Symposium: The Red Arabs

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In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium we have assembled a distinguished panel to discuss how and why Arab socialists and Islamists have been preparing for this Mideast moment for many years. Our guests today are:

Michael Ledeen, a noted political analyst and a Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of The Iranian Time Bomb, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership and Tocqueville on American Character, and he is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. His latest book is Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.

Pavel Stroilov, a historian who smuggled a vast secret archive of the Gorbachev era out of Russia. Top secret documents concerning the Middle East will be revealed in his forthcoming book Behind the Desert Storm, due to be published by Price World Publishing this summer.

Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest official ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. His first book, Red Horizons, was republished in 27 languages. In March 2010, The Washington Post recommended it to be included on the list of books that should be read in schools. A commemorative edition of Red Horizons was just issued in Romania to mark 20 years since Ceausescu was executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations came out of this book. In April 2010, Pacepa’s latest book, Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination, was prominently displayed at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians held in Washington D.C., as a “superb new paradigmatic work” and a “must read” for “everyone interested in the assassination of President Kennedy.”


Nonie Darwish, the author “Cruel and usual Punishment” and the President of

FP: Nonie Darwish, Pavel Stroilov, Lt. General Pacepa and Michael Ledeen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Pavel Stroilov let us begin with you.

Tell us what you discovered in the Soviet archives concerning the Middle East and what light it might shine on the events in Egypt and in the Middle East in general.

Stroilov: Of course, the Soviet archives are not immediately relevant to the current events in the Middle East; but they do give us a useful insight into the world of Arab Socialist dictators, such as Mubarak or Saddam, Assad or Arafat, Gaddafi or all the others. Today’s media reports from the Middle East somehow manage to omit nearly all important questions. For instance, any sensible analysis of a revolution should certainly begin from considering the nature of the regime. But in all these 24-hours TV coverages from, say, Lybia, how many times have you heard the phrase Islamic Socialism? And that is the regime’s official ideology. That is also what it is all about – not only in Lybia.

Likewise, it is not enough simply to say that Mubarak was a dictator and that he was backed by the West. Let me explain:

The Egyptian regime was the first-born ‘Arab Socialist’ regime; its ultimate goal was to ‘overcome the legacy of colonialism’ and unite the entire Arab world in a national-socialist superstate. As a movement, Arab Socialists are quite similar to Communists and Nazis, and they have been backed by both Nazis and Communists in different periods of their history. The founder of the present Egyptian regime, Col. Nasser, worked with Moscow to export his revolution all over the Middle East – with considerable success. The most notorious of the Egyptian regime’s younger brothers were the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded by Nasser as his future puppet government for whatever would remain of Israel and Jordan after a successful socialist jihad.

After several unsuccessful invasions of Israel, Nasser’s successor Sadat realized this was a wrong tactic. Make no mistake: this does not make the Egyptian regime genuinely pro-Western or pro-Israeli. At no time, for example, did the Egyptian regime stop supporting one or another of the subversive Palestinian groups; it still supports Fatah today. It was only a question of tactics. For this matter, as the archives show, Moscow in the early 1970s tried to persuade Sadat that another invasion of Israel was a wrong tactic, but he insisted on making one more attempt.

After the assassination of Sadat (by a pure coincidence, as we now know from the archives, the Islamist assassins unwittingly fulfilled a secret plan worked out by the Syrian KGB and Palestinian terrorists, approved by Moscow), he was succeeded by Mubarak, a graduate of a Soviet military academy, who commanded Egypt’s air forces in the Yom-Kippur War against Israel. The West readily accepted him as a re-incarnation of Sadat. But if Mubarak was another Sadat, why was not he killed like Sadat?

To the Soviets, as the documents show, Mubarak was keen to present himself as a genuine Nasserite whose true loyalty lies with socialism, and to dissociate himself from his pro-Western predecessor. He described his continuing relations with the West as a cynical game of extracting loans he had no intention to repay, but which alone could keep his regime afloat. He hinted he was just waiting for a convenient moment to stab ‘the imperialists’ in the back.

So, Mubarak was not the Shah of Iran. He was not even Sadat. The regime he led for years is still institutionally hostile to Israel and the West, and it is still a totalitarian socialist regime based on the Party – army – secret police triangle. One feature that distinguishes it from communist regimes is that the land is still privately owned. That is because (as Mubarak confided to Gorbachev) Khruschev once told Nasser in strict secrecy not to create collective farms: that experiment, he said, was tried in the USSR and failed.

True, this regime has a peace treaty with Israel; but I think its significance is exaggerated. When did such regimes ever pay any attention to their peace treaties? Mubarak does not attack Israel because he knows he would be beaten – Egypt has been beaten every time it tried.

To be brief, Mubarak’s Egypt was a similar regime to Saddam’s Iraq, Assad’s Syria, of Gaddafi’s Libya; a typical ‘Red Arab’ regime. Today, the world of Red Arabs has reached its natural Year 1989. It has become commonplace to call it 1989 with an air of absurd optimism. Yet, nobody seems to be thinking of how to avoid the mistakes of 1989. The history of 1989 in East Europe is a history of bogus movements, orchestrated revolutions, and cynical power-sharing deals behind the scenes. That was a year when East Europe lost its chance to establish genuine democracy and free market, and was doomed to decades of ‘post-communist’ nonsense. In the Middle East, it can be even much worse.

So, the tragedy is not that we have reached this point: that had been inevitable all along, as every socialist regime eventually exhausts its economy and the patience of its people. Anyone with a bit of sense and a bit of interest in the matter had known this day would come. Even I, as I happened to be finishing my book shortly before the events in Tunisia, concluded it by predicting that the Red Arabs were on the way to their downfall (now this has become a platitude and I need a new ending). The tragedy is that the Red Arabs and the Islamists have been preparing for this moment for many years; but the West is, as usual, caught by surprise. All we can think of is supporting El Baradei, best known for his covering up of Iraqi and Iranian nuclear programmes, because he is one Arab name we’ve already memorized (or is there some better reason?). The ‘experts’, barely concealing their bewilderment, offer us a choice between the hopeless course of supporting a doomed regime and the suicidal course of going along with the future Islamic Republic of Egypt. This much could be worked out without experts.

On close examination, these two options are exactly the same. It is no coincidence that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized opposition in Egypt. Mubarak’s KGB (or whatever is Arabic for Gestapo) had been working to achieve this for years, ruthlessly stifling any alternative, any embryonic democratic movement, but sparing the Islamist opposition. It is, no doubt, densely infiltrated by secret police informers. And now the events are moving towards the worst-case scenario from 1989: some ’roundtable’ negotiations between the regime and the selected opposition groups, leading to some ‘transitional’ power-sharing deal, giving the Islamists a bridgehead in the government. All those brave boys fighting on the streets, whose only organization is Twitter, will go by the board. By the time of ‘elections’, the only choice will be between the Red Arabs and Muslim Brotherhood. And the West will warmly welcome every step in this direction as a step to stability. It already does.

Is it too late now to prevent all this? We must at least try – but we are not even trying. The West does not even have a policy. The West does not even bother to do an obvious, fool-proof thing: stand up for one oppressed minority which is immune to both Socialism and Islamism – Christians. As for the ‘Arab street’, no policy-maker seems even to know what forces there are on the ground and which of them we want to win.

I am sure my colleagues on this panel will have some good ideas on what that policy should be. For my part, I can only warn against four major mistakes made in 1989, which the West is, I fear, about to repeat:

1. ‘Stability’ is a word we’d better forget – there is no such thing in a revolution. ‘Stability’ will be the motto of the Islamo-Socialist roundtable, whereas our only potential allies are young street-fighters who demand freedom, not stability.

2. Another word to forget is ‘moderate’. Revolutions are never won by moderates; they are won by radicals. The Islamists must not be allowed to ‘sell’ themselves as the most radical force. Indeed, they are not – they are too closely interlinked with the regime. We should support those who demand a complete dismantling of the regime, putting it on trial, opening all its secret archives, revealing the names of all secret police informers. I bet we would find many Muslim Brothers’ names there. This is radical; this is also something the Islamists would not like. Indeed, this is about the only trump card I can see in the hands of Egypt’s democrats (if they do emerge as a serious force as I hope).

3. Once you’ve identified ‘our guys in Egypt’, don’t be shy about supporting them morally and financially – this won’t compromise them. Red Arabs and Islamists will accuse democrats of being Western agents anyway. Winning a revolution is very money-intensive; Iran and others will certainly shower Islamists with money (I guess, it already does).  Moral support would also be important – in a turmoil like this, the foreign opinion is seen as something of an impartial arbiter.

4. This revolution won’t stop in Egypt and Lybia – it will spread further. We should take a broad view of it. The West has been late in Egypt – but we must, at least, try to influence further developments in the region. Now is the time to start working not just on Egypt’s and Lybia’s revolutions, but on the next one, and on the one after the next. It is one matter if the revolution now spreads to Saudi Arabia, and quite another if it spreads to Iran. We must do our best to make it Iran. This, indeed, may be our last hope to snatch victory from the bearded jaws of Islamists (if you forgive the expression).

Ledeen: Wow, what a great panel!  Kudos to you Jamie.

Pavel and his friend Vladimir Bukovsky have done yeoman work in uncovering the real history of the Soviet Empire, and I agree with just about everything he says.  My main demurral is when he talks about “bogus revolutions” in Central and Eastern Europe.  Yes, there were many of those, but here and there we saw real ones, and some of those succeeded and have endured and even flourished.  Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia are successes, the Baltics are either doing ok or are still in play, and despite the dark clouds, I haven’t given up on Ukraine and Bulgaria.  I expect that General Pacepa, one of the great heroes of modern times, will give us a full picture of Romania.

Pavel makes a central point, which is largely overlooked in the frenzy of Egypt coverage (Tunisia has virtually disappeared from “reportage”):  it’s a regional mass movement.  I have often encouraged people to read R.R. Palmer’s great masterpiece The Age of the Democratic Revolution (written in the 1960s), which deals with the last quarter of the 18th century.  In those years there were democratic revolutionary movements all over the civilized world. Most failed. So don’t be surprised if most of these fail; that’s the template.  But we should support the real democratic forces if we know who they are.

That’s another good point from Pavel.  We haven’t been supporting them (to our shame), so it’s hard for us to distinguish the good guys from the frauds, and some of the frauds are in the pay of the Iranians and, I rather suspect, the Russians.  My heart fell last week when our chief of “national intelligence” said that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular and non-violent, when the opposite is true.  On the other hand, the Obama Administration (albeit not the president himself, so far as I can tell) has very strongly endorsed the Iranian opposition and denounced the regime’s vicious oppression.  Maybe we will yet have a policy supporting revolutionary regime change throughout the region.  It started in Iran, inspired Tunisia and Egypt, and is now reverberating all over the Islamic Republic.

Finally, a bit of analytical modesty is in order.  We don’t know how this well play out.  Things are never so bad they can’t get worse, and Islamist tyrannies would be worse than the Arab authoritarian dictatorships. It’s a fight, and the totalitarian Islamists are probably much better organized and much more resolute than their democratic foes…time will tell.

Darwish: I agree with Michael Ledeen that this is a great panel and I always learn a lot from Russian heroes such as him and Mr. Stroilov. I also agree with him that the current revolution in Egypt is a regional movement that will destabilize the region for quite sometime. If democracy wins in the region, the instability and perhaps civil wars will last much longer than if tyranny wins. We can only wait and see, but my fear is that as tyranny falls the chances for the chaos reaching Israel and the West increases.

Having lived during the socialist dictatorship of Nasser in Egypt, I cannot wait to read Mr. Stroilov’s upcoming book. I like Mr. Stroilov’s term ‘socialist jihad’ which indicates how Socialism and Islamism have combined in many parts of the Muslim world.

Despite some rocky history between Socialism and Islamism, they have often cooperated, fed on one another and blended and bonded. It is much more accepted for an Arab rebel to adopt communism than a pro-Western capitalist ideology. I have heard many Arabs proudly say they are communists and survive, but those who can dare announce they are supporters of a Judeo/Christian style democracy are no where to be found. The former is rarely described as infidel, but the is what the later is called. The reason is complex but the obvious one is that both ideologies, socialism and Islam, are totalitarian in nature and both have Western style free democracies as their number one enemy.

In the political chaos of the Middle East, Socialism has managed to survive and attract many followers. Almost all Muslim countries have tolerated a side-kick communist/socialist party which was well connected to the much needed communist block of the Soviet Union. Arab regimes have always needed the support of the communist block militarily and politically.

Unlike Western style democracy, socialism was closer to Islamism producing a unique blend of the two ideologies in almost all Arab countries. Socialism has served many Muslim leader well and provided them with yet another layer of tyranny that Islam might have missed. The flags of Iraq and Egypt for instance were very similar indicating the socialist twist of black white and red stripes, but then to please the Islamist Saddam tastelessly added the Allahu Akhbar in Arabic in the middle which made the flag represent the blending of the two ideologies.

The reason that Red Arab ideology can survive inside the brutal political environment of Islam was because it did not challenge Sharia Islamic law as much as Western free style democracy. Red Arabs and Islamists were brought closer together by their Western mutual enemy. That is the state of Egyptian politics today, where the Islamist and Socialists have often cooperated, however, this cooperation evaporates as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood is in control.

The self-exiled Egyptian Yusuf Al-Qaradawi arrived in Cairo after the revolution to speak at Tahrir square Friday and socialist activists were prevented from joining him on the stage after his prayers sermon. That is perhaps a message that socialists are no longer needed by the Brotherhood after the revolution. I do not predict that socialism in Egypt will disappear with a triumph of Islamists, but the dance between the two ideologies will continue to manifest itself.

In that dynamic, the possibility for Egypt’s supporters of a Western style democracy to appear as a force is very week. This group will immediately be branded as puppets of the West and traitors to Islamic aspirations. For such a group to gain power, tremendous change and growth in Egyptian thinking and education must take place.

Unfortunately, my guess is that the situation in Egypt will get worse before it gets better and Egyptians need to experience the horrors of life under Islamic Sharia for a Western style democracy to emerge. The Egyptian culture is still extremely anti-Semitic and anti-American after many decades of indoctrination and propaganda that Islam is the solution. For now the power in Egypt will be with Islamists who will adopt some socialist policies.

Pacepa: I’m also grateful to Jamie Glazov for gathering together such a great panel, and especially for persuading Michael Ledeen to attend this symposium. He is among the few Americans who really understand the three main components of this international crisis: U.S. foreign policy, Islamic terrorism, and the Middle East. For, in my view, the current wave of Islamic “revolutions,” which have been long in the making, are turning against the United States primarily because our administration does not have any foreign policy to deal with them, does not understand Islamic terrorism, and has no clue about what to do in the Middle East.

I am not an expert on Egyptian matters, but in my other life, as a top figure in the Soviet bloc, I witnessed the Kremlin’s secret effort to ignite “liberation revolutions” within the Islamic world, and to turn them against the Kremlin’s main enemy, the United States. I have described this effort elsewhere (“Russian Footprints,” National Review Online, August 24, 2006).

From my vintage point, the Kremlin’s long effort to implant a rabid hatred for the U.S. in the Islamic world has now arrived at gestation for the simple reason that the current administration in Washington has been caught with its pants down. It would have been hilarious, if it were not such a deadly serious matter, that this administration could not even make up its mind on how to react publicly to recent events in Egypt. And it is outright incredible that the Libyan ambassador to the United States should be begging Washington to condemn his own brutal tyrant, who has already killed hundreds of demonstrators in Tripoli, while our administration still does not know what to say, let alone have any semblance of a foreign policy to deal with the future oil crisis that will surely be generated by the chaotic Islamic uprisings—as things look now, we may soon be paying $10 per gallon for fuel at the pump.

We all want to see democracy succeed in Egypt, Libya and the rest of the Islamic world. The current horrors of anarchy taking place there, however, will not lead to democracy. Democratic revolutions have inspiring national leaders. The demonstrators in Cairo, Tripoli and in the rest of the Islamic countries do not have national leaders.

Just recently, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief theoretician, who is banned in the United States and Britain, returned to Cairo after a 50-year absence to lead Egypt’s “democratic revolution.” His Muslim Brotherhood’s “democratic” motto: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, these objectives could only be attained by “raising a jihadi generation that pursued death as the enemies pursued life.” [1]

These Islamic “democratic revolutions” look much like the “democratic revolutions” that took place in my native Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe after World War II. I was there, and I witnessed how things went. None of them had a national leader. All were secretly instigated by Moscow, all were secretly manipulated by Moscow’s men, and all were geared toward transforming those countries into Soviet satellites. They all succeeded, because the U.S. administration of that time also lacked any foreign policy that could recognize and deal with the Kremlin’s export of revolution. Why were we able to win WWII, but unable to put together a foreign policy to deal with one of its most important aftermaths?

In 1943, the Kremlin manufactured evidence suggesting that Hitler was planning to kidnap President Roosevelt from the American Embassy in Tehran during the Allied Summit to be held there. As a result, Roosevelt agreed that the meetings between the three leasers be held within the “safety” of the Soviet Embassy compound, which was guarded by a large Soviet military unit. [2] Unbeknownst to the American organizers, the Soviet personnel assigned to Roosevelt were English-speaking undercover intelligence officers. With few exceptions, however, they kept their English fluency a secret, so as to be able to eavesdrop. Even given the limited technical capabilities of that day, those officers were able to provide Stalin with hourly monitoring reports on the American and British guests. That helped Stalin gain Roosevelt’s confidence. “The cripple’s mine!” Stalin reportedly exulted, after Roosevelt chummily referred to him as “Uncle Joe.” Unfortunately, Stalin proved right.

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  • jon whiteford

    I am most impressed with this group, and there in depth knowledge.

    Look what happened to Africa, as a result of Marxist influence on most of the immediate post colonial rulers. What a disaster tribalism and socialism have been.

    Is it possible, with the permission of those sponsoring and those involved to make this available as a .pdf file?

    It is such a great refutation of much of the blather we are hearing these days, I want to be able to keep it forever.

    I will now go back and look at your book and be looking for your next one out.

    Thank you and your panel for your scholarship and your time.

    Jon Whiteford
    From a tiny town in Kentucky

    • ajnn

      "a great refutation of much of the blather we are hearing" –

      it is remarkable that the 'commentators' are actually getting paid real money for knowing nothing and saying nonsense.

  • Ken Genest

    I took the time to read the whole thing because I got the impression these are knowledgeable people and they're telling the truth – something we don't get much of in the media.

    Reading the report of this symposium was a great learning session for me!

  • 2maxpower

    thank you Jamie. a very informative panel.


  • ajnn

    This is a difficult set of issues and I am unclear as to how much the roots of the soviet/communist decadence and nihilism have been a formative influence in the middle east.

    maybe i just want it to 'not be so'. i sure do not want it to be accurate !!!! of course, this is not a 'policy'.

    the point about the 'secret police archives' is not dependant on any 'roots of soviet' analysis and is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL, as pointed out by this panel. A very, very important issue.

  • fxgeorges

    I agree with Michael: Iran is absolutely central to the whole regional revolution.

    They all agree with bert

  • dominicversy