- Development & Aid
- Economy & Trade
- Human Rights
- Global Governance
- Civil Society
Thursday, February 11, 2016
This column is available for visitors to the IPS website only for reading. Reproduction in print or electronic media is prohibited. Media interested in republishing may contact email@example.com.
- The Arab spring is the third Arab revolt in less than a century.
The first, from 1916-18, was against the Ottoman Empire. It was Prussia-Habsburg-Turkey versus England-France-Russia, which promised the Arabs freedom if they would join the fight against the Ottomans. But then came the 1916 Sykes-Picot betrayal by England and France which cut the Arab areas of the Ottoman empire into four colonies: Palestine, Iraq, Syria-Lebanon, and a Jewish “homeland”.
The Ottoman empire was comprised of provinces; the West, in contrast, built countries, with powerful inherent internal divisions between Sunni and Shia and various clans. Only Western imperialism or Arab dictatorship seems to be able to hold those countries together.
The second revolt, from 1952-69, with Naguib and Nasser in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya replacing traditional monarchies, was mainly against Western imperialism. Eisenhower-Dulles condemned the 1956 English-French-Israel attack on Egypt, and in came the US-Israeli empire.
The third revolt, which began in 2011 and is still underway, is against the US-Israeli empire and is driven by a huge new population of unemployed students and suppressed Muslim groups.
The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia on 17 December 2010 set in motion a whole series of uprisings against the massive concentration of power and wealth gaps. The US trick is to make people believe in individual mobility: “if you don’t make it, it is your fault”. Others systemic mechanisms: the elites get powerful and rich by taking power and wealth from us, the people. The former is individualist and person-oriented; the latter is collectivist and system-oriented and leads to revolts, like Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street.
Unlike the Ottomans and Western colonialists, US-Israel controls Arab countries indirectly, via autocratic and kleptocratic elites that depend on military force and bribery. As long as they serve US-Israel, they are not condemned. The worst in the Arab world is Algeria, where a quarter million people have been killed since elections were cancelled in January 1992 when the Islamic Salvation Front was heading for victory. Yet the European Union ignores atrocities. The best in the Arab world is Morocco, with a wise King Mohammed VI sensing it is time for basic change with a constitution, referendum, and elections. He might inspire Saudi Arabia to enact the demands of its intellectuals.
The revolts have denounced dictatorship and bribery in full awareness of the role of US-Israel in bribing top Egyptian military men who are fighting for their privileges. Israel is deeply worried about preserving the 1978 Camp David agreement with Egypt and expresses no concern for democracy.
But the US, champion of democracy, is playing another game. It provided some training in nonviolence for the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as a foreign policy tool. They admonish all autocrats to step down and leave. Why? No doubt, there is somewhere a belief in democracy, that people everywhere when given freedom will recognise the US as their stronghold and support it.
But there is another dimension. Autocracy depends on the military, and thus on the state, which receives “commissions” from state monopolies. The USA prefers privatisation to this system. Democracy can be manipulated through media and private enterprises guided through investment. Privatising central banks is very important for Western globalisation of the financial markets. This applies to Iraq-Iran, Lebanon-Libya, and Syria-Somalia-Sudan -seven major US targets. Benghazi’s National Transitional Council privatised Libya’s central bank immediately. Democrats may be more amenable than even US-sympathetic autocrats, Washington feels.
Yet the fault-lines in Arab countries complicate this. Democracy works fine for homogeneous Nordic countries with I-cultures but is problematic for heterogenous we-cultures with race, ethnicity, religion, modern-traditional-primitive divides and geographical rivalries –in short Libya, which is in no way a united democratic state. Nor are the other countries mentioned above, nor Israel, with its democracy for Jews and an iron hand for Palestinians.
What may indeed work, e.g. for Iraq, is a combination of three solutions: a federation within, a confederation with neighbouring countries with open borders, and local democracy -essentially as it was in the Ottoman empire. So Turkey may feel called upon, and no doubt will play a major role, with the Justice and Development Party as a model of Islam with democracy. But apart from the Kurds, Turkey is homogenous relative to the others.
The West is obsessed with Islam. It would do well to ask itself how Christians would react if they had been dominated by modernisers, Muslim or not, military or not. Would there be a Christian brotherhood, perhaps, that would spark a revolt or come out into the open when one began? And then might it adapt to other groups, maybe into some kind of enlightened, sensitive semi-democracy?
It would help greatly if US-Israel would switch from its autistic foreign policy to one with greater sensitivity to the interests of other countries. Arabs want a better life, which is unattainable under elites that are more responsive to US-Israel interests than to their own people. Revolts will continue until the US and Israel also accept a federation-confederation formula, with an Israeli-Palestinian federation (a solution between two states and one state) within a confederation of Israel and its five Arab neighbours: Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt -a Middle Eastern Community. Within that formula, the September 2011 protests in Tel Aviv could extend the concern for equality from themselves to their Arab neighbours. And the region could wake up to a new set of rules, more Ottoman, less Western-US-Israel. But with capitals everywhere, not only in Istanbul.
A real revolution, liberating both the oppressors and the oppressed. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)
(*) Johan Galtung, Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of “The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?”