By Hugo Foster
President Bush’s whirlwind tour of the Middle East, which concluded last week, clearly proved an uncomfortable experience for some of his hosts in the region. In Israel & the West Bank, leg one of the tour, Bush’s arrival preceded some of the worst exchanges of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip this year. In ‘friendly’ Dubai, major routes, bridges and tunnels were emptied and shut down, no doubt a sign of the President’s enduring popularity. In Cairo, his mere mentioning was enough to unite both ends of Egypt’s opposition spectrum – Islamist and secular - in protest. Not that he would have noticed – his three-hour chat with Egypt’s President Mubarak took place in the comfortable surroundings of the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
For the wider world, was it worth the trip? Bush’s condemnation of
Israeli illegal settlement expansion, a clear impediment to the
post-Annapolis peace process, was undoubtedly a positive, if
long-overdue. Yet the momentum quickly shifted towards the real agenda,
with the bulk of the tour then devoted to drumming up Gulf Arab support
for the isolation of Iran (a cause which was, conveniently, aided by
the mysterious altercation in the Strait of Hormuz between US warships
and Iranian speedboats). So nothing new then. Maybe next time...
Hugo Foster has a Masters Degree in Near and Middle
East Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Based in London, he currently works as a freelance writer and research analyst.