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Freedom virus spreading

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The clamour for democracy in the Middle East is spreading so rapidly that one commentator has dubbed it, “the freedom virus”.

In fact it has reached the stage that even the perennial ‘super-revolutionary’ Colonel Muammar al- Gaddafi of Libya has himself become a victim. As I write, Gaddafi’s regime was fighting for dear survival, as the flames which have been blazing all around Libya, from Morocco in the west to Egypt in the east, and fanning out to the north, right through Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan, now threaten to engulf the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.{{more}}

Not since the tide of decolonisation swept through the African continent in the late fifties/early sixties, has anything like this been witnessed worldwide. The Middle East, racked by the pervading conflict around Palestine, has always been a hotbed. However, that conflict, arising from Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people, has tended to overshadow all else. It has allowed undemocratic and sometimes brutally repressive regimes to keep their people in bondage, in some instances in conditions bordering on semi-feudal existence. The international community has itself tended to ignore the simmering social conflict, placing peace before justice.

In the space of less than two months, the spark lit by a humble 26-year old man in Tunisia, who burned himself to death to protest the lack of freedom in his country, has become a raging inferno. That inferno has already destroyed the roofs of hitherto impregnable regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and threatens the very foundations of the ruling elites in Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, and even the radicals in Libya and Iran. The rallying cry is for freedom and democracy, but issues like blatant corruption, the end of privileges for the elites, and eradication of brutal suppression are very much a part of the scenario.

Such has been the pace of developments in that region, that it has caught not only those directly threatened, but the rest of the world, wrong-footed. The traditional approach to analysing Middle East developments, in terms of “friends of the West” and radical Islam, has been thrown out of the window. The implications for foreign policy are huge. Most of the regimes threatened, and particularly those swept away so far, were considered as reliable allies of the West, especially of the United States. But with President Obama in power in the USA, the contradiction between supporting tyrannical regimes friendly to western interests and the clear expression of the will of the peoples of the region heightened to the extent that even a long-time ally like Mubarak had to be abandoned.

The virus is spreading so fast that both friend and foe alike are infected. It is easy to support the movement to bring an end to Gaddafi’s erratic 42-year old rule, or to fan the flames of human rights and democracy in a nation like Iran, ruled under an autocratic theocracy; but how does one handle the same outbreak in “stable” Bahrain, home of the US 5th Fleet, one of its most important armadas, designed to protect oil interests in the region, and even as a battering ram against the said Iran? How do you react when people challenge the feudal monarchs of Morocco, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, keystones of US and western policy in the Middle East?

The implications are huge and global in scale. The more the west supports the movements of the people, the more its own class-based, hypocritical systems, which, on the surface, offer many democratic rights and freedoms, but in reality subject large sections of its people to economic deprivation and shut them out of real decision-making, become the object of internal scrutiny. How can Berlusconi in Italy for instance, side with anti-corruption in the Middle East, while wallowing in it at home? How can Britain, the Netherlands or Spain, support calls for an end to the monarchies in Bahrain, Morocco or Jordan, whilst themselves having anachronistic dynasties?

Above all, it is the inspiration that the people of the Middle East are giving to the rest of the world that will be the lasting legacy. These spontaneous, non-violent revolutions are accomplishing what the likes of terrorist Al-Quaeda, with all the blood and bombs, could not. They make Zionist occupation nervous about the future. They ask huge questions of Gaddafi’s system and openly contradict Iran’s support for revolution in Egypt with its reaction to open protest in its own territory. Even in the Caribbean, they force us to rethink. Those who would opportunistically try to ride on the backs of the freedom movement in the Middle East can never be able to reconcile those genuine expressions of people’s power with subservience to foreign interests, and our governments, whether here at home or in neighbouring countries, will have to stop paying lip-service to people’s participation and instead introduce genuine, far-reaching reforms, placing people at the centre of power.

That virus is coming our way too.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.