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Is Spring Banging at the Doors of the Arab World?


Michael Youlton • 10 March 2005

On March 8th George Bush's speechwriters launched a new catchword: 'The Arab Spring'. Thus kicked off an intense and widespread international media and political campaign, adequately and spaciously reflected, as is always the case, in Ireland. The objective is to convince popular opinion that a very deep process of democratisation has started in the Arab world. A process, we are told, that is the direct result of the invasion of Iraq and the far-reaching US foreign policy spearheaded by Bush.

Some in the US are deliriously over the moon as they perceive that those Europeans who stood against the Bush adventure in Iraq will be now seriously discredited. The conservative pro-Bush clique, on the other hand, is gradually coming out of its bunkers and showing its face over the parapet again. For both, this is a great opportunity to change the negative climate both in the US itself as well as internationally.

The situation is considerably more complex in Europe. The 'Arab Spring' as much as the 'Cedar Revolution', PR concepts throwing the mind back to the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, are concepts whose political significance is as yet unclear. Even more questionable is the concept of the 'Orange Revolution' in the Ukraine - supposedly a copy of the 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia of nearly 40 years ago.

Iraq as an Alibi

During his pre-election campaign last October, George Bush repeatedly made the point that History will show that he was right in invading Iraq. Echoing him and using the recent elections in Iraq, the US media has gone onto the offensive projecting an international image of an unqualified neo-conservative success. Linking the Iraqi elections with a calmer climate in the Middle East and the two to the events in the Ukraine and now the events in Lebanon, the story being propagated is that US foreign policy is succeeding in changing the world for the better. This is no more than an ideological morphing of the US foreign policy after World War II - shaping it to current conditions. It is suggesting that what America did to defeated Germany, Japan and obliterated Europe then is now being repeated in the Arab world - and the remants of the 'socialist empire' that destroyed itself from the inside at the end of the 20th century.

Condy Rice is playing the demure young lady of the manor role here. Her recent stance was: "There is no need to go overboard, because whatever success has been achieved has not happened because of America. It is the human spirit, the desire of humankind to live in freedom that is behind all this…" A perfect one for the road, following the barrage of propaganda that equates freedom, democracy and the so-called indomitable human spirit with American values!

It would be seriously uncool and anti-productive if Rice went overboard and started banging the drums - would it not? It is far more effective when the PR project is carried through by The New York Times and Newsweek whose editorials this last week stated, "not without some surprise", that Bush was in fact "correct when he envisioned a better future for the Arab World" when few in the West had any hopes left!!

Palestine as an Alibi

Looking at reality from another - a more realistic and progressive - angle methinks, gives us a rather different reading. The US positions outlined above are, at best, a mixture of wishful thinking and a partial understanding of the situation. For example, while elections in Iraq did take place, and leaving aside the issue of whether they were democratic or not, it is very questionable that they would have a positive outcome for the people in Iraq. Some argue already that they have set the basis for further bloodshed. To argue today that democracy has arrived in Iraq is an ideological and metaphysical stance that little has to do with the situation there. In Palestine, the change of climate is primarily the result of Arafat's death and the internal collapse of his authoritarian system of control of the Palestinian Authority. It is unlikely that the US would want to assume responsibility for that. Or is it? As the International Herald Tribune argued this week: "One day soon Fidel Castro will die - would Bush then argue that the inevitable change of climate in Cuba would have been the result of his foreign policy?"

An interesting pointer to the winds of democracy blowing in the Arab world is the situation in Qatar. There has been a very significant positive change in that small country in the Gulf that started in late 2001. The most democratic of all Arab media operations, Al Jazeera, has its HQ in Qatar. Is it surprising that the US has been trying desperately to pressurise the rulers of Qatar to muzzle the TV organisation? The wind obviously there decided to change direction.

To look at the recent restricted local elections in the Saudi, where only men were allowed to vote, or the very restrictive presidential elections in Egypt as examples of democracy would be stretching the meaning of the word somewhat. And it is worth examining what the US would really do when the forthcoming real elections in Iraq brought to power somebody like Al Zarqaoui. Elements of the recent (anti-) Sinn Fein circus closer at home. Adams and Arafat. McGuinness and Al Zarqaoui….what a nightmare!

Juan Cole, History Lecturer in the University of Michigan, recently told me: "Washington would be in a terrible situation if the strong fundamentalist movement in Tunisia suddenly gathered and demanded the resignation of the dictator Ben Ali - asking for the same rights that the Lebanese opposition is asking for in Lebanon."

If one looked at these developments through a Marxist prism, what's happening in most of the Arab world, as much as in Georgia or the Ukraine, is that the (new)middle classes, having been strengthened and invigorated by the globalisation process, are entering the political arena and demanding their legitiamate place in the sun. It is the emerging middle class that was in the forefront of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine and it is this mixture of Christian and Muslim midlle class of Beirut that is leading the Cedar Revolution. To argue, however, as the neo-conservatives do, that this section of the population is by definition an ally of the US is, again, an ideological and metaphysical mystification. Can they forget that it was the emergence of this specific section of the middle class in Iran 30 years ago that brought down the Shah and instituted the present theocracy?

PS. As the article above was being finalised, I read that George Bush, following his meeting with King Abdallah of Jordan, in a message addressed to the Shiite organisation Hezbollah in Lebanon, told them that the US would accept their integration into the Lebanese democratic process. "We see Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation", Bush added,"but I hope that by getting rid of its arms and by not threatening the peace process in the region, it can become and element of stability"! Am I imagining that this movie is currently on our screens too?






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

22 March 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

A Must Read
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Green Paper on Irish Unity
32 CSM Press Release

The Advisocrats
Anthony McIntyre

Fig Leaf
Dr John Coulter

Democractic Killers
Fred A Wilcox

Eamon McCann

No Dodging the Moral Dilemma
David Adams

After St Patrick's Day, Where Goes the Peace Process?
Fr. Sean Mc Manus. INC

The Left Way Could be the Right Way for Sinn Fein
Eamon McCann

Robert McCartney
Carol Mallon

Don't Lose Perspective
Richard Wallace

Anthony McIntyre

Is Spring Banging at the Doors of the Arab World?
Michael Youlton

The Letters page has been updated.

16 March 2005

Statement from the Family of Knife Murder Victim Mark 'Mousey' Robinson
Robinson Family, Derry

Power in the Pub
Anthony McIntyre

Why No Arrests? (Whose agenda are we working to)?
TR FitzSimons

McCartneys: how the personal became political
Brendan O'Neill

No Breakthrough
Michael Benson

Hope for Justice
Mick Hall

Provisional Thuggery in Strabane
Des Dalton

Basking in the Glory?
Dr John Coulter

This Is What Democracy Doesn't Look Like
Fred A. Wilcox

Way Beyond Orwell
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Aliyah and the Oligarchs
Mary La Rosa



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