West turns Arab Spring into a mirage

By Ameen Izzadeen
Six months have passed since Tareq al-Tayyib Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze and ignited the pro-democracy revolution across the Arab world. The young Tunisian street vendor took his life after he felt he did not have freedom to earn an honourable living by selling fruits and vegetables at his country’s city centre. Demonstrations that began in Tunisia to protest Bouazizi’s death gathered pace like a desert storm and forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country in January this year. The success of the Tunisian revolution inspired the Egyptian youths to gather at Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In spite of hundreds of deaths at the hands of Police and Mubarak’s interior ministry thugs, the demonstrators continued till the dictator was forced to step down and the military council that took over promised speedy moves towards democracy. Bouazizi’s fire lit up passion for democracy in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and even parts of Saudi Arabia. But six months on, the Arab Spring appears to be fading without bearing much fruit. It makes one wonder whether the West which has been apprehensive of democracy in the Arab world has taken control of events. If the wind of democracy that blew across Eastern Europe in 1989 stands as a yardstick to measure the success of pro-democracy revolts, then the outcome of the Arab Spring leaves much to be desired. Developments in the Arab world indicate that dictatorships are likely to continue in the Middle East in one form or another. Take for instance, Tunisia. It was to have a constitution ready by July for democratic elections, but the interim government has postponed the deadline to October, citing the lack of progress in talks with political parties. In the meantime, human rights violations and the suppression of labour rights take place even under the interim government. The same is true in Egypt. The parliamentary elections are to be held in September and the presidential election in November. But reports indicate that they could be postponed because the military council says it wants to give more time for political parties to prepare for the polls. What an excuse to postpone polls? What’s more? The major parties which have been talking to representatives from Western governments also want the polls postponed. More delays give more time for foreign powers to meddle in Egypt’s internal affairs. Worried about a democratic Egypt’s anti-West foreign policy, the United States and Saudi Arabia are in contact with the military council and political parties including the Muslim Brotherhood. Going by the number of US visitors meeting the junta, it seems it has already pledged its obeisance to the US. The opening of the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip is a case in point. When the border was opened, the Palestinian people and their friends all over the world celebrated, thinking that the misery of living under an Israeli siege was finally over. But their happiness lasted only a day or two. The Egyptian authorities imposed tight restrictions, dashing the Palestinian hope for a free movement of men and material across the border. Another example was Tuesday’s clashes at Tahrir Square between pro-democracy supporters and the security forces. They showed that not much has changed since Mubarak was ousted. Demonstrators claim that as many as one thousand people were injured in the clashes and accuse the government headed by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi of resorting to Mubarak’s methods to put down protests and hound journalists and pro-democracy activists. Tuesday’s protests started peacefully, with relatives of some 800 protesters who were killed in the January-February revolt gathering outside a police centre. They were there to stage a peaceful protest against a ceremony to honour the police officers who were killed during the revolt. The scene turned ugly when the police arrested some protesters and slapped an elderly woman. Angry that the military council is slipping away from its commitment to democracy, the pro-democracy movement has called for a major demonstration on July 8 – that is next Friday, a day of prayer and a day of protests in new Egypt. The ground reality is that democracy and liberty are yet to be institutionalised. In Libya, the story is different from that of Egypt and Tunisia. The demonstration in the Eastern city of Benghazi was more a protest against Muammar Gaddafi than a move to bring in democracy. The revolt which had the support of only some sections of the populace was soon hijacked by the Western powers which seek to grab Libya’s oil wealth and establish military bases to control the Mediterranean and North Africa. The military intervention by the West in Libya is three months old now and the war is still going on with the West worried about the heavy presence of anti-West Islamists in the fighting force of the Transitional National Council or the rebel government. In the meantime, Syria uses brute power to crack down on the pro-democracy movement while the United States and the West give their full blessings to the dictators of Bahrain and Yemen to suppress the pro-democracy cry with the help of Saudi Arabia. The fact remains that none of the Arab countries where people cried and died for democracy is democratic today. They are only taking one step forward and two steps backwards. The Arab Spring appears to be facing an early winter to be frozen in it.

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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