The Arab spring is brighter than ever

Brian Whitaker writes:

“The Arab world’s much-heralded collective push toward democracy is now in jeopardy,” an article for McClatchy newspapers in the US informed its readers at the weekend.

The fact that autocratic regimes in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen are fighting back with lethal force should surprise no one. The more surprising thing is that Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt – two leaders previously regarded as firmly entrenched – were toppled after such a short struggle.

Nor does the fightback mean, as the article’s headline suggests, that the outlook for democracy is dimming across much of the Middle East. Looking at the region as a whole, the prospects have never been brighter.

But there is another – far bigger – problem with this revolution-in-jeopardy analysis. By focusing on “democracy” and the ousting of dictators, it ignores a large part of what the Arab revolt is about. It’s the same mistake that George Bush made with his calls for democracy and “regime change” in the Middle East – calls that were directed mainly against the regimes deemed hostile towards the US and paid little attention to the desires of ordinary Arabs.

Arabs don’t talk much about democracy as such, and they tend to be cynical about elections. They do talk increasingly about “freedom”, though what they mean by it is not quite what Bush meant. They want freedom from corruption and political cronyism, and the freedom to make their own choices – an end to repression and government attempts to control the minutiae of people’s lives.

Democracy may be one way of working towards that but it is rarely seen as a goal in itself, and while regime change is certainly an important part of the revolt, its younger activists (at least) have their eyes set on changing whole systems, not just the political leaders.

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3 thoughts on “The Arab spring is brighter than ever

  1. scott

    I think the author misses a bit too. “Freedom” is as meaningless as “Democracy.” He’s right when he says they want accountable gov’t, better career prospects, and a dissolution of the plutocracy. I don’t think the gov’t is snooping in the details of their private lives. They can’t and don’t, they enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy, with less surveillance and fewer taxes. Their gov’ts don’t lie to them like ours does, theirs being so discredited they fool no one. I appreciate the commentary of the author, and don’t disagree too strongly, but only can report what I’ve seen and felt there. I am a bit jealous of them, they are ahead of US.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    The thing the new generations need most is a future — a future where they will have jobs, a chance to earn and save enough to marry and start their own families, and a future where they have the dignity of doing something meaningful. The Western enemies that prevent this is neo-liberalism, globalism, the World Bank, and the IMF.

    There is no work the young can do within their countries that can compete with the cheap trash being poured out by multinational corporations that make things where the cost of labour is lowest and are protected from competition by the obscenity of free trade. The Arabs in the street have no jobs because their societies are forbidden from protecting nascent industries at home with the necessary import duties and sales taxes on foreign imports. No Arab country will be able to create the jobs that will satisfy the needs of their people because of the Western instituted economic climate that cripples the sovereignty of their governments. Read about Egypt — it is the classic case.
    This wave of revolutions will not be over until neo-liberalism is tightly controlled by international agreement; until the billionaires who are the only people who prosper under free trade are forced to pay their rightful dues to the world they live in; until the World Bank and the IMF are operated under a humanity-friendly economic paradigm; and until the poor in one country are not set against the poor in another. Globalism could have been a good thing if it had been set up to benefit the people.

  3. Norman

    We will see whether the revolutions in Egypt & Tunisia will succeed or be sold out to another set of the plutocracy. That’s probably the reason the West is sitting on their collective asses about Libya. As I have mentioned, it doesn’t require a no fly zone enforced by the West, just those dandy anti Plane, Tank, Personal carrier shoulder fired rockets. Of course, if the rebels in Libya are truly democracy seekers, that would make a rather large block, with OIL behind it. If Libya falters, loses its goal, then the loyalists slaughter the civilian population, well, draw your own conclusions. As for the news media in the U.S., they dance to what ever tune the plutocracy plays. One thing is clear, every uprising points to the flaws, each to be assessed by the next group. The fallacy that the Arab revolution is a non-starter, is just that, a non-starter. The fact that Ms Clinton is making the rounds, either shows the U.S. underestimated the revolution or seeing how much influence the U.S. will have.

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