Does empty rage count as a reason to expose nations to unknown rulers and uncertainty? Unknown devils instead of known devils?
Widespread protests across the Islamic Middle East. Are they for real? (Image courtesy - Times Of India). Click for larger image.
Is this change for real?
After two months of protests, two regime changes, it may be time to take a 2ndlook at the developments across the Islamic Middle East. These protests were triggered when,
On Dec. 17, 2010, in the impoverished Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, a street vendor who had been slapped in the face by a policewoman confiscating his wares set himself on fire outside of a government building. The desperate act of the vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, led to protests in the town, which were recorded in video clips posted on YouTube. By the time he died on Jan. 4, 2011, protests that started over Mr. Bouazizi’s treatment in Sidi Bouzid had spread to cities throughout the country.
On Jan. 14, the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country he had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years. Less than a month later, Hosni Mubarak, perhaps the most powerful figure in the region, president for 29 years of the largest Arab country, was forced to step down after 18 days of massive demonstrations cost him the support of the military and the United States. (via Middle East Protests (2010-11) – The New York Times).
There has been gushing coverage in the mainstream media on these ‘protests (which) may have now acquired a life of their own’ and ‘sweeping changes … coming to the Arab lands, where authoritarian regimes are the norm’ and how ‘present protests, could be a game-changer’.
While quick to deny the role of the very same media in the West, for events like the Gifford shooting, Western media has been quick to proclaim that Western ‘technology’, especially, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook were behind these protests and regime changes. An overjoyed world of Twitterati, Chatterati, Bloggerati, Paparazzi went ahead and claimed credit for this ‘change’. This was seen as extension of earlier trend like when
Soviet Union collapsed soon after copiers and faxes appeared and information began freely circulating here. The problem, however, is that nobody has proved a cause-effect correlation between fax machines and the Soviet collapse. Nonetheless, leading Western media outlets can’t stop glorifying the Internet and social networks as the new tools for empowering grassroots resistance movements. As President Dmitry Medvedev said last week in Vladikavkaz: “Let’s face the truth. They have been preparing such a scenario for us, and now they will try even harder to implement it.” Medvedev’s reaction shows that the Kremlin is taking the threat very seriously.
After 30 years, a few days of rage will not make a real difference! (Cartoonist - Carlos Latuff).
Aladdin’s Lamp – Old despots for new
Covering this wave of protests, CNN correspondents Nadia Oweidat and Cynthia P. Schneider wrote of the ‘the vision articulated in protests, blogs, posts and tweets’ – a vision of a ‘new great awakening is unfolding across the Arab world’.
decades of brutal repression and lack of accountability, governments in the Arab world will be responsible and responsive to their people. They will foster individual freedoms, religious and ethnic diversity, enable economic growth and uphold fair judicial processes
Ringing words – but empty. Specifically, what exactly is the Arab world asking for?
Are Arabs talking of Western style’ democracy’ and ‘freedom‘? Like ‘freedom’ in the USA, with 20 lakh prisoners – the largest prison population in the world? Or ‘religious tolerance’ like single-faith Switzerland where a third mosque with minarets was not allowed? Is it political freedom, like Europe which believes that a two-party collusive democracy is better than one-party conspiring oligarchy?
Maybe, build on ethnic-diversity like the Danes who want to pay Muslims to leave Denmark. Why not even aim for a ‘fair’ legal-system like Britain, where hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested to build a DNA data-bank – ostensibly to help in criminal identification. To be like the West today, that has the lowest levels of diversity – ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. And makes the most noise about freedom and human rights.
How bad were these ‘despots’
Indeed, a case could be made for these stable despots who have sent packing in Tunisia and Egypt. Says Foreign Policy, a US magazine “Tunisia and Egypt have made particularly rapid economic progress in recent years.” In both these countries, people have seen economic progress, without dependence on oil – unlike most of Islamic Middle East. Compared to Turkey’s per-capita, with its imperial past, at US$ 11,500, or oil-inflated Oman’s US$ 25,000 or petro-daddy Saudi’s US$ 23,300, Tunisia with US$ 9100 per capita and Egypt with US$ 5900 come out favorably. Tunisia or Egypt did not favor the beheading or amputation routine of Iran or Saudi Arabia – or mass-imprisonment regimes like USA, UK or China. Like all modern-State-nations, concentration of wealth is a ‘given’ – regardless of Europe, USA or Islamic Middle-East.
There was neither a shining vision, nor economic necessity, or relative oppression, which triggered these revolts. Instead of an ‘elected’ Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians got Army Rule. Was that a satisfactory or a desirable outcome? Does empty rage count as a reason to expose nations to unknown rulers and uncertainty? Unknown devils instead of known devils? Does a change in government without modifying governance-model make any difference?
Without a viable ‘reason’ for revolt, what made so many people come out in the open?
Translation - 'So Long suckers!' ( Cartoon courtesy - cagle.com). Click for larger image.
The trail of the US Plan
We may need to look at Wikileaks to get some real answers. Specifically, a trail of US diplomatic cables. These cables revealed US Administration’s consensus to institute a non-electoral regime change in Egypt. Some of these regime-change organizers from Egypt met in USA, supported by USA, with funds and covert promises of diplomatic support at the right time. Coincidentally, a Google employee, Wael Ghonim, became a spokesman for the protesters at Tahrir Square.
Frank Wisner, former US ambassador to Egypt, an old hand in US Foreign Policy, was sent to Egypt to arrive at modalities of Mubarak’s ouster – “to deliver a specific, one-time message to President Mubarak”.
Wisner has been active on Egypt policy and is said by several Egypt hands in Washington to have pushed to create a group of scholars and academics in Washington to advocate for strengthening ties to the Mubarak regime. That group, which was never fully formed, was to be a counter weight to the bipartisan Egypt Working Group led by the likes of former NSC official Elliott Abrams and the Carnegie Endowment’s Michele Dunne. The Abrams-Dunne group had been pushing for a harder line against Mubarak in the months leading up to the current crisis.
Wisner’s father, Frank Wisner Sr., was the CIA agent portrayed in the film The Good Shepherd. Wisner was previously married to Christine de Ganay, former wife of Pal Sarkozy, the father of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. (via Is Obama’s new Egypt “envoy” too close to Mubarak? | The Cable).
Within days of Mubarak’s ouster, on February 21st, 2011, Frank Wisner’s boss, a senior US diplomat, United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns arrived in Cairo.
After 30 years in power and 82 years of age, Mubarak’s time was over. Nearly, 2 years ago, Elliot Abrams, associated with shaping US foreign policy, wrote, “Mubarak is 81 years old, so placing all our bets on him–even for so short a time as the three years left to President Obama–is unwise.” Tactically, it was better for US to initiate and control the regime change than allow some ‘random’ political events to determine the outcome in Egypt. Similar logic would apply to Tunisia. An important cog in the wheel, in each country, were the army establishments in Tunisia and Egypt.
In Tunisia, the refusal of an army general to back Ben Ali and fire on protesters proved to be the turning point. In Egypt, too, the world is waiting to see what the Egyptian army will do.
Egypt’s army is the 10th largest in the world, almost half a million strong, and one of the biggest beneficiaries (along with the Pakistan army) of US military aid. Since 1952, all Egyptian presidents have come from the military. So, even though Mubarak has not been sighted since the protests began, all eyes are actually on the generals. (via Tunisia to Egypt, an Arab upheaval – The Times of India).
The US probably will be able to change Middle East's rulers in the next 2-4 years. How much blood is the only open question? (Cartoon by drybones.com).
Soon after his inauguration, President Barack Obama’s
‘interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Network on Monday was a dramatic piece of public diplomacy aimed at capitalizing on the new American president’s international popularity, though it balanced America’s traditional commitment to Israel, whose security Obama called “paramount”.
“I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”
In Cairo, Obama said ‘the time had come to “speak the truth” and “seek a new beginning.” With most Post WWII regimes at end-point, America needs to break-in a new generation of rulers in the Middle East.
These new rulers need to be better attuned to diplomacy instead of war; economics and alliances instead of revolts and revolutions; economy instead of ideology.
Having softened the Muslim world with a relentlessly aggressive campaign from 1992-2008, the West chose ‘Hussein’ Obama to speak softly – after the Muslim world had seen the big American stick in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia etc.
How important is the gold-holdings of all these Middle East rulers?
Some answers we know. Some we can guess.
But some answers, only time will give.