PROTESTERS CLASH with police in Bahrain during 2011 Arab Spring protests.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Arab Spring’ was always a misnomer, an oversimplified reading of Western meddling in the Middle East, of the political ingredients that engendered these uprisings and of the expectations about their outcome.
These uprisings did not erupt as a consequence of the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia, protesting against his mistreatment by police, or protesting against environmental degradation, unemployment or socio-economic factors. What about the Palestinians who have been living for over the past 70 years under Israel’s occupation of Arab, Muslim and Palestinian lands? Who is more important to Arabs, the idiot who burned himself alive, against the teachings of Islamic scriptures, or the plight of their brethren in Palestine? Why were there no protests when Darfurians were burned by Janjaweed militias abetted by the Sudanese government? Why are there no protests now in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon or the UAE over the ongoing ordeal of Yemenis, Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Gazans, who are burned alive in hordes? Why are we not witnessing Arab uprisings against the corruption, nepotism, cronyism, human rights violations, unemployment and religious persecution in Sudan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where the unemployment rate is 40%? Saudi Arabia has just allowed women to drive; has just allowed theaters and cinemas to open, and has only allowed women and men to attend concerts last month.
The 1989 uprisings in Europe and the modern Arab protests both erupted against tyrannical and communist regimes (in the case of Arabs, all the dictators were darlings of the West, from Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and even Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi). However, these uprisings occurred in different religious, cultural and political contexts. The two regions have different natural resources and histories, and view the relationship between church and state differently.
Throughout history popular uprisings were often motivated by radical democratic ideals that sought to throw off oppression, domination and hierarchy and expand the scope of freedom, justice and democracy. In 1989, fragile tyrannies collapsed under the hammer of spontaneous popular protests. Moscow was just emerging, weak and defeated, from its war in Afghanistan, and not only refrained from any intervention to halt the snowball rolling in Eastern and Central Europe but seems to have encouraged such internal developments, even within the USSR.
The West rushed to exploit the withdrawal of Soviet leverage to achieve its objective, mainly the defeat of communism and the triumph of neo-liberal capitalism over tyranny. It also rushed to include European countries in NATO and the EU project.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the uprisings coincided with the sudden rebirth of Russian clout under President Vladimir Putin, the resurgence of the new cold war, Russia’s eagerness to establish a permanent naval and air bases on the Mediterranean Sea in its geostrategic bid to resurrect its past glory and unshackle itself from NATO encirclement, economic sanctions imposed upon it in the aftermath of Crimea’s annexation and its political isolation.
Also, the US and its allies have been fed up with reliance on Saudi Arabia for oil, and on Russia for gas (pipelines passing through Ukraine to large swaths of Europe). There has been a revival of interest in crude oil and gas (Syria has recently discovered large oil and natural gas reservoirs, especially in its northeastern region and offshore). Oil, gas and strategic interests have always shaped Western foreign policy in the Middle East and the Gulf region.
Seven years on, it is obvious that the results have been calamitous, leading to senseless wars, displacement and forced/involuntary migration. Syria, Yemen and Libya have been reduced to rubble. The human toll is beyond human comprehension. The images of lifeless bodies washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean have become the symbols of peoples’ suffering and desperation to reach European shores. The estimated cumulative cost of Syria’s reconstruction is estimated to run to some $230b. and counting; needless to mention the inestimable costs in terms of suffering, human values and destruction across the entire country.
Perhaps the grim reality of this war is that Syria has lost an entire generation of children, children who have seen nothing but carnage, grief, displacement and human misery. Also, Syria’s war is no ordinary civil war, as Western media mendaciously depicts. It has become an open secret now that this is a proxy war between the US, its NATO allies Britain, France and Turkey on one side, and Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah on the other. Do we really want to launch another devastating war, this time in the Gulf region, with Iran? What would the consequences be? Would the region and Israel be a safer place? I hope sanity and wisdom will ultimately prevail.The author is a physician, political analyst and researcher.
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