AAKROSH. July 2012. Volume 15. Number 56
The on-going phase of sociopolitical transformation, ostensibly in the name of democracy, cannot be described even as a partial success in the few Arab nations that have been affected by it. The process is still taking place. Success remains elusive as well as considerably distorted from what it was projected as initially.
Despite the United States and its allies having exercised all efforts possible with support of most sections of western media, Arab Spring has failed to sweep the Arab world. The people affected by protests and demonstrations do not represent a significant percentage of the Arab world. Besides, even the protestors cannot be assumed to be legitimate and genuine representatives of their respective countries’ populations. The last point justifies the failure of emergence of any strong revolutionary leader or party even in the few countries that are witnessing a phase of political transformation. It may be noted that this transformation is not people-oriented. The transformation has been marked at most by a change of leaders at the helm. This change has not spelt better sociopolitical tidings for the people. Rather, the situation has worsened for them. Ironically, while elaborate attention has been paid to the increase in sufferings of Egyptians, practically little attention has been given to hardships being faced by Libyans as well as Iraqis following the change imposed upon them by external powers. Besides, the hard irony of the few nations being affected by Arab Spring being Muslim countries stands out. The manner in which hype has been raised about Arab Spring leading to a political transformation, that is, establishment of democratic rule in affected countries, suggests that the West apparently prefers holding a negative opinion about Muslim countries in the region.
The so-called Arab Spring is proving to be a strong litmus test for diplomacy and democracy at several levels, bilateral, regional, multinational, economic and that which bears features of neoimperialism. The alacrity with which signs of a political transformation affecting a few Arab nations were given the label “Arab Spring” by itself conveys a crucial message. Of course, “spring” refers to a change in season, the period marked by blooming of new flowers and leaves. While it is still not clear as to why and by whom was this label first given to the political transformation being witnessed in a few countries, the similarity in meaning with a few other terms used for this phase cannot be ignored, particularly “Arab Awakening.” This only implies that little time was wasted in creating the impression that the Arab world was heading towards new political transformation, spelling a new turn “for the better,” that is, democratic reforms in the region. It may be noted that perhaps deliberate attention was paid to avoid including the term “revolution” in the description given to this phrase, “Arab Spring.” The label “Arab Spring” was apparently selected to create hype about the brighter future that a political transformation spelt for the Arab nations. It is worth noting that even before the entire Arab world has been affected by this transformation, this label has been tagged on to them.
Considering that all is not quiet, calm and even encouraging for the people in the few nations undergoing a political transformation, the label “Arab Spring” in reality is now inviting more criticism than was probably envisaged initially. It may be more appropriate to understand that appreciating, encouraging or even labelling any movement that displays frail signs of being strong, long lasting and totally people-oriented is equivalent to projecting a mirage before the affected participants, observers and the rest of the world.
A DIPLOMATIC MIRAGE
Paradoxically, appreciating a diplomatic mirage is by itself a major diplomatic and sociopolitical lapse, the negative impact of which appears to have been virtually ignored by those interested in spreading the hype about the Arab world heading for a major political awakening. And this is not the case of any debate over whether a glass is half full or half empty but symbolically more equivalent to that of heading for a nonexistent glass of water. To begin with, it is imperative to briefly study the incident that is assumed to have triggered off Arab Spring in several nations. On 18 December 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia in protest against police corruption is believed to have incited a wave of protest in several countries in the region. Please note that Bouazizi indulged in this activity individually. It was not the case of him being one of the demonstrators who had been engaged in protests against their government for a fairly long period of time. Nor was it a case of Bouazizi having opted for self-immolation as a representative of these demonstrators in anger against the then Tunisian government. Nevertheless, it may be assumed that Bouazizi was one of the many Tunisians who were unhappy at the treatment they suffered at the hands of the Tunisian police. His self-immolation played the role of prompting other aggrieved Tunisians to raise their voice through protests, which also led interested politicians as well as diplomats to try and exploit the unrest to turn this political tide as they understood to be suitable for their interests. Herein, attention needs to be given to the hard reality that the role of aggrieved Tunisians remained largely confined to that of protestors. To this day, there is no proof of their having gained by the political transformation Tunisia is undergoing. Yes, it is as yet too early to assume that political transformation has actually undergone a complete process in Tunisia.
Nevertheless, overthrow of the then government in Tunisia is viewed as a sign of success of Arab Spring there. The incident of the burning man was followed within less than three months by the overthrow of the then Tunisian government on 14 January 2011. Considering that Arab Spring is assumed to spell major political transformation for the people, it is a little difficult to accept that its success can be gauged only by the dismissal of the respective governments it is directed against.
The preceding points demand analysis of the probable factors responsible for building hype about Arab Spring. Giving importance to what still has not taken strong roots, that is, creating a false impression about a movement called Arab Spring having swept across the entire region, is equivalent to prompting people to chase a mirage. It is well known that sociopolitical movements heading for major transformation in any part of the world are not expected to lead to immediate results. They can take decades as well as generations before their impact can be sensed substantially enough to be labelled as a part of some “Arab Spring” or “Awakening.” Protests, demonstrations and even rebel activities may occur recurrently or only for a little phase of time. Their aim may be similar, but when they are not backed by strong people-oriented groups or parties, there prevail differences among these groups, there is a lack of clarity in vision of what their actual aim is and they are marked by only sporadic incidents for a limited period of time, it would be incorrect to label these as indicators of any movement. The situation would be different if similar protests continue over a long period of time leading to major sociopolitical changes in areas they are taking place in. It would be appropriate then to consider labelling them as a movement—”Arab Spring” or “Awakening”—depending on transformations they have actually led to. In other words, change of government without spelling any significant transformation for the nation’s sociopolitical culture cannot be defined as a part of any movement.
Here, it would be worth paying a little attention to the manner in which the government is changed, through only internal pressure, with help from external powers or primarily through military intervention of external powers. When external pressure is limited to using means of communication, including diplomatic dialogue, role of media and other means, without engaging in use of armed weapons or military intervention, it would be appropriate to understand this as usage of various diplomatic tactics to exercise influence on developments taking place within a nation. At the same time, the fact that external pressure is exercised, even though only diplomatic, substantially erodes the credibility of these so-called sociopolitical changes as totally national. When external pressure extends to military intervention, it completely erodes the credibility of these being viewed as national movements. The latter, that is, military intervention by external powers, also indicates the limited importance given to using diplomatic means to influence changes in the targeted country. Using war or war-like means to pressurise, rather practically force, change in another country is a crucial pointer to either diplomatic measures having failed or diplomacy being abandoned to ensure the dismissal of a leader and his or her government. Change of this nature can only be considered as that which has been pursued by external powers in pursuit of policies that suit their interests and not as desired or achieved through any movement activated by citizens of that country. The latter point holds irrespective of whether “news” is deliberately spread or even manufactured about the citizens welcoming that particular change. The fact that change has been imposed upon them by external powers cannot be ignored.
With respect to Arab Spring, the hard irony of the few nations being affected by it being Muslim countries stands out. This does demand deliberation on several points. From one angle, there is no denying that an anti-Islam stand is prevalent in certain Western nations. This has been further aggravated by their holding a negative, stereotyped image of Muslim nations and of Islam. In most Western countries, the religion is linked with terrorism, conservatism and backwardness. Undeniably, the anti-Islam attitude has become more pronounced after the United States was hit by terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. There prevails the conception (or the misconception) in the United States and its allies that the anti-Islam stand is substantial enough to justify the noise they have made about promoting democracy in the Arab region.
Understandably, the United States and its allies have their right to hold their respective opinions about the Arab world and the religion predominantly practiced here, that is, Islam. Yet, their own stand does not justify their inclination or decision to impose the sociopolitical concepts they are comfortable with in other parts of the world, including the Arab countries. In fact, democracy loses its essential political parameters when it is sought to be imposed on any group of people, a country or a region. It is indeed a tragic irony that the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies understand the symbolic and religious importance of the church and the Bible for them and most Christians. Yet, they have apparently decided not to view religious (Islamic) values upheld by Muslims. Little attention has been paid to U.S. presidents taking oath by the Bible or addressing the nation from a church’s pulpit, royal weddings in Britain taking place in the church and other similar forms of importance given to their religious values. Please note, when they make even a grand and great show of their religious practices, the traditional or conservative label is not tagged to these. But when a Muslim does so, the tendency prevails to tag these labels to his or her identity. Now, the big question here is, who should be viewed as at fault for perhaps deliberately misunderstanding and propagating incorrect images about Muslims and their religion? The tragic irony is that little importance has been accorded to understanding the importance of Islam from the angle of practicing Muslims.
The manner in which hype has been raised about Arab Spring leading to a political transformation, that is, establishment of democratic rule in affected countries, suggests that the West apparently prefers holding a negative opinion about Muslim countries in the region. This helps the West in adding some credence to the noise it makes and the force, including military as well as economic, it uses in the name of helping Arab world move towards a democratic world through a phase labelled as Arab Spring.
NON-REVOLUTIONARY IMPACT OF ARAB SPRING
In essence, governments have been pushed out of power in four countries. While Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown on 23 August 2011 and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah was replaced by Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi on 27 February 2012. In Libya, Gaddafi was overthrown after the National Transitional Council (NTC) took control of Bab al-Azizia and was killed in his hometown, Sirte, on 20 October 2011 after the NTC took charge of this city. In Yemen, Saleh signed a power-transfer deal, following which presidential election was held, leading to al-Hadi taking over as president. Saleh stepped down and signed this deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Ahead of the change of rulers at the helm, there prevailed some hope in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt about this spelling a major sociopolitical turn for the people and their respective countries as a whole. Regarding Libya, it is astonishing why this country is included as one that is witnessing Arab Spring. It is well known that Gaddafi never had cordial ties with the West. There have been attempts in the past too by external powers, primarily the United States, to dislodge him from power. Prospects of Gaddafi being removed by rebels in his own country were practically nonexistent. Undeniably, the role played by external military intervention led to his being overthrown and then being killed. Libya stands out as an outstanding example of what apparently is the prime motive of nations propagating the importance of Arab Spring, which sociopolitically for the affected people is only a mirage. The West, particularly the United States and its allies, is keen for complete control of this oil-rich and geostrategically important area. Installation of governments “friendly” towards their concerns thus is their prime motive. Removal of Gaddafi forcibly and then his being killed, with external military intervention, without being given a chance to face any trial, proves this intention of the West. This also supports the point of Arab Spring, promoted to install puppet regimes in these nations, as a totally undemocratic move. It has nothing to do with a few protests or demonstrations that have probably been incited by external support, which cannot be described as either revolutionary or part of any people-oriented movement. Libya illustrates these as being neocolonial designs deliberately promoted to suit interests of a few external powers, which are not from any angle in line with what the Libyan community desires.
While in Libya, the United States and its allies have succeeded, they are still trying hard in Syria. Ironically, with each passing day, the Syrian crisis is beginning to be viewed as more of a new cold war between the United States and Russia than as a part of the so-called Arab Spring. Despite the Syrian crisis having continued for more than fifteen months, prospects of it ending in the near future seem bleak. More than 12,000 people have died in the exchange of fire between the rebels and the supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Paradoxically, their prevails a certain rigidity between the warring groups, preventing them from reaching out to each other, because of which the crisis seems nowhere near the point of coming to an end.
United Nations–Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is still hopeful that his peace plan could avoid a civil war in Syria. Yet, more than 900 people have been killed since the UN-brokered 12 April ceasefire went into effect. The credibility of Annan’s peace plan is certainly facing a strong litmus test. Despite it still being nowhere near the stage of spelling any success, the European Union remains committed to helping Annan and the UN observer team in Syria. Ironically, the external forces keen for an end to the Syrian uprising do not hold the same stand on how it should be achieved. The United States has, for instance, categorically stated that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad must step down. Annan’s peace plan expects Assad to implement the same, with its priority being to “stop the killing.”
Meanwhile, the European Union has displayed its stand against the Assad government by announcing more sanctions against Syria. These include a travel ban and assets freeze on three people and two entities suspected of playing a major role against opposition forces in Syria. Restrictions, it may be noted, have not helped in controlling the unrest in Syria.
The parliamentary elections held in Syria earlier this year in May were projected as a part of political reforms promised by Assad. Describing the polls as a “farce,” the opposition groups boycotted them. Against this backdrop, the situation may take a positive turn if greater importance is given to initiating a dialogue between representatives of the Assad government and opposition forces.
On one hand, while opposition forces are supported by the United States, the European Union and other countries, Russia remains committed to help the Assad government. Defying Western criticism, Russia has continued arms deliveries to Syria. Russia has justified this move, favouring defence of government forces, by pointing to rebels receiving arms from abroad.
Despite a strong backing from external powers, the opposition forces are weakened by there being divisions within themselves. There is no leader who can be named as representative of Syrians rebelling against the Assad government. This weakness has repeatedly come to the fore, with their being no unity amongst them to decide on the fate of the next Syrian government if Assad, by choice or by force, decides to relinquish his hold on power. To a degree, this is also responsible for the failure of Annan’s peace plan in Syria.
The opposition forces have not given adequate importance to moves made by regional groups to end the Syrian crisis. The Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition group, has opposed participating in talks initiated by the Arab League to unite the Syrian opposition. Absence of unity among the Syrian opposition is also responsible for it failing to gain international recognition as representative of the Syrian people.
Undeniably, the external powers are alarmed at the limited prospects of the Syrian crisis ending soon. The regional countries are apprehensive of its negative impact within their borders. This apparently explains their growing concern at the failure of Annan’s peace plan. This probably prompted the Arab League members to get together and discuss the issue among themselves. Partly, their attempt has been punctured by refusal of the SNC to participate in their talks. Now, it is to be watched whether this move succeeds in the near future or not.
Where Syrian citizens are concerned, they have started giving greater importance to nonviolent and peaceful means of resistance. They have accepted that prospects of Assad being pushed out of power as Muammar Gaddafi was in Libya are practically nonexistent. Besides, the instability and chaos in other countries that have witnessed political unrest in recent months has made Syrians wary of their country facing the same fate. In this context, Annan’s peace talks may succeed if the government and opposition forces agree to start talking and stop indulging in conflict.
In Egypt, the situation is different. Despite the “success” of Arab Spring being marked by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, people are now beginning to question the reality of what they have gained. Please note the speed with which action has taken place here. Protests began here on 25 January 2011, and the government was overthrown on 11 February 2011. A fortnight’s time is certainly not sufficient to label the overthrow of Mubarak as a result of protests and demonstrations that began in Egypt. Protests are still taking place here. In other words, just the overthrow of a leader does not mark the success of a protest or even a series of protests and demonstrations painted as part of a revolutionary movement. It was envisaged, without any sociopolitical planning, that Mubarak’s dismissal from power would spell Arab Spring for Egyptians. Ironically, his dismissal from power has not spelt good tidings, politically, socially or diplomatically, either for the people or for the external powers keen for this change.
Ahead of the presidential elections held this June, Egyptians expressed disillusionment at what they were facing. Sharing his views with the media, Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei said, “We are in a total mess, a confused process that – assuming good intentions – has led us nowhere except the place we were at 18 months ago (when Mubarak fell), but under even more adverse conditions.” Interestingly, ElBaradei withdrew from the presidential race earlier this year, saying that a fair vote could not be held in the circumstances the country was gripped by. “We are going to elect a president in the next couple of days without a constitution and without a parliament. He will be a new emperor, holding both legislative and executive authority and with the right to enact laws and even amend the constitution as he sees fit.”1
In other words, ElBaradei’s comments suggest that Arab Spring for Egyptians has spelt only “more adverse conditions” and Mubarak’s dismissal. He also announced his decision not to cast his vote. By taking control after Mubarak’s dismissal, the Egyptian military has assumed more power than it had earlier. This has led to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) being accused of having staged a “counter-revolution” after Mubarak was forced out of power. During Mubarak’s regime, the military did not enjoy power or role in politics that it assumed after his dismissal. Again, this development is hardly suggestive of Arab Spring having spelt notable democratic gains for the Egyptian people. One dictatorial ruler has been replaced by a more dictatorial government. With respect to presidential elections, considering the candidates in the race, it is difficult to expect either to spell a more democratic and better sociopolitical climate for the people.
The choice was confined between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister. Neither of whom is viewed as a preferred candidate by Egyptian protestors. Not surprisingly, this outcome of the so-called Arab Spring has been painted as the “end of Egyptian Revolution” by certain representatives of Western media.2
It is not possible to give an elaborate analysis of all the nations assumed to be affected by Arab Spring. Therefore, this aspect shall be delved upon briefly. Though Algeria has been barely affected by Arab Spring, the government has been critical of the so-called revolutionary movement. It is possible that Algiers did not deliberately get affected by this Arab Spring as it still remains affected by the internal violence of the 1990s, in which more than 200,000 people were killed. Nevertheless, the country was briefly affected by protests and demonstrations against economic problems like housing troubling them. In an attempt to control them, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika lifted the 19-year state of emergency on 22 February 2012 and assured revision of the country’s constitution for democratic reforms.
Addressing a rally this May, Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia said, “The Arab spring for me is a disaster. We don’t need lessons from outside. Our spring is Algerian, our revolution of 1 November 1954.” The Algerian war of independence began in 1954 and lasted till it secured independence from France on 3 July 1962. Comparing Arab Spring with Algerian national war of liberation, Ouyahia said that unlike the “glorious days of 1954,” Arab Spring is “a plague.” Its effect can be seen in the “colonization of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, partition of Sudan and weakening of Egypt.”3
It is indeed ironical that countries having faced only a few sporadic protests for a limited period of time have been projected by the West as having being affected by Arab Spring. The flaw in this approach lies in adopting a critical approach even towards governments that have seemed liberal enough to have allowed protests, though for a limited period of time. Continuation of protests leading to civilian anarchy, unrest and perhaps overthrow of the rulers is least likely to be supported by any government. Nevertheless, this only supports the point that there prevails a tendency in the United States and its allies to raise hype about protests in countries where it is keen on change of rulers and governments.
The protests in Jordan have been described as small and peaceful, with the king stepping in to assure reforms for the people. While protests are continuing in Jordan, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, they have either been subdued or have ended in Tunisia, Sudan, Oman, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, Western Sahara and Israeli border areas. The illustration of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries as having been affected by Arab Spring may be viewed as highly questionable. They are gradually but definitely moving towards reforms in their respective countries. None of these countries’ populace may be listed as waiting to take to streets in demand for change of their governments. Besides, even if these have been witness to a few protests now and then, it would be erroneous to project these as a part of any revolutionary movement.
DEMOCRATIC HYPE AND “ARAB SPRING”
The on-going phase of sociopolitical transformation, ostensibly in the name of democracy, cannot be described even as a partial success in the few Arab nations that have been affected by it. The process is still taking place. Success remains elusive as well as considerably distorted from what it was projected as initially. Now, this in itself raises the crucial question, considering that only a few of the numerous Arab countries have been actually affected by a phase of sociopolitical transformation, would it be fair to label this as Arab Spring and raise false notions about the entire Arab world having been affected by it? Besides, the different ways in which transformation is taking place in a few countries cannot be sidelined. This adds credence to questioning the hype raised about Arab Spring when in essence the transformation is yet to satisfy the people and leaders in a few countries that it has begun in. This naturally demands deliberation on whether the hype was deliberately raised to ensure that political transformation begins in a few nations and justify the support for the same in others.
The few odd nations where political transformation is actually taking place do not constitute even 50 per cent of the Arab world. Equally important is the fact that the role of external powers and internal forces has varied strongly in all these countries, which are said to be heading towards greater democracy. It may not be possible to delve in details on developments in each of these nations, but they shall be referred to briefly. From one angle, the way the Arab Spring has been projected by Western media and nations suggests that this process was long overdue and democratically the Arabs are moving forward in the “right” direction. At the outset, one is tempted to raise the question as to whether it would be fair to blame Arabs if they have not yet included democratic principles in their political structure. Yemen, for instance, was subject to Western colonialism less than a century ago. So was Algeria. It takes decades, even centuries, for the development of democratic institutions and norms. Considering that colonialism had not allowed democracy to actually take roots in Yemen, why should only the Arab leaders of this nation be blamed for their country’s political system?
If the so-called supporters and promoters of Arab Spring are doing so out of their genuine concern for democracy to take roots in this region, there is yet another angle to this phase that cannot be sidelined. Democracy in any part of the world cannot be imposed from outside, by external forces. When external pressure or force is used to change regimes in the name of establishing democracy, it is, in essence, nothing but another form of neocolonialism confirming its grip on that country. What else does the forcible ouster of Muammar Gaddafi from Libya and that of Saddam Hussein from Iraq suggest?
Undeniably, propaganda raised about the need of political transformation in favour of democracy in Syria suggests the same. The “concern for democracy” regarding Syria, is motivated towards the ouster of President Assad from power. Well, democratic and diplomatic ethics demand that this be a decision taken by Syrians and not imposed as per dictates of Washington and its allies.
True, Egypt has witnessed Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power. But would it be fair to assume that this transformation has actually led to a democratic form of government, enabling elected representatives of the people to hold reins of power there? Not yet. The people in Egypt and the observers still remain dissatisfied with the transformation, which remains a far cry from the democratic form that they had probably envisaged at the time they began demonstrations demanding the dismissal of Mubarak. The Egyptian experience has apparently made the rest of the Arab world much wiser and practical about taking the same path in the name of so-called democracy. This explains as to why the “revolution” painted as Arab Spring has not actually spread across the entire Arab world and has not yet succeeded totally in the countries that have been affected by it.
This also explains as to why even Western writers have started deliberating on this so-called revolution, particularly in Egypt, as already being dead.
ARABS DISILLUSIONED BY ARAB SPRING
Undeniably, the on-going protests, conflict, chaos and instability in the few Arab nations witnessing these in the name of Arab Spring have made the rest of the Arab world wary of their facing similar changes. They are gradually revising their stand on demonstrations and violence spelling a brighter future for the region. In this context, notwithstanding all the support displayed by the United States with its supporters for opposition forces and rebellions in Syria, prospects of Assad being unseated easily still remain dim. Attempts made through the United Nations have been defeated by Russia and China. Besides, even if Assad decides to step down, there is the fear that this may lead to greater instability, chaos and conflict in the country. A strong division prevails amongst the opposition, which minimises prospects of a stable government taking over from Assad in the immediate future. Conflict or warlike means cannot be expected to lead to any democratic form of government. Nor can they guarantee political stability.
India has wisely stated its preference for a dialogue between all national representatives within Syria to end the present crisis. In other words, greater importance is now being given to a Gandhian style for encouraging political changes within Syria, Tunisia and other Arab nations. The Gandhian style implies giving importance to dialogue, without any conflict or use of force, and allowing the democratic process to gradually develop from within the nation, leaving no room for it to be imposed by external forces.
Undeniably, communication revolution has made the Arabs highly conscious of their own political preferences, religious identity and national sovereignty. They don’t want to compromise on either of these by being taken for a ride by what is being projected as Arab Spring. The Arabs, in general, have not welcomed the change in Western attitude towards them following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. They have also not approved of their religion, Islam, which means peace, being associated with terrorism. Not surprisingly, gradually but definitely, they have been prompted to give importance to enhancing their diplomatic ties with the East, which includes India.
India is a secular and democratic nation, which is also home to several religions being followed strongly by different sections of society. Democracy, secularism and adherence to religious practices—including Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity—coexist in India. An Indian can be secular, a strong democrat as well as a firm believer in his or her religious values. The appeal of this concept is picking up among the Arabs. In their perception, in their respective states, they can promote both democracy and Islam. This also explains their assertion, which is gradually gaining strength, that they need to define democracy in keeping with their sociocultural norms and not as decided for them by Western dictates.
Democracy as per Western dictates, even if it is not opposed by Arabs, can really not be accepted as genuine democracy. Howsoever democratic the United States may claim itself to be, it is well known that the foreign policy of the country is decided by a few strong lobbies operating there, particularly that of Jews. The Jews do not constitute a significant proportion of the country’s electoral population and yet have command over particularly its foreign policy and media. This certainly cannot be viewed as democratic rule from any angle. Understandably, the United Kingdom is far more democratic and its media has more freedom than that of the United States. But this country is headed by a constitutional monarch. Now, if democracy allows monarchy, even though nominally, this does not justify the noise made about the dismissal of Arab monarchs in the name of democracy. Nevertheless, if the West remains insistent that the time has come for this change to take place, then the first step in this direction should be taken by the royalty residing in Buckingham Palace. The queen should move out, without her crown, symbolising an end to constitutional monarchy in Britain. It may take decades, perhaps centuries, before this transformation takes place in Britain. This in itself negates the “democratic” importance being attached by supporters of Arab Spring to stepping down from power of kings holding power in the region. Besides, practically speaking, the United States and its allies are least concerned about whom the Arab countries are headed by as long as they have friendly ties with them. Neither Gaddafi nor Saddam Hussein was a monarch, but their removal from power by force was essential from the U.S. perspective as the two did not entertain cordial ties with Washington.
Interestingly, a few supporters of Arab Spring expected this transformation to lead to the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state in the region. This is what the United States and, of course, Israel really desire. This raises the notion that perhaps to a degree Washington and its allies raised hype about Arab Spring not really for the sake of democracy but to suit their interests and that of Israel. This also implies that their interest was to push the Palestinian issue to the backburner by going overboard regarding the importance of Arab Spring.
If, for a while, one were to put aside all the reservations expressed in this piece regarding the hype raised about the importance of Arab Spring in interest of democracy in the region, there is yet another crucial issue that cannot be sidelined. If the United States is seriously concerned about promoting Arab Spring, then history and diplomatic ethics demand that first priority be given to worst sufferers of democratic and humanitarian abuse in the region. Yes, this refers to ensuring a sovereign state for the Palestinians, where they are fully entitled to their democratic rights.4 Sadly, the hype raised about Arab Spring in a few nations suggests that perhaps this exercise has been deliberately indulged in to push the concern for the Palestinians’ rights to the backburner.
Thanks to communication revolution, the Arabs and other countries have become conscious of the limited appeal and impact of Arab Spring. Not surprisingly, they have started giving greater importance to opting for the democratic path as it suits their interests and not as decided by the White House. The new importance being accorded to Indian democracy in keeping with Gandhian principles is one indicator of this strong fact. The manner in which political turns have taken place in Libya and a few other countries in the name of Arab Spring has little appeal for most of the Arab world, including the countries undergoing the phase of political transformation. Democracy, even for the sake of genuine democracy, cannot be imposed by external pressure, nor can it be imported or exported. The increasing pace with which the Arabs are asserting this fact is perhaps just a minor example that Arab Spring has failed even before it has actually had any significant impact. This was but natural. The addition of the label “Arab Spring” can mislead the people for a while into thinking that they are a part of this political movement but not for long, thanks to the communication revolution.
The on-going phase of sociopolitical transformation, ostensibly in the name of democracy, cannot be described even as a partial success in the few Arab nations that have been affected by it. The process is still taking place. Success remains elusive as well as considerably distorted from what it was projected as initially.
Despite the United States and its allies having exercised all efforts possible, with the support of most sections of the Western media, Arab Spring has failed to sweep the Arab world. The people affected by protests and demonstrations do not represent a significant percentage of the Arab world. Besides, even the protestors cannot be assumed to be legitimate and genuine representatives of their respective countries’ populations. The last point justifies the failure of emergence of any strong revolutionary leaders or parties even in the few countries witnessing a phase of political transformation. It may be noted that this transformation is not people-oriented. The transformation has been marked at most by a change of leaders at the helm. This change has not spelt better sociopolitical tidings for the people. Rather, the situation has worsened for them. Ironically, while elaborate attention has been paid to the increase in sufferings of Egyptians, practically little attention has been given to the hardships being faced by the Libyans and the Iraqis following the change imposed upon them by external powers.
Diplomatically, while external powers are observing developments in Egypt, they are trying all their cards in Syria and they bend diplomatic ethics to use military prowess in Libya. In this context, initially, hype was deliberately raised about Arab Spring to probably justify political changes desired by the United States in countries such as Libya. It is impossible to correlate what happened in Libya with the incident of the burning man in Tunisia or Mubarak’s dismissal from power in Egypt. Likewise, the on-going protests in Syria cannot be viewed as similar to those taking place in either Jordan or the few odd ones in Saudi Arabia. This raises questions on the use of the label “Arab Spring” from another angle. It would be appropriate to view sociopolitical changes in respective Arab countries in keeping with their national issues. The label “Arab Spring” carries different interpretations for each Arab nation. It has been deliberately used to perhaps excite a revolutionary frenzy across the entire Arab world. This attempt has failed. This also proves the point that the hype about Arab Spring was raised to manufacture a revolution, ostensibly towards democracy, in the Arab countries. This attempt has also failed diplomatically as well as politically. But if the users of this label are still hopeful that Arab Spring will have some impact on the entire Arab world, if not now than in the near future, then they should start giving more importance to diplomatic and democratic rights of the Palestinians, who have been engaged in a revolutionary struggle for a long time. If Arab Spring has to take roots in the region, it needs to cease remaining a mirage for the Palestinians!
Notes and References
1. Jack Shenker. “Egypt’s Revolution Faces Stern Test as Country Votes for President.” Guardian (UK), 15 June 2012.
2. Robert Fisk. “Assad Will Breathe a Sigh of Relief at Death of Arab Spring.” Independent (UK), 16 June 2012.
3. Brian Whitaker. “Algerian Prime Minister Calls Arab Spring a Plague.” Guardian (UK), 9 May 2012.
4. Sarah Marusek. “West Must Recognize Peaceful Palestinian Resistance Movement.” Christian Science Monitor (U.S.), 7 June 2012.