Saturday, February 19, 2011

Libya, Egypt, Bahrain - they just want to be like us.

  It is hard not to be inspired by the example of the young people of North Africa and the Middle East who have launched and sustained the most dignified, principled and peaceful democracy movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.    In Lybia, Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, Algeira they have taken to the streets and the blogosphere to demand democracy, freedom and human rights.  But what does that mean?  

   There has been a deal of confusion in the west about how to make sense of these pro-democracy movements.  We don't quite know who is fighting for what.   It all looks so spontaneous and un-organised.  Where are the leaders?  What's the programme?  Will they end up like Iran after 1979 as dismal  theocracies run by religious obscurantists?  Will they degenerate into civil war like the Balkans and the countries in the horn of Africa.  Or will they become democracies like the former communist states in the 1990s or South Africa under Mandela?   Is the CIA involved - either suppressing them or encouraging them.  There are reports that a number of the student leaders in Egypt had been trained in the use of social media by US-backed NGOs.  

Now, my own very strong view is that these revolutions are the property of the people who make them, and it is not for us at this stage to pronounce on them;  provide a radical kite mark to those we favour. I don't see any coherent strand of Islamic fundamentalism  - quite the reverse.   Nor do I subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the movements are unwitting agents of American foreign policy - though I recognise that there are some who do.  Here is the foreign policy analyst, K R Bolton, speaking to the website Global Research.

"The revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and as they are spreading further afield have all the hallmarks of the NED/Soros “color revolutions” that were fomented in the former Soviet bloc states and in Myanmar and elsewhere. They all follow the same pattern and many years of planning, training and funding have gone into the ridiculously called “spontaneous” (sic) revolts. The organisations that have spent years and much money creating revolutionary organisations in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere include the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, International Republican Institute, Freedom House, Open Soceity Institute,and an array of fronts stemming therefrom, including: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, centre for International Private Enterprise, and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, These organizations have for years been backing Egyptian “activists.” Freedom House for example trained 16 young Egyptian “activists” in 2009 in a two month scholarship."

 Now, Bolton isn't making this up.  There is indeed a constellation of agencies that support globalisation and liberal capitalism that have been working for years to bring down first communism and now the North African dictatorships.  However, the  fact that freedom movements may have don't had support from 'open society' think tanks, or even the CIA doesn't invalidate them.  There is no monolithic conspiracy here, any more than there was when the Comintern was funding revolutionary movements across the world.  The demonstrators' very naivete here is their strength.  So long as they keep their focus on freedom and democracy of the demonstrators are relatively safe from manipulation. Getting lessons on using social media from US NGOs doesn't mean that the skills learned will be used in the interest of American foreign policy.  Hosni Mubarak was the largest beneficiary of American military aid and it didn't do him a lot of good in the end. 

   The fact is that freedom IS slightly woolly and a little naive.  Thinking that the people can prevail against these covert political forces is a triumph of hope over experience.  But at least they have hope on their side - and that can be immensely powerful. Moreover, many of them look to America as a civic role model, even though America was supporting dictators like Mubarak.  This is a paradox that the Western Left finds difficult to live with.  America is still the land of the free to the huddled masses of North Africa, even after the Iraq invasion which showed America to be anything but.   

Note how many of the demonstrators interviewed on the mdia have American accents. Most of the demonstrators are calling for a free society modelled on the US constitution.  Look at the videos on You Tube.   They want democracy, political and religious freedom, an independent uncorrupted judiciary, freedom from arrest, detention and torture.   The protesters want their countries to be like ours.  They want the army and the police to be under the rule of law and not a law unto themselves.  They want education - 33% are illiterate in Egypt and 40% in Morrocco. They want jobs. More than half  of under 30s are unemployed in Egypt. 

     Of course, they also want lower food prices and proper homes.  But for the time being, they would settle for freedom. The kind of freedom taken so much for granted in the West that we hardly appreciate the value of it.  On the Left we are so programmed to condemn political corruption, official secrecy, cash-for-donations, cash-for-questions and cash-for-duck houses that we have forgotten that we at least have the freedom to say these things.  We don't get shot or locked up for protesting about tuition fees. The media, corrupted as it may be by monopoly interests like News International, can still expose phone hacking and expenses scandals.  Popular protests can still prevent things like forestry sell offs, and - in Scotland at least - £9000 university tuition fees.

  It is not complacent or naive or Tory to celebrate these achivements - this mundane liberty.  Looking at the incredible bravery of the people on the streets in North Africa, the best we can do is to encourage them to be simple minded about freedom..  Life IS a lot better in America, Britain Europe, because we live our lives largely without fear.   We laugh at our politicians and ridicule parliamentary democracy - but we should remember that this is what it is all about.  Freedom comes at the cost of blood and broken heads.  Just look at the You Tube video from Morocco   

Enough said.


Doug Daniel said...

I used to be in a band, and we had a song called Appealing To The Senseless. One of the lyrics was "and you think that we're free just because we are comfortable", and the gist of the song as a whole was that just because we live fairly easy lives, it doesn't mean we live in a proper democracy.

True, we are able to demonstrate against things, but how often does it actually make a difference? So we've saved a few trees - wow, big chuff. When it comes to important things - tuition fees, war on Iraq, proper electoral reform - people can shout in the streets until their face turns blue, but the government still ignores us and does what it wants anyway, thereby ignoring the will of the people. In some ways I'm jealous of these protesters in the Middle East, because I know we'll never see UK or US governments being overthrown by protest. We're given the right to protest and an election every few years (which has now undemocratically been fixed to five years), but in the grand scheme of things we're completely at the mercy of the whims of whichever centre-right government is in power at the time. We're not free, we're just thrown enough scraps to make us THINK we are, or to make us sedate enough to not even care either way. Just like the media in our countries are just as full of propaganda as the Pravda was in the Soviet Union - "free" press just means it's run by corporations rather than the state, but corporations run the state too, so it's essentially the same thing.

I'll end my rant before I start quoting bits from Manufactured Consent...

Anonymous said...

I think one of the greater observations that we have to keep in mind in regards to the events in Egypt is that whatever happens, the result will not be an isolated event within the country. Instead, precedents (as explained here: seem to indicate a very strong impact within the Middle East in general.

Well I hope this little bit is something to also keep in mind.

Jo G said...

Doug Daniel..........your first paragraph says it all for me. My initial reaction to those who want to be like us is ...."errrrrr why?" We have freedom? Really?

And when I watch the likes of Cameron egging people on I am reminded of the millions in this country who marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq. He opposed what we asked for didn't he? He voted for Blair's illegal war. Did he listen to "the people"? He was as deaf as Blair.

They talk about "corrupt" leaders in foreign lands. What have we had here? What isn't corrupt about MPs fleecing the taxpayer? What isn't corrupt about continuing to let banks off the hook while drawing up plans to destroy the lives of sick people when they are kicked off benefits and forced to work?

I'm not jealous of the protestors tho. I'm very worried the more the unrest spreads. For Israel is out there and if Israel gets jumpy anything could happen. And then what? Iain asks, who are the leaders and what is the plan? I'm increasingly worried there isn't a plan. And then there will be chaos and we'll be into something I really don't care to think about. Here we are still trying to get our troops finally back after the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan while in the background this other potentially monstrous situation grows daily.

Where I would disagree with you in when you say we too are at the mercy of those in power. For we aren't. That our situation continues is down to our own failure to care. I don't mean you and I, I mean the majority who really couldn't give a stuff. Apathy is death. Sadly the masses here are too busy trying to find out what Jordan and Pete are fighting about today or wondering if Ash is still texting Cheryl or worrying who will win XFactor to care about the things that really matter. That group get the governments they deserve: unfortunately those who do care have to suffer the consequences.

chicmac said...

Something which I suspect but have yet to see expressed elsewhere, is the possibility of a major paradigm shift of one of the main glues of the Arabic World. (clearly, Islam and language are two main ones).

I am talking about the long established, mantra-programmed, condemnation of America and its Lackey - Britain. This was one of the few things on which the various Arabic people's could agree even if in some states their rulers where in reality US/UK -'compliant'.

This antipathy was an important unifying factor, a reinforcer of pan-Arabian brotherhood.

But now - Enter the Dragon - and not just (by rivalling US financial hegemony) in Global terms. More saliently from an Arab perspective, the ever closer physical presence of China via the Southern half of Africa may well be leading to a radical re-appraisal of that leading bogeyman role hitherto held by the US and UK.

And the candidacy for alternative lead for that role can only have been enhanced by the incidents over the last couple of years where Chinese mine management teams shooting workers who had the temerity to strike.

It does not take much intelligence to extrapolate possible scenarios where, once sufficiently consolidated in the south, Chinese interest will turn northward in the hope of including more oil rich areas within their growing sphere of influence.

However, in my life of some 60 years now, I have long since come to the conclusion that the gestalt intelligence of the people is infinitely better than that of the small group of self-obsessed, ethically flexible, inadequate human beings which make up the ruling 'elite'. Sadly, such ruling mediocrities are not confined to tyrannies. The underlying motivation to compensate for personal inadequacies by gaining control over others is also present in democracies. Nor is such behaviour confined to politics, the media too offers similar control freak compensations and indeed in recent years we have seen a coalescing of the two, from both directions. But I digress.

The point I am making is that perhaps the people understand more than their masters and the binding certainty that USUK are the enemy is no more, or not for much longer, and the alternative might, in fact, be a lot worse. Suddenly, the prospect of a Western style democracy might be taking on the semblance of a protective shield.

It would be completely ironic, wouldn't it? after decades of US/UK effort in trying to spread democracy in the Islamic world at much cost of all kinds, that all that were required were that they encouraged earlier entry into Southern Africa by the Chinese.

There is a classic gag there but I can't use it.

susane said...

I really love what you do I wonder how I could miss your blog

voyance sérieuse en ligne