By Elias Hazou
DISSENT ON the domestic front over the use of British bases in attacks against the Islamic State (IS) has been rather muffled, but that should come as little surprise, analysts tell the Sunday Mail.
Public statements denouncing the Cyprus-based operations have been few and far between. Even the reaction from main opposition AKEL – known for its intense dislike of the United States and NATO – has been relatively low-key.
Mid-week the communist party released a fairly predictable statement – followed by a press conference on Friday – along the lines that the island should not be used as a staging post for military operations in the Middle East.
“War begets chaos and terrorism and certainly it does not eradicate terrorism, as we have already witnessed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria,” said AKEL MEP Neoklis Silikiotis.
Silikiotis did not miss the opportunity to take a swing at AKEL’s old foes: “The fundamentalist, criminal organisation known as the Islamic State did not appear from nowhere,” he noted.
“The Islamic State and the so-called jihadis consist of forces that were supported and armed by the United States, NATO and the EU to promote their geopolitical designs in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, and today they are being put to use as a pretext for waging new wars and interventions.”
Weighing in, the Greens called – rather belatedly – on the government to place conditions on foreign powers wanting to conduct military operations out of Cyprus.
But other than these, overall the gripes could well be described as feeble.
Experts attribute this to a tacit consensus among the political establishment that, either way, in reality Cyprus has very little choice in letting the island be used as a launch pad for military operations.
Also, loudly objecting to fighting IS is not exactly the dish du jour, not after the reported atrocities committed by the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
“The parties can’t overdo it, I don’t think,” said Christos Iacovou, director of the Cyprus Research Centre, a Nicosia-based think tank.
“The climate favours the Americans and the British in their fight against IS. What with the horror caused by the beheadings, anti-Americanism doesn’t quite sell right now.”
Blasting the imperialist Americans won’t score many brownie points at this juncture, the analyst said, alluding primarily to AKEL.
“Sure, they’ll go through the motions, banging the anti-America drum, but up to a point,” added Iacovou.
So whereas the usual anti-American suspects are talking the talk – kind of – they’re definitely not walking the walk.
Observes Iacovou: “Do you see any anti-war demonstrations, be it in Nicosia or at Akrotiri? Nor have any of the parties demanded that the National Council be convened to discuss Cyprus’ role. Not a peep.”
But when it comes to Cyprus’ so-called anti-West factions, their bark has long been worse than their bite; the trend is not new.
Iacovou recalls for example how, in 2003, AKEL leader Demetris Christofias, in his capacity as acting President of the Republic, consented to the use of Akrotiri for British operations against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (Unlike this week’s RAF action against IS, the 2003 operations from the bases did not, however, include airstrikes.)
“At the time, then-President Tassos Papadopoulos was abroad, and Christofias gave the go-ahead. A couple of days later, AKEL were organising demonstrations against the war.”
Hubert Faustmann, associate professor for history and political science at the University of Nicosia, likewise observes that there is virtually no political capital to be gained from rejecting the fight against IS.
“Opposing the operation against the Islamic State outright is not an option, not with all that’s going on. So the other alternative is to keep quiet, or to make a little noise but without rocking the boat,” he said.
“Take AKEL, they played to the more anti-American segments of the party’s grass roots, offering the same hackneyed rhetoric, but that’s about it.”
According to Faustmann, everyone – the government as well as the opposition – realises that the fight against IS is necessary.
“Also, the fact that Muslim states are in the same fight, meaning Cyprus won’t alienate them, helps. So if you support the coalition against the extremists, you don’t lose.”
Tim Potier, an expert in international relations, concurs.
“There’s an appreciation globally that countries have a role to play, either actively or passively. There’s a perception that no one is particularly safe with an organisation like IS, there is nowhere to run and hide.”
And a certain reciprocity is involved, said Potier.
“The British on the one hand were keen not to embarrass the Cypriots, so they consulted with them before launching the attacks from the island. On the other hand, the Cypriots understand that they have a part to play, even if indirect.”
The final word goes to AKEL MP Irini Charalambidou for her astute remark on Twitter.
On Thursday, she posted this on her account: “I have a question: do the media really have to cover so intensely the actions of fighter planes at the [British] bases?”