U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the nuclear deal with Iran is propelling the Arab world into the arms of Russia. The Egyptian government, formerly a U.S. ally, will buy $2 billion in arms from Russia, signaling a strategic realignment in the Middle East that leaves Putin in control. Egypt’s open embrace of Russia started immediately after the Obama Administration suspended some military aid to the Egyptian government in response to the overthrow of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. While American aid continued unabated after the Islamists took over, it was cut after they were overthrown.
Support for America and President Obama in particular collapsed in Egypt in response. Only a single percent of Egyptians have confidence in the U.S. and three percent have confidence in Obama. The U.S. support for the Brotherhood has made it a casualty of the regional backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia is embarking on a similar course. Saudi officials now openly talk to reporters about how their country will be more independent in reaction to U.S. policy. Reports about the acquisition of Pakistani nuclear weapons are met with non-denials. The Saudis offered Russia a strategic alliance and major oil partnership if Putin abandons the Assad regime.
“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president [Obama], which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence.
The Royal Family of Bahrain, a foe of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, feels the same way. Crown Prince al-Khalifa recently said, “America seems to suffer from schizophrenia when it deals with the Arab world.”
He compared the U.S. unfavorably to Russia; a shocking assessment considering Bahrain’s hostility to Putin.
“The Russians have proved that they are reliable friends,” he explained.
This trend didn’t start after the Arab Spring brought the Muslim Brotherhood to the forefront. It started shortly after President Obama took the oath of office. By June 2010, Egyptian and Jordanian officials were privately fretting about American diplomacy, specifically how the administration was reaching out to Syria.
“Only if you’re tough with America and adopt an anti-U.S. stance will the U.S. have a more flexible attitude and pay you,” an Egyptian official anonymously stated.
Similarly, a Jordanian official said the U.S. “sold out the Christians and Druze in Lebanon, sold out the Kurds in Iraq and abandoned the Hariri probe,” referring to the investigation into the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are widely thought to be the perpetrators.
It is mostly forgotten that the Iraqi government was confronting the Syrian regime (and therefore, Iran) back in 2009. The Iraqis were threatening retaliation for Syrian support of terrorism, releasing incriminating intelligence proving Syria’s complicity and trying to rally international support for a U.N. tribunal to prosecute terrorism-supporting Syrian officials.
When the Iraqi government asked for U.S. backing, the administration declared it would not get involved and that Iraq and Syria should solve their differences diplomatically. An Iraqi official claimed that the U.S. privately fought Iraq’s plans for a tribunal. Iraq is now in Iran’s orbit and is an ally of Bashar Assad.
This is great news for Vladimir Putin, who said in 2005 that “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
“Today, Russia is returning to a number of regions lost during the 1990s,” Mikhail Margelov, chairman of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee, proudly stated when talking about the arms deal with Egypt.
Similar statements are coming from the Egyptian side.
“We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said.
The Middle East is now divided into three alliances.
The first alliance is Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Qatar and Tunisia. The Obama Administration is most favorable to this one, going so far as to use taxpayer money to spread Turkish and Qatari Islamism.
The second alliance is Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq. The administration is trying to build a better relationship with this bloc.
The third alliance is Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. The Gulf country of Oman is trying to stay out of the confrontation with Iran. This bloc is the one most favorable to Israel and the one most vocally disappointed with U.S. policy.
The first two alliances are coming together against the third. Turkey and Iran want to achieve a ceasefire in Syria and their senior officials say they want to “join hands” to become the “backbone of regional stability.” Earlier this month, Hamas announced it resumed relations with Iran.
Russia is now in an ideal position where its friendship is craved by both sides in the Middle Eastern power struggle. Putin is the one with the options. He can pick the Iranian/Turkish side, pick the Saudi/Egyptian side, or play them against each other to his benefit.
It’s an embarrassing moment in history when the Middle East would rather bring back the Soviet Union than rely on today’s United States.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy contributed to this article.