The Middle East

on the World Today

THE real contest within the Arab world today is over Syria. Ever since the Iraqi revolution a year ago (July 14) the United Arab Republic has been threatened. At first, in the early days of the Kassem regime, it seemed to be threatened by the normal attraction of trade and traffic between Syria and Iraq, which had been arrested during the period of Iraq’s pro-Western rule. But as Kassem moved further left, it became plain that the U.A.R. structure, which had been devised in the first place to save Syria from Communism, was again threatened from the left,

As Kassem himself appeared more and more entangled with the Communists and more dependent upon them for his build-up as a leader, his apparently moderate attitude toward the U.A.R. shifted to opposition. By last fall, attacks on Nasser himself had become a test of loyalty to the Iraqi government.

The influences which brought about this bitter cleavage among Arab nationalists are Communist. Once it was apparent that the army coup in Iraq had opened up a political vacuum, two forces came into collision there attempting to fill it. One was Ba’ath Socialist; the other Communist. Both were led originally by Syrians.

Unfortunately for the Ba’ath movement, Iraqi leadership was at once appropriated by the unstable Colonel Aref, Kassem’s partner in the Iraqi revolution. Without full understanding or support from Cairo. Aref attempted to improve on the coup by heading a movement for immediate union with the U.A.R. In this effort he violated all the rules of successful strategy: frightened Iraq’s minorities, who oppose being swallowed in the U.A.R.; antagonized Kassem and the moderates, who hoped to achieve nationalism in one country; and challenged the Communists. Inevitably he went to jail, where he remains under death sentence for treason.

By this time Khaled Bakdash, Syrian leader of all Levant Communists, had moved to Baghdad, along with General Afif el Bizri, the former Communist Syrian commander of the U.A.R. first army. Fellow-traveling agents from Jordan also converged on Baghdad, where Kassem had meanwhile welcomed such returning Communists as the exiled Kurdish general, Mustafa Barzani. The arrival of so much brass naturally emboldened the forces of Iraqi Communism. Not too surprisingly these cadres were emerging from their long imprisonment under Nuri es Said well drilled in party doctrine and subversion. Party leadership, however, was assumed by the Syrians.

The Communist program for the future was outlined by Bakdash at the 21st Party Congress in Moscow last February. First he described the Ba’ath nationalists as “adventurers, reminiscent of the right-wing socialists in Europe, who . . . attempt to . . . stifle democratic freedoms and to open the doors to imperialist capital from Western Germany. Italy, and Japan or to the International Bank, in which American capital predominates.”He then proposed a thirteenpoint program for the U.A.R., providing for democratic liberties and parliaments to be created by popular elections. This program, he suggested, would provide a way out of the “enormous difficulties” of Syria’s present position.

Nasser turns against the Communists

What has finally shaken Nasser to the point of opening up his propaganda fire on Moscow has been Moscow’s support of Iraqi Communists. Up to this point, Nasser tried to have it both ways, continuing trade and aid from Russia while suppressing the U.A.R. Communist movement. But with the sharpening of personal attacks on him from Iraq, and reminders from Khrushchev of Nasser’s dependence on Moscow, he has had to lace the possibility of a break with Russia.

Suppression of Communists and fellow travelers within the U.A.R. has lately become more drastic. Some four hundred additional suspects were suddenly rounded up early in the spring and are still under arrest. Among them were journalists who had parroted the previously fashionable proRussian line too faithfully. Egyptians have suddenly been enlightened about Hungary. For the first time a booklet of atrocity pictures about the Soviet role in the revolt is on sale on the streets in Cairo, for two piasters. Another publication reveals Red Chinese atrocities in Tibet.

Nasser now reports that Russian assistance at the time of Suez was negligible. The study of Russian is no longer required in the schools. And oblique social overtures to Western civilians living in Cairo indicate that the official ban on fraternizing with them is being relaxed.

There is thus no doubt of President Nasser’s anger at Soviet meddling in Iraq and Syria. His response to the challenge has been characteristically quick and violent. But in his shift back to a more negative neutralism between East and West he finds the galleries outside the U.A.R. strangely empty. Moreover, he is being confronted with some of his own propaganda tactics. Thus the pro-Gommunist An Nida of Lebanon suggests that the Arab peoples themselves will liberate their countries and maintain Arab-Soviet friendship. Nasser is classed with Nuri es Said and Charles Malik as just another ruler trying to make a policy out of anti-Communism.

Nasser’s counterattacks have not brought him any enthusiastic support from neighboring Arab states. Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, for example, have been openly anti-Communist for some time. But they have not hastened to join the latest Nasser crusade while it is focused on Iraq.

Their reluctance can be partly explained by the parochial character of Arab politics. None of the Arab states wants to see an Iraqi Soviet republic. They realize that it would be a real threat and that Syria might be drawn into such a republic if it materializes. They see fellow travelers like Khaled Azm working in Syria for a Soviet victory. Yet they are not willing to accept the Nasser doctrine that salvation can come only from Cairo.

The Arabs resist Nasser’s pressure

Local vested interests always play a role in such decisions. In spite of some progress toward mutual cooperation within the Arab League, the members still remain almost as divided and as vulnerable as they were during the Palestine struggle. President Nasser has attempted with some success to catalyze the forces for unity and progress within the Arab world. His dramatic gestures in defying the West, getting Russian arms, and taking over the Suez Canal have made a deep impression. But he has tried to move too rapidly. Nasser has a record of impatient intrigue against the governments of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. There are bitter memories in each of these countries of his attempts to subvert their governments. This helps to explain why they are now playing the role of alert but determined neutrals while Nasser sounds the alarm over Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has been notably quiet ever since the Iraqi coup, refusing to make any open moves. But it is known that channels of communication between Riyadh and Baghdad remain open, and exchanges still go on between them on matters of common interest, notably oil.

Nasser’s greatest asset within Iraq is the continuing liaison between U.A.R. and Iraqi army officers. If any reporting from Iraq can be relied on, the army is still fundamentally conservative and would choose to oppose Communist rule. U.A.R. arms are still moving into northern Iraq from Syria, and many Iraqi resisters turn up in Damascus these days. But beyond this the possible effectiveness of further army resistance to a takeover is doubtful. The purge of Iraqi officers has been so thorough that true nationalist leadership among them must be demoralized.

Nasser’s second powerful weapon is propaganda. Here he is in a favorable situation to exploit the wide following that Cairo Radio has throughout the Arab world. He has turned the full torrid blast formerly directed at the West on the anarchic and fantastic performances of the Baghdad people’s court. Free Iraqi movements and secret radio stations are at work.

Stability in Egypt

Within Egypt there are evidences of stability and social progress. The International Bank’s reappraisal of Egypt’s ability to carry out its ambitious Nasser Plan to double the capacity of the Suez Canal is encouraging. Success in securing a loan for this project would greatly strengthen the elements within the government which favor moderation and a businesslike rapprochement with the West.

At the same time, German and Italian economic and technical assistance is increasing. A new trade pact with Italy will help channel cotton to Italy in exchange for machinery. This pact is particularly significant in that it makes possible direct sales to Italy at a competitive price. Soviet clumping of Egyptian cotton can thus be overcome.

Relations with Britain have foundered again on the Iraqi issue. Suspicions on both sides remain deep. Egypt’s delays in aiding the desequestration of British properties have only increased the difficulties about resumption of diplomatic relations. With British arms continuing to move to Iraq, in a gamble that they may help prevent complete dependence on Moscow, Nasser is fortified in his suspicion that this aid is directed at Arab unity. Since his own arms are moving toward the Iraqi opposition, further explosions seem inevitable.

Anarchy in Iraq

Meanwhile within Iraq it is difficult to see how order of any kind can take the place of present anarchy, fear, and violence. The enigmatic Kassem makes occasional gestures to indicate his supposed neutrality, asking for British arms and accepting American scholarships for Iraqi students, for example. But regardless of his intentions, his capabilities of carrying them out rest on support by the Communists. Barring a successful counterrevolt, the decision on Iraq clearly will come now not in Baghdad but in Moscow.

For the West and for remaining independent Middle East states, Iraq provides one more lesson about revolution. The principal failure comes from the absence of a strong center with a sense of direction. Without this element, and with its army demoralized, even a rich country like Iraq is an easy target.

The lesson seems particularly apt for study by Iraq’s neighbor, Iran. There the same tight rule from the top precludes the rise of a middle group. The angry young men returning from Western universities find themselves disenfranchised in Teheran, as they were in Baghdad. Laws are passed, but little change occurs. The same corruption and the same clinging to prerogatives frustrate even the most obvious reforms instituted by the Shah.

For a poor country like Jordan the only chance is dependence on outside support. Even so, the American decision to come to the rescue and make a showpiece of Western aid in Jordan cannot save Jordan from more revolutionary efforts. There is just a chance, however, that an evolutionary process may save Jordan. New faces in the Cabinet there, and a return to moderate counsels in Cairo, may yet make it possible for Jordan to end its present isolation and take a place in some form of association with the U.A.R.

The legacy of Palestine

Finally, the legacy of the Palestine struggle remains to plague every Middle East decision. Principally the problem revolves about the refugees and unsolved border questions. Any attempt to alter the status quo, either by abolishing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, as has been proposed at the UN, or by persuading the Arab states to assume responsibility, is doomed in the present uneasy political climate. The Hammarskjöld recommendation that UNRWA be continued was inevitable. The best hope for constructive efforts within its framework lies in the fact that UNRWA is being encouraged to expand its technical education program.

Two concerns seem to be behind this attitude. One is that the several hundred thousand Arab teen-agers among the refugees must be kept busy, the other that technical education will help to relieve the shortage of skilled hands for Arab industrialization. It is possible to see a way out for these young people, acceptable to all sides. It is the first hopeful sign on the Palestine horizon in ten years.