Occupy Wall Street and the popular uprisings that ousted dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen in North Africa and the Middle East were highlights of the first dozen years of the 21st century. They are the products of peoples desire for a social order with greater transparency accommodating their will and aspirations.
The Egyptians, who were long denied free elections and a legal parliament and suffered severe repression for any expression of dissent, would enter a new era with the ratification of a new constitution and the election of a president by the end of June 2012. Tunisians now have civilian rule. Morocco underwent a peaceful transformation with a new constitution shifting executive power from the king to the prime minister. Influenced by the Arab uprisings, the Syrian people are also struggling for freedom, paying a heavy price in blood.
The Arab revolts that began in December 2010 had immediate, material causes. Along with demand for the end to tyranny, authoritarian governments and dependency on external powers, there was a series of social demands about work and life and an end to poverty.
New political and economic order in these countries should render social justice to the common working people. For example, in Egypt more than 40 million Egyptians live on less than $2 per day and more than 1 million children live on the street.
Egypts foreign debt reached $34.4 billion, representing 15% of its GDP, with high unemployment, balance of payment deficits and draining foreign reserves. So Egypts newly elected parliament and the civilian rule in Tunisia are just the beginnings of what figures to be a protracted and painful process. However, sliding into political Islam could never be the Arab peoples salvation. Signs of this regressive trend are evident. In Egypts democratic elections, Muslim Brotherhood got a sweeping victory and now controls almost 50% of the Egyptian parliament.
In North Africa, two Islamist parties, al-Nahda (Renaissance) in Tunisia, and the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco, have come to power in elections forming new coalition governments.
The people would lose the historic gains of uprisings if religious fanaticism emerged as the dominant trend in the Arab politics. The ascendancy of the Islamist parties may result in putting into action the same Washington consensus pursued by the old dictators.
A new, real democratic structure with political empowerment of the people must emerge in the Arab world, after the deeper purges of old order.
The people in these countries have the right to choose their own destiny. It is insane for outsiders like New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman to prescribe that Egypt needs to be integrated with the world and to write that Egypt will probably need assistance from the International Monetary Fund, a major injection of foreign investment
In fact, such machinations are going on with the aim of imposing a new order based on corporate plunder of resources of the Arab countries. This oppressive socio-political alternative is promoted through both military and economic means. The Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings are not just against Western-backed dictators. It was also against an unjust global economic system. Actually, the policies of multinational institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, implemented by Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, created poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity for ordinary people. The same policies are now recommended for the new governments in these countries. Discussions are going on for a $3.2 billion IMF loan to Egypt. Egypt has long been a major recipient of US aid, getting about $1.6 billion annually. Economic aid was less than a fifth as much as the military assistance. President Obamas budget includes $800 million in aid to promote Arab Spring democracy and it maintains $1.3 billion in assistance to Egypt.
Egypt has to sacrifice its sovereignty to meet some of the conditions attached to this aid. It must meet all obligations under the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. So, Egyptians have understood that the US aid to Egypt is for Israels benefit. Hence, about 7 in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup oppose help from the US and favor aid only from Arab governments. Many Arab governments have promised to help rebuild Egypts economy.
Many critics believe that maintaining control over oil resources was the primary motive of the US-led NATO intervention in Libya. In the case of Syria, it was necessary for the US to establish a puppet regime in Syria to counter the influence of Iran. Now, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution endorsing an Arab League plan to intervene in Syria.
Indias stand supporting the US-backed resolution was widely condemned by the Left in India. Instead of integration with the US-backed global corporate power, Arab countries have the rational choice of joining hands with the rest of the Asian countries. Already the Arab uprising has empowered millions of people in South Asia and the people wish to cooperate with the people in the Arab countries to find a new order.
Arab uprisings are spreading across North Africa and the Middle East through the cycle of struggles.
A leading human rights organization in Washington, Freedom House, described the Arab Spring as of captive people seeking freedom after decades of oppression. But those freedom loving people are involved in original experiments utilizing the new political possibilities. The West should not strangle their creative potential.
N. Gunasekaran is a political activist in Chennai, India.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2012
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