Who’s Turn Is It Next?

 

Friday  July 11, 2003

Muhammad Al-Shibani

The United States seems to be actively engaged in pushing the situation in Iran to a point of heightened tension and eventually an explosion that threatens the regime. If put into action, the American plan for the region after subduing Iraq could take different shapes.

It now seems Tehran’s cooperation with Washington before the invasion and occupation of Iraq has done it no good. Iran’s pledge to remain tight-lipped throughout the war and the monitoring of its borders with Iraq to prevent any action that might not please the Americans did not make the US hold its plans to tame what Washington considers one of the three members of the “axis of evil.”

The White House, said President George W. Bush, had no imminent plans to declare war on Iran. The occupation of Iraq will do the job of exhausting Iran until the time is ripe for the US to deal with it in a different manner. In the meantime, Bush will continue to cause trouble to the regime by inciting dissent as a means of pressure. The way the State Department reacted to the student demonstrations in Tehran — by publicly expressing sympathy — indicates the Americans are determined to foment dissent while at the same time sending a message to other countries of what their future actions are going to be. It is a message that should be remembered by everyone whenever there is talk of human rights and opposition. It is a game America knows how to play, and it uses its agents for purposes that are not always innocent.

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Governments have the right to issue visas to anyone they are willing to receive in their countries. They also have the right to refuse a visa to anyone without being obliged to give an explanation. But when the visa is denied on the grounds that the applicant was involved in charitable activities that are considered suspicious by the government in question, such behavior could prove to be very damaging.

Just recently it was revealed that the United States refused to give entry visas to a number of Lebanese government officials, including the minister of finance, on the pretext the minister donated less than $700 to a legally licensed Lebanese charity organization. The donation happened three years ago during a Ramadan iftar party. This is indeed amazing, not because of the American government’s decision not to issue the visa but because of the justification, which may be more damaging to America than to the minister. Based on the official justification given by the American ambassador to Lebanon, this means the US would have effectively barred 90 percent of government officials and businessmen in the Gulf states from entering the US, because all of them regularly contribute to charities.

The question is: Is there any official or businessman in the Arab and Muslim world who has not given a donation to local charitable groups that are unjustly classified by America as being involved in suspicious activities? It is quite possible that many of the donors have already been told, or will one day discover, that they should not expect to get a visa to visit the US. Unlike the courageous Lebanese minister, many may have decided to keep a low profile and not to publicize the matter or allow it into the media. This simply means that, from now on, there will be no immunity for government officials or ordinary people trying to visit the US. They will find themselves being denied the right to a visit visa, let alone being provided with guarantees for investment or commercial contracts. In these circumstances it is almost impossible to talk about the safety of Gulf money now deposited in American banks. Nobody knows what might become of this money.

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(Muhammad Al-Shibani is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.)

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