re again at the point of investigating the situation on the ground, investigations which are unlikely to come to any conclusions before Assad attacks again.

This week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey ruled out any use of American weapons. His argument is not without reason: a portion of Assad enemies’ are jihadists with ties to Al Qaida and nothing good can come from helping them. But this does not mean that the American superpower and Europe get a free pass from defending the world from barbarization. America’s inaction has resulted in Assad feeling free to act as cruelly as he sees fit since Obama won’t do anything about it and Putin continues to openly support him and provide aid and weapons. Hezbollah or another Jihadist group has tried to open a front with Israel and tensions have been building on the border with Lebanon after four Grad rockets were shot into Northern Israel yesterday. Israel is on high alert: this time, a possible war looks like a Syria coming apart at the seams and Iran supporting Hezbollah. And so we’re right back where we started, although possibly worse off.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, The Gatestone Institute


About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.