Every Friday, I listen to the news to find out the latest in the Arab world. I once said I wasn’t really that bothered, but I confess that my curiosity is getting the better of me. It seems that most Arabs now have to think on a Friday morning about their day. Would they be out on the streets demonstrating, would they be cowering in their homes, afraid of reprisals, or would they be part of the security that’s violently suppressing growing discontent.
Hey! What’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa? Tunisia and Egypt have already lost their longstanding leaders. In Tunisia, he’s facing trial in his absence, while the new government is seeking his extradition from Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, it’s Mubarak and his sons, detained while investigation proceeds.
But there’s more. In Libya, the survival of the Ghadafi regime is at best uncertain, as the West finally get their own back on him for all the trouble he’s caused them in the past. Their support for the rebels is increasing and Western governments are still convincing their citizens that they’re only there temporarily, and in a limited capacity.
For some Reason, to do with serious strategic significance, the West haven’t been as open in their support for the Syrian opposition, but the violent suppression, the growing refugee crisis and so much more is causing serious alarm.
And if you thought that was all, look at Yemen where the president was injured and is receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia. The opposition don’t want him back. And the monarchy in Bahrain is only in place because it’s being propped up by brother kings in the region. Those are the ones you hear about all the time, but in Jordan, Morocco, and so many other countries, there have been, or there still is, violent and nonviolent opposition to the regime.
Things people hoped for but never dared to expect are happening to citizens of the Arab world. So, all the strategic thinkers were wrong to suppose that Mubarak would remain in power for as long as he likes, because Egypt always had the support of the US and was seen as the Arab guarantor of the Middle Eastern peace arrangement. Ghadafi had already outlasted so many Western leaders, who generally left office after losing elections. He never had to worry about that. Neither did the monarchs.
It’s a brave thing to oppose a regime that’s known to brutalise its citizens. That’s why so many of the analysts were wrong, they thought it would be asking too much of them. And since so many have been proved wrong, who am I to make any predictions at this time. Yet, I suspect that the Libyan regime will probably fall eventually, because Western support will continue to increase, and these days, Libya has few allies. I gather that many observers believe the Syrian regime will just about survive, but who am I to say. If it falls, what will replace it? I think that’s the real fear now. And so long as the Arabs continue to support Bahrain’s king, he’s likely to remain in power, regardless of the will of the majority of its citizens. And the democratic West will of course complain about human rights abuses but in this case, they’ll leave the Arabs to sort out their business. How different from Libya.
The more important question is what this will mean in several years. What will happen to those countries where the regime has changed. Several decades ago, there was similar change, this time, removing monarchies in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. And the popular uprisings resulted in dictatorships that soon became oppressive and made life difficult for the West. However, the transformation of Egypt from Pro Soviet, Anti Israeli Arab champion to Pro-Western champion of Arab Israeli peace shows that a regime change does not guarantee that the new government’s strategic alliances will remain the same, given a number of years. Similarly, the results of support for Iraq in its war with Iran and Osama, who was heavily involved in the anti Soviet campaign in Afghanistan shows that support for the West may not necessarily be guaranteed, just because at some time, a country or a group received Western support to establish itself. These states change their loyalties according to rules which the West has sadly not cared to fully understand.
Is it right to support change on the inconsistent basis of whether the current leader is favoured? Or is it better to have consistent and clearly understood terms that determine who we support? Terms which include how much we know of the opposition?
Whatever happens, give a few years and 2011 will be remembered by people in the Middle East and North Africa. They will discover the extent of people power and how it plays out against state power; their government and all others. They will also know the full implications of the 2011 uprising, just give them a few years to process the events and place it in its true context.