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Middle East defying stereotypes

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As the process of democratisation unfurls in the Middle East, reaction has been stirred internationally, so much so that even persons who are normally apolitical, have found themselves forced to express either bewilderment or concern.{{more}}

The bewilderment is not restricted to those outside the loop of active politics. However, even those highly seasoned in international politics have found themselves struggling to keep up with the pace of events and the rapidity of developments.

Such is the nature and scale of the tide sweeping through the Middle East, that the normal analysis and characterisation of states and governments, as belonging to the “right” or “left”, just do not readily fit the Middle Eastern developments. The revolutionary tide has engulfed governments, traditionally considered conservative and on the “right”, such as Egypt and Tunisia, as they threaten to sweep away the “revolutionary” regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The usual yardstick of whether a country is to be judged by its closeness to such countries as the USA or Britain on one hand, or Venezuela and Cuba on the other, is not applicable in the cauldron that is the Middle East of today.

For the people of the whole gamut of countries stretching from Morocco in the West to Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, the fundamental issues relate to the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. In Egypt, there must be millions who are in support of close ties with the government of the United States, (deposed President Mubarak was a “darling” of the US establishment), but who yearned for freedom and democracy and saw the Mubarak regime as an obstacle in the way of the full exercise of those rights. So too, there must be persons in Libya, who supported Gaddafi’s anti-imperialism, but disagreed with him in respect of the observance of democratic norms.

It makes little sense therefore to be repeating pat phrases about either the danger of “radical Islam” to the hitherto “conservative” states, or US and EU subversion in Libya. This is tantamount to disrespecting the rights of the millions of North Africans and their brothers and sisters in the Arabian peninsula and Gulf. They are paying with their blood to enjoy the basic freedoms which we take for granted. International allegiances must take second place.

It is a shame that, in the month when we, as descendants of Africa (at least the vast majority of us), celebrated Black History Month, two African leaders, of differing political persuasions, are not only refusing to respect the democratic wishes of their people, but jeopardizing the future of their countries and peoples and international peace and security in the process. In the Ivory Coast, Laurence Gbagbo, on the losing side in the Presidential election of last November, refuses to accept defeat, preferring to drag his country into bloody civil war instead. In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi is convinced that a minority, acting in collusion with Al Quaeda, is corrupting the youth with drugs, so as to remove him. “There is none so blind as he who cannot see”.

In both cases, the reactions of those clinging to power represent a flagrant disrespect of their respective populations. In both countries, while, for one reason or another, there is still some support for the regimes, the recourse to force and stubborn denial of democratic norms by placing personal and family interests before all else, is resulting in human tragedy. Whatever the attributes of those being asked to step down, the will of the people must prevail.

It is a positive sign to note CARICOM’s sober response to the crisis, as indicated in the Communiqué from last weekend’s Heads of Government meeting in Grenada. The Heads wisely chose to address the problems in the Middle East/North Africa collectively. They avoided the strident calls of those who can only see Gaddafi and nothing else, but at the same time stuck to principle. It is therefore heartening to note that the heads “…condemn the use of violence against people who are protesting peacefully…..and call for an immediate end to the violence and look forward to a resolution of the situation through dialogue and actions which would allow the free exercise of the fundamental human rights by the people of that region..”

In conclusion, it is sad to see Gaddafi playing into the hands of those who had long waged a campaign likening him to a “madman”. His rantings and open threats have the effect of giving real credence to the real “mad dogs”, especially among the lunatic right in the USA, who have nothing to do with rights and freedoms, but with oil, politics and the hegemony of an elite. Gaddafi’s bravado of saying that he “will fight to the last man”, might sound romantic to young revolutionaries and those aware of the machinations of global imperialism. But for those of us with memories, we have heard it before. Saddam was equally defiant, and what happened? They found him hiding in a rat hole, when many whom he had persuaded to fight had lost their lives. Nearer home, in Grenada in 1983, the Revolutionary Military Council had similar words of foolish bravado. “Let them come, we will roll them in the sea,” they boasted. But when the invasion came, they went into hiding, while ordinary Grenadians, duped by the rhetoric, were long dead.

In both cases, the long and short is that the persons they purported to be opposing ended up in total control of their countries. Is that about to be repeated?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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