Why was the US attacked on September 11, 2001?

THIS weekend will mark 10 years since the World Trade Centre was brought down by Islamic fundamentalists in a spectacular attack that changed life in the US. But till today, we have had no answer to the question why.

The Middle East correspondent of The Independent, Robert Fisk, tells of an incident shortly after the attacks, when he was interviewed along with Alan Dershowitz, the well-known US lawyer.

Fisk, like any good journalist, raised the question of why the attacks had taken place; as he explained it, even in the case of a small robbery, the first thing the police try to find out is possible motive.
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Is Hersh right or wrong?

THE well-respected American investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, has come under a lot of fire from conservatives recently after he published an article in the New Yorker, saying that there was no conclusive evidence that Iran was making any moves towards building a nuclear bomb.

Hersh is a legendary figure in journalistic circles; he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and, more recently, was responsible for exposing the abuse by American forces in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Some of the criticism came from the Wall Street Journal which was very careful to avoid citing Hersh’s credentials but, instead, concentrated on pointing out where he had gone wrong in the past. For an investigative report, getting it right 50 percent of the time is better than most and Hersh is far better than that.

The WSJ piece, written by a cantankerous gent named Bret Stephens (partial article here; the skinflints at WSJ charge for rubbish like this) dwells heavily on what Hersh has got wrong in the last four or five years. It does not give the reader any idea about the major triumphs that this intrepid man, one of the few newspapermen in the US with even a shred of integrity after the Iraq invasion of 2003, has recorded.

Other criticisms dwell on Hersh’s characterisation of the Iraq invasion as a “mistake”; this is correct as the march to control Saddam’s oil was a deliberately planned mission by Dubya and his cronies. The possibility that Sy indulging in sarcasm appears to have escaped people.Hersh, more than anyone else, knows the background of what led up to the Iraq invasion.

If Hersh is right in pointing out that Iran is nowhere near a nuclear weapon, then a huge amount of the fear factor that is being drummed up by Israel and its cohorts in the US dissipates immediately. Even Israelis, such as the former Mossad chief, Meir Dragan, have gone on the record, saying that Iran poses no danger at the moment.

But if the fear that hangs over the Middle East is lifted, then it becomes difficult for Israel to continue to get the support it does in the US. Support which translates into lobbying muscle, aid and diplomatic support. Hence anybody who writes an article like Hersh did will be targeted.

Obama angers Israel – and conveniently forgets that Saudi Arabia exists

SOON after he came to office in 2009, US President Barack Obama made a trip to Cairo and gave a stirring speech at Cairo University. Obama is probably the best speaker in world politics and can soar to heights of great rhetoric; the effect of his Cairo speech was probably magnified by the fact that he was a few months into his four-year term and hopes were high that he would live up to the promises he had made while campaigning for the presidency.

A little less than two years later, with a great deal of cynicism over what Obama has turned out to be, he gave a second address today, focused on the Middle East, this time from the White House. And in so doing, he may well have ensured that he loses the presidential election in 2012.

The speech was apparently meant to give an official American stance on the incidents that have taken place in the Middle East since last December – the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the ongoing struggle for freedom in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and smaller agitations in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The killing of Osama bin Laden would have guaranteed Obama re-election had he not opened his big mouth about Israel’s borders. But he chose to do precisely this and, in so doing, may well have lost the backing of the powerful Israeli lobby that can decide who rises or falls in American politics.

George Bush Senior was the last US president to feel the power of this lobby after he withheld loan guarantees from Israel in order to force the country to attend peace talks in Madrid in 1991; he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

Obama’s mistake was to backtrack on US policy; it is well-known that the US backs a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on the ceasefire lines of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. This stance ensures that Israel retains control of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip which it can then use as bargaining chips. Jerusalem is the main obstacle. (The so-called peace process over the last 20 years has given the Gaza Strip and about 20 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control.)

But in his speech today, Obama said a two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war. At that time, Jordan was occupying the West Bank and Egypt held the Gaza Strip. And Israel was not in control of Jerusalem.

Obama has a chance to fall on his knees and grovel and reverse his stance – he is due to speak to the biggest and most powerful Israeli lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, soon. But if he does repeat his comments there, then you can bid goodbye to the chances of a Democrat being in the White House for the next four years.

Predictably, Obama came down in support of Arab countries where the people have decided to fight for freedom. But his gestures to help these nations – involving the IMF and the World Bank – means that the process that was gone through in South America to make the nations of that continent servants of the US will be re-enacted all over again.

As expected, Obama did not dare to say a word about Saudi Arabia. There have been several low-key protests in the kingdom and women have threatened to drive en masse in protest against the ludicrous rule that prevents them from doing so. But Obama seemed unaware of this.

He mentioned the repression in Bahrain and even went to the extent of saying that Shia mosques should not be destroyed by the Sunni rulers but he did not chide Saudi Arabia for leading troops into Bahrain and playing a leading role in savagely quelling the popular protests.

The US treads carefully when it comes to Saudi Arabia. There is no better example to illustrate this than the events of 9/11; despite the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the US were Saudis, Washington did nothing to protest. Instead, it helped several members of the bin Laden family and royals from the Saudi clan to leave the US immediately after the attacks, at a time when air traffic was grounded.

The name of the game is oil. The Saudis are still the biggest producers and the country with the largest remaining reserves. If explorations in Iraq do turn up more reserves as some have predicted, then a future US president may criticise Saudi Arabia in public.

For the moment, Obama is as beholden to the Saudis as Dubya. He is conscious that the US still consumes 25 percent of the world’s petroleum and is up to its tits in debt.

Bin Laden’s death: the old American habit of lying is back

THE US of A sure knows how to screw up things. For them, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American forces was an act that would have guaranteed a lot of good karma right across the world.

The problem is, they tried to embellish the tale of his death with unnecessary lies. There’s a simple rule about lies – much in the same way that cadavers float to the surface, lies generally get exposed. The only variable is their shelf life.

It hasn’t taken long for the Americans’ lies to be exposed. For one, bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed. The Americans said he had fired back at them when they entered the room in which he was; now it turns out that both bin Laden and one of his wives were in that room, both were unarmed and the woman rushed towards the Americans and they shot her in the foot. This is straight from the White House, courtesy its spokesman Jay Carney.

Bin Laden was then killed in cold blood. The Americans lied when they said they could not have taken him alive. Of course, anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan knows that the Americans did not want to capture him alive and put him on trial – a lot of what he would have said in a courtroom would have been pretty damaging to the CIA.

Another lie the Americans told was about bin Laden using the woman in the room as a human shield – turns out he did no such thing. The Americans shot the woman in the foot when she ran towards them as they entered the room. Bin Laden did not grab her and hold her in front of him as a shield. An attempt to paint him as a coward failed. Why did they try to do so?

There are other lies that are being exposed: CIA veteran Bob Baer, speaking to the BBC, pointed out that it would have been impossible for the type of helicopters used in the raid to kill bin Laden to operate in the area without being noticed as they make an awful racket (he exaggerated to get his point across, saying that they could have been heard in Karachi, more than 1500 kms away).

Baer also pointed out that it would have been impossible for the helicopters to enter Pakistani airspace without being spotted on radar; given that Pakistan shares a border with two countries it distrusts – India and Afghanistan – it is on the alert round the clock. The Pakistanis were in on the whole thing – nothing else explains this.

Baer was also adamant that the raid could not have happened without Pakistani troops being present – though, he said, they would have stayed outside the premises as they did not want to be involved in the killing.

It is inconceivable that the Pakistan armed forces were not aware that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad which is about 122 kilometres from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. Abbottabad is also home to the Pakistan Military Academy and Baer made the point that it was impossible for a foreigner to be in the area without gossip spreading about his or her reason for being there.

It is well known that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence has a soft spot for extremists. The agency was provided with billions of dollars by the Americans during the war against the Soviets and it channelled the funds to the various militias in Afghanistan, with the lion’s share going to the Pashtun groups; Pashtuns are present in Pakistan in large numbers, hence the bias.

The ISI is close to the Afghan Taliban and also the local version, the Pakistan Taliban. There are plenty of sympathisers within ISI ranks, men who want to see Pakistan become a fundamentalist Islamic state.

To believe that a unit like this was unaware of the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad is like asking one to believe that the moon is made of cheese.

This constant changing of the story has led to one thing – the proliferation of conspiracy theories on the internet.

There have been conspiracy theories aplenty about the September 11 attacks despite the fact that the two masterminds, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, spoke to journalist Yosri Fouda of Al-Jazeera and detailed the plot.

Fouda, along with Nick Fielding of the Times, wrote a book titled Masterminds of Terror in 2003 detailing the modus operandi of the attacks but this has not quelled the conspiracy theorists. You can’t get closer to the plot than by reading this book.

There are already plenty of conspiracy theories on the internet about bin Laden’s death. I hope it doesn’t turn out that the Americans got the wrong man!

Bin Laden’s death: the fallout

THE death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan today means that the US President Barack Obama will have absolutely no problem getting re-elected.

Bin Laden was killed by American secret service troops in Abbotabad, an affluent suburb close to the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.

Not that Obama has looked like having a worthwhile challenger from the Republican side in his bid for another four years in the White House; however, given the fractured state of the American nation, there was always a possibility that someone from the right would be able to capitalise on the dissatisfaction caused by the financial problems dogging the country.

That possibility is now precisely zero.

A second fallout of the killing is that Pakistan will face increased attacks within its borders. When Obama announced the news, he had to walk a tightrope – he could not let on that Pakistani troops had also been involved but at the same time he could not make it look as though the Americans had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But given that such a killing could not take place in a suburb like Abbotabad, home to the wealthy and educated for the most part, without Pakistani cooperation at a very high level, it is impossible to believe any report that says Pakistani special forces were not involved as well. This will not win Pakistan’s rulers any brownie points with their own population.

Pakistan has had few settled periods in its own history. It has been under martial rule for most of its existence after a painful partition from India in 1947. It has festering internal problems all over the place and is beholden to the US for aid. To the West and many other countries bin Laden was a terrorist; to Pakistan and many other countries who have suffered due to the wishes of American imperialism, he was seen as someone who had managed to gain some revenge.

And to people like the Palestinians, who have suffered under the yoke of Israeli occupation for decades, bin Laden was a hero who kept to the straight and narrow, demanding justice for them while taking the fight to the one country which has ensured that Israel is not held to account.

In Britain, there must be at least a few people who are old enough to recall the manner in which the colonial empire used its policy of divide and rule to ensure that India did not stay united and wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight, that was a wise policy. The child born of that policy, Pakistan, (which ironically means the land of the pure), has been implicated as playing some role or the other in practically every single notable act of terrorism in the last 30 years.

Does the US now draw the curtain on Dubya’s war on terror? Can it pull back troops from Afghanistan now that the reason for them going there no longer exists? What does it do with the body? Muslims bury the dead as soon as possible; the Americans have removed bin Laden’s body to the Bagram air base in Pakistan and will have to decide whether they show it to the world or else quietly bury it. Either option will create its own problems.

The US has painted this as a major victory; yet is it really so? Is the fact that the most powerful nation in the world took nearly 10 years to capture a man like bin Laden a demonstration of superior military and tactical ability? The killing has left as many questions as existed before.

Brotherly love can often extend too far

IT IS unlikely that there are too many Bahrainis who would look kindly on the intrusion into their internal affairs by the neighbouring Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia. After the recent spate of demonstrations in the little island nation appeared to be getting out of control, the Saudis led a posse across the causeway and began a brutal crackdown.

The Saudis are aware that any flirtation with liberalisation will affect their own country, the most mysterious and shrouded on the Arabian Peninsula. And they have always had a paternalistic attitude towards Bahrain given that Iran, Riyadh’s main rival for power and influence in the region, takes a keen interest in the affairs of the little island which is said, by some, to be the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.

If that is so, then there is certainly more than a single serpent roaming around. Dissatisfaction over the employment policies of the current ruler – King Hamad, the son of Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, who elevated the country to a constitutional monarchy in 2002 from a mere emirate – boiled over and, drawing inspiration from protests in other regions of the Middle East, the Bahrainis started their own version of the French revolution.

Protests continue to this day and there now appears to be evidence of the brutality of the Saudi crackdown. Of course, the Saudis know only two methods of quelling opposition – either buy them off with bribes or else kill the whole lot. The first method would not have worked, so now they are taking recourse to the second.

A distance behind the Saudis, and standing tall in support, are our good friends, the men and women from the land of the brave and the free, the United States of America. Bahrain may be just a glob of sand when viewed from a plane, but it is home to the US Fifth Fleet. Hence, Uncle Sam is solidly behind a return to the status quo. After all, we cannot have a gentleman by the name of Mahmoud Ahmedinajed pulling the strings in Bahrain, now can we?

Bad memories are evoked in Bahrain when one talks of liberalisation. In 1973, Shaikh Isa, who had then been in power fo 12 years, decided to liberalise and a constitution was published, guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience and speech. A parliament was elected by 85 percent of the adult males who were eligible to vote.

Alas, it did not quite work out – the ruling family, the Khalifa clan, expected the right-wing lobby of merchants to gain a majority of seats. They did not; instead, reactionary religious leaders and left-wing elements were voted in in large numbers.

Over the next couple of years, this mob tried to spread their influence – one day their pet cause was preventing women from playing a role in public life, the next day they would try to suggest that the national oil company be taken over.

Finally, in 1975, when they began to oppose detetntion without trial, Shaikh Isa suspended the whole lot and returned to ruling by decree – with the added feature of having his own family in every post of any influence. The Prime Minister. Shaikh Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, has been holding that post since then.

Though Bahrain is an Arab country, a large number of its citizens are of Iranian origin. The balance of the Shia-Sunni is skewed towards the former – and these two Muslim factions, who owe their genesis to the battle over a successor to the Prophet Muhammad, are generally not the best of neighbours.

However, they are hardly at each others’ throats as painted by the Western media; rather, it is the ruling family which, fearful of agents of Iranian influence, has excluded Shias largely from public life and from public sector employment. This has led to a feeling of injustice and it is, thus, hardly surprising that the majority who are out there protesting are Shias.

The intervention by troops from what is called the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates – does not find favour with its own members, solely because a defence pact signed by the six was meant to defend against external aggression. Members of the defence forces in the AGCC are not exactly experts at combat – when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the AGCC forces did not exactly show a great deal of alacrity in rushing out to defend their northerly neighbour.

However, Saudi Arabia has always been the big brother of the region and, thus, despite their opposition to getting involved in the affairs of a “brotherly” state – even the AGCC agreement is against interference in each others’ domestic affairs – the others have maintained a stoic silence on this aspect of the troubles in Bahrain.

The island has no oil of its own and is a service centre, with a large number of banks operating in a free climate. There are handouts from the Saudis now and then, and the Americans are keen to see the place quiet. Moving the Fifth would be a massive logistics exercise and upset the economy of Bahrain – not to mention the owners of the better class of brothels on the island. The chances of any protest succeeding are, thus, much less than evens.

The West wants one thing in Libya: stability aka regular oil supplies

LIBYA is in turmoil and it looks like the forces of the madman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are slowly retaking city by city from those who rose up in protest against a despot.

For more than 40 years, Gaddafi has done what he liked with the oil income from one of the world’s major producers. Nobody was bothered about democracy or any damn ‘cracy for that matter as long as the spigots were open, the oil was flowing and Westerners could line up at the bowser and fill their tanks with cheap oil.

Now that equilibrium has been disturbed, Oil prices are up – though undoubtedly a good deal of the price rise is due to speculation in the US. Americans will not act on this though; they prefer to blame external factors. It is much more convenient to look at the mote in someone else’s eye than the beam in one’s own eye.

By the time there is any movement on a no-fly zone to protect civilians who are trying to take their county back, it will be too late. Gaddafi will be back on his throne, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people will be lying in the streets and the oil prices in Britain will be back to what they were before the Libyans started their quest for freedom.

But then why did anyone expect anything different? In 1991, encouraged by the US which had just finished the job of driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, the people of Iraq started agitating against Saddam Hussein. George the senior encouraged them to rise up. He was riding a wave at that point, and could afford to indulge in bluster about democracy and freedom.

But midway through the protests, George developed cold feet. The US has always had a morbid fear of Iranian fundamentalists controlling any part of the oil-rich Middle East apart from their own little patch of sand after 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and Ayaltollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over.

The strictures on Saddam Hussein flying his own helicopters, put in place by the US in order to prevent him from killing Iraqi civilians, were promptly withdrawn; the old man indulged in the most savage butchery of his own people and regained power. Most importantly, oil supplies regained their old levels and Americans could drive to the bowser and fill up at near normal prices.

Thus, any changes in Libya will be governed by just the one factor – stability. It doesn’t matter how many Libyans die. They are just, to quote Donald “rummy” Rumsfeld, just collateral.

In the rest of the Persian Gulf and the Mideast the same reasoning will be used. Bahrain is the home of the US Fifth Fleet – does one really think that the Americans want to go looking for a new home for those massive ships? Think again.

Perhaps the only country in which the Americans will encourage protesters to continue their activities will be Iran. And that is because of the perceived nuclear threat from Teheran. But there too, any dictator who will agree to submit the nuclear programme for inspection will be acceptable. Oh, and he (it is always a male in Iran) must agree to open the oil spigots as well…

Saudis, booze and the Manama causeway

MANY years ago, in order to curry favour with its citizens, the Saudi Arabian government funded the building of a causeway between the kingdom and Bahrain. While many reasons were advanced to explain this generosity, the truth was known to all in the region: it was a means whereby the liquor-starved Saudis could slip across to get pissed.

Which means that these days, there will be plenty of parched throats in Saudi Arabia; it is doubtful whether any Saudis would want to risk getting caught up in the political events in Bahrain just for the sake of a drink.

Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are members of the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council – they hate it when the place is rightly called the Persian Gulf, with Iran being public enemy number 1 – and citizens of all six countries belonging to the council can travel freely to each others’ countries. For the Saudis it is a short drive to enjoy the taste of a cool beer – and Lord knows, in the searing heat of the Gulf region, nothing is more welcome.

Alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia though one can find a bar in the house of every Saudi of any standing. These supplies are said to be imported in as furniture – many a royal has been summoned to the airport with the reverential advice, “Sir your furniture is leaking.” Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam, with the religion’s two holy cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, but the ban on booze has nothing to do with Islam although the religion does advise against the use of alcohol.

In 1953, a member of the royal family, Prince Mishari, in a drunken fit, shot and killed the British consul to the country. At that time, the British envoy to any part of the Middle East was only slightly lower in status than the Almighty so this act could not be taken lightly. King Ibn Saud offered the prince’s head as compensation and paid the required blood money to the envoy’s widow. But that was the end of booze sales in the kingdom; from that point onwards, ships were launched with a bottle of water, not champagne.

As per the law, any person caught with liquor or having consumed liquor will be either jailed or deported. A person who enjoys a drink now and then thus has to make the most of trips outside the country; a friend of mine consumed three bottles of Absolut vodka during a trip to Dubai to cover a golf tournament. He never went to the tournament, but wrote his reports after watching it on TV in an alcoholic haze. When I inquired why he was spending most of his time blotto, he replied that once he went back, it would mean another nine months of forced non-consumption until he took his annual holiday in Bombay.

In Bahrain, on the other hand, one can buy liquor in the bigger supermarkets. There are plenty of hotels built close to the causeway and it is very convenient for the Saudis and other visitors who arrive with the express purpose of getting tanked.

Thus, the Saudis will be watching the situation in Bahrain with the greatest interest. Not because they fear that the riots may spread to their own country, but more because they fear that they may not be able to quench their thirst at short notice if the little island falls under the control of radical elements.

Mubarak falls – and ABC News 24 stands exposed again

AT ABOUT 3am AEST (+11 hours GMT) on Saturday, February 13, the reign of Egytptian dictator Mohammed Hosni Mubarak came to an end. Thirteen hours later, the Australian 24-hour news channel, ABC News 24, was still struggling to cope with the developments.

Every 24-hour news channel of any repute had round-the-clock coverage of the historic events in Egypt as they unfolded; right until early Sunday (February 13) morning, the majority of the time was spent on discussing the fallout from the 18 days of protests, something unheard of in the Middle East.

The last time there was a simliar earthquake in Egypt was back in 1952 when one Gamal Abdel Nasser and his group of Free Officers overthrew the monarchy. Then, as this time, the older members of the armed forces backed the status quo; Nasser was supported by the younger elements.

But that isn’t what this post is about. ABC News 24 has struggled on many occasions – when then Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd was toppled in 2010 by his own party, the network was caught with its pants down. Sky News and the Nine network were much quicker off the blocks. This time, was even more embarrassing.

I switched on the network at midday; the fare available was a repeat of some anodyne programme shown on the analog channel, ABC1. At this time the BBC World Service was running hot with stories from Cairo, Alexandria, and other Egyptian cities. On ABC News 24, it was a normal dreary Saturday.

I then had a look at the 4pm bulletin. It was tragic. The ABC correspondent in Cairo had gone AWOL – or so it seemed. The news was led with a story from Al Jazeera – yes, the hated Al Jazeera, the network that has often been linked to Osama bin Laden by the prima donnas in the West, the network whose office was shut down by the Egyptian authorities, the network that has caused more convulsions in the Arab world in its short lifespan than the ABC has caused anywhere, even Australia, in more than 80 years of existence.

The second story was from the BBC – and this was not even acknowledged. Unless one was aware of the fact that the reporter is a longtime BBC hand, one would never have known. The ABC’s contribution mirrored the cultural cringe that seems to afflict the whole of Australia – it was a report about US president Barack Obama’s reaction. Funny, one could get video footage from Washington, but not from Cairo where seismic events were taking place. Priorities, priorities.

And then, after a clip from the analog service, showing a demonstration by Egyptians in Sydney, there was a most curious interview conducted by ABC employee Jane Hutcheon with Lydia Khalil, an Egyptian woman from a think-tank. Khalil is obviously an American-Egyptan; your chances of getting on the ABC are better if you have a Western accent. The curious part of the interview came when Hutcheon asked “can you imagine what it will be like in cities like Alexandria?” This, when the BBC had reported four hours earlier exactly what has happening in that Egyptian city. Tells one a lot about Hutcheon’s news sense, and the reaction time of the network as a whole.

As I’ve said before, ABC News 24 has been set up to satisfy the ego of managing director, Mark Scott. Its resources are insufficient and when one really needs a 24-hour network – when a major story breaks – it is found wanting. It may be better to deploy those resources locally, shut down the network – and avoid repeating programmes so often.

Gulf sheikhs must be shaking in their thobes

IN THE space of a week, Egypt has gone from tourist mecca to a place that people avoid. It has gone from a police state to one where the dictator who has ruled for nearly 30 years is shaking in his shoes. There is talk of an uprising in Yemen too – the West is less interested in what goes on there than in Cairo so we won’t be seeing too many headlines about Sana’a.

But Egypt’s case is interesting, to say the least. The last time there was anything like this it was in the years following the assassination of Anwar Sadat by the Muslim Brotherhood. Their expectations were belied – they hoped that the people would support them in the chaos that followed the slaying of Sadat in revenge for his having signed the Camp David peace deal with Menachem Begin.

But the people preferred the iron arm of the dictator as long as stability was restored in the country and the Muslim Brotherhood was given a working over; 302 of them were tried and though some were acquitted, many met their fate by firing squad. Their leaders were tortured and Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the key men, fled the country in 1985 when Mubarak began to hunt out those who were part of the Brotherhood.

Zawahiri fled to Afghanistan and we know whom he tied up with; he became the spiritual mentor of one Osama bin Laden, the man who is better known worldwide than even Julian Assange. (Adam Curtis has some brilliant footage of a young Zawahiri in court as part of his documentary, The Power of Nightmares).

In Algeria, similarly, the Islamic Salvation Front indulged in a grisly campaign of murder and intimidation in the early 90s after they had made a decent showing in the elections and then been frozen out by the ruling party, hoping that the people would rise up and join them. Once again, the desire for stability – no matter the kind of political system that would bring it about – won and the Islamists have never been a force there since then. There is a school of Islamic thought that holds that in times of anarchy, the rule of a dictator is to be preferred to no rule; that’s one of the reasons why there are so many dictatorships in the Muslim world.

Given this background, it is important that the Islamists do not try to capitalise on the situation in Egypt, even though the sight of Mubarak quaking in his shoes must be a source of much amusement and delight to them. It appears that they are now supporting an army takeover as long as Mubarak is exiled. There are plenty of Islamists in the armed forces as can be gauged from the killing of Sadat, hence this preference.

But the most interesting fallout could be in the Gulf states, those tiny empires of sand which have financed people like Mubarak for years and years. Propped up by the Americans, the Gulf sheikhs – in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain – have been living it up in style and mollifying their citizenry with handouts to keep them in a comatose state. As long as the oil price is kept at levels that the Americans can manage to buy, the sheikhs have known that they are safe.

Saudi Arabia has a sizeable number who subscribe to the Islamic model of a state; as long back as 1979, the Islamists tried to take power by seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Bin Laden enjoys considerable popularity in the country and he must be overjoyed to see those who exiled him and stripped him of his citizenship in this situation. Saudi ruler, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is much more popular than the former ruler, Fahd, but the armed forces cannot control the country if something erupts. American assistance will be needed as it was in 1979 though the whole thing became farce when the US helicopter flying to the aid of the then king, Khalid, crashed in the desert. It will be more bloody and violent if trouble breaks out – the Saudi method of keeping something quiet is by extermination.

Of the six Gulf states, only Qatar has reason to feel somewhat confident that there will be no trouble. The head of the country, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has brought in some reforms, given women more right and also helped the birth of Al Jazeera which surely must take some credit for all the protests. The other Gulf states will be very nervous, especially Oman, where Sultan Qaboos has ruled for nearly 40 years without a change in sight.

But leave all this aside – the most nervous of all countries will be the US of A which has troops in many of the states and gets most of its oil from the region. If trouble does break out, the rulers will call on the US for help to stay in power and given that oil is part of the equation, the Americans will have no choice but to agree.