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Mainstream, VOL L, No 22, May 19, 2012

Arab Spring: Failure of “Manufactured Revolution”

Tuesday 22 May 2012, by Nilofar Suhrawardy


In essence, the ongoing phase of political trans-formation, 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 illusive as well as considerably distorted from what it was projected as initially. Now, this in itself raises two crucial questions. Considering that only a few of the numerous Arab countries have been actually affected by a phase of political 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 where the movement began. 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.

Among the few odd nations where political transformation is taking place are Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iraq. These are a handful of the countries grouped together as the Arab nations. 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 detail 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 the 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. 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, in essence it is nothing but another form of neo-colonialism confirming its grip on that country. What else does forcible ouster of Muammar Gaddafi from Libya and that of Saddam Hussain from Iraq suggest?

Undeniably, the propaganda raised about the need for political transformation in favour of democracy in Syria suggests the same. The “concern for democracy” regarding Syria is motivated towards the ouster of President Basher al-Assad from power. Well, democratic and diplomatic ethics demand that a decision on this needs to be taken by Syrians and it cannot be imposed as per the dictates of Washington and its supporters.

True, Egypt has witnessed removal from power of Hosni Mubarak. 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 the reins of power there? Not yet. The people in Egypt and observers remain dissatisfied with the transformation still remaining a far cry from the democratic form that they had probably envisaged at the time they began demonstrations demanding 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 over the entire Arab world and has not yet succeeded totally in the countries that have been affected by it.

Notwithstanding all the support displayed by the United States and its allies for the opposition forces and rebellion in Syria, the 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 a fear that this may lead to greater instability, chaos and conflict in the country. A strong division prevails among the opposition which minimises the prospects of a stable government taking over from Assad in the immediate future. Conflict and/or war-like 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 the 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, the 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 September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America. 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, Christianity and others—co-exist in India. An Indian can be secular, a strong democrat as well as a firm believer in his/her religious values. The appeal of this concept is gaining support among the Arabs. In their perception they can promote both democracy and Islam in their respective states. This also explains their assertion, which is gradually picking up, that they need to define democracy in keeping with their socio-cultural 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 the 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 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 at Buckingham Palace. The Queen should move out, without her crown, symbolising an end to constitutional monarchy in Britain. It may be 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 the stepping down of Kings holding power in the region.

If for a minute one were to put aside all the reservations expressed in this piece regarding the hype raised about the importance of Arab Spring in the interest of democracy in the region, there is yet another crucial issue that cannot be sidelined. If the United States is really serious about promo-ting Arab Spring, then history and diplomatic ethics demand that first priority should be given to the 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. 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 back-burner.

Thanks to the 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 the Arab Spring has failed even before it has actually had any significant impact. This was but natural. By adding the label, “Arab Spring”, people can be misled for a while that they are a part of this political movement, but not for too long, thanks to the communication revolution. Propaganda and manufactured news can excite the affected people’s frenzy for a while. Yet, because of the communication revolution, it doesn’t take them too long to learn about its negative impact and that it doesn’t suit their interests, even democratically!

The author is a free-lance journalist and writer specialising in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy.

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