Popcorn politics of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring that began in 2010 – like the 2009 Green movement protests in Iran – had brought initial hope that there would be a swift “revolutionary” change and “democracy”, writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.

Media outlets from across the world gave the protests vast coverage, giving the impression that the world was on the tip of a “prophetic change”. The coverage was so compelling, that it was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster with popcorn and coke.

Aside from the “Hollywoodisation” of the Arab Spring, the protesters had no clear vision of what a post revolutionary state would look like, how they would remove the entrenched “state” apparatus and what the “democratic” process would be and how it would unfold. Instead protesters had the sole goal – removing the leaders, which “masked” the heterogeneous visions and fragile alliances of the various political outfits.

The West

The American and major European governments gave the impression that they were surprised that the Arab Spring was happening and were confused over which side they should support. This dithering over whom to support, in reality this was “theatre” for their populations, they wanted to persuade them that they did not want to interfere in the affairs of other countries, suggesting that had learned lesson from previous interventions.

But as we have come to realise, this was “just theatre” to make their populations think that they actually wanted democracy and all that it entailed to flourish in a region that was geopolitically and economically becoming a “battleground” between BRICS, Western powers and Turkey. If Wikileaks cables are to be believed, the US was not only aware, but had a major hand in financially backing and training leading revolutionaries from the Arab world. Dating back to the mid-2000s young politicised leaders from the Arab world, including Iran, received training in Central Europe, Central Asia and in America. The training was not restricted to America, Yahoo, Google, and Twitter were also involved in the training.

It is understandable that Western powers, especially the US do not want any substantive change, change that would undermine their interests, given the vast amounts of military aid, and billions of dollars of trade deals. Losing these deals would mean the loss of jobs at home. The oil rich Arab countries on the other hand do not want revolutions to take a foothold within their boarders, although protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and to some extent in Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the uprisings were linked to Iran by the governments and were violently crushed.

The theatre of change 

Creating the “theatre of change” is an essential component of foreign policy because it provides a way to disguise “real intentions” of a state to its population and other competing or enemy countries. This theatre in the Arab world is being used as an instrument to ensure the world that Western powers and international institutions all support human rights and the demands for democratic change in the region.

Like all good theatres, there needs to be victims, villains and heroes. In the Arab theatre, the victims are the masses of poor Arabs, the villains are the rich despot leaders and the heroes are the revolutionaries. But like any theatre, the author of the “play” will gain the most, even though press coverage focuses on the actors.

The Arab and African theatres are designed to maintain the status quo, even if this means sleeping with the enemy in the short or medium terms, civil wars and massacres. Ultimately, human rights of the Arab people are of no importance to Western powers. There priority is to create new economies to export goods, skills, gain access to natural resources, ensure the Arab countries (excluding oil producing countries) become or remain aid dependent with pre-conditions, and become dependent on loans from the IMF and World Bank. Through this the power of the executive is deferred to the offices of the IMF, World Bank, Western and oil rich Arab countries.

The initial “hope” generated by the Arab Spring was “just hope”, with no real possibility of becoming a reality. No leader or ruling group will be willing to hand over power in the Arab world, which they have enjoyed for 30-60 years. If “real” change is to happen then power will have to be rested away from the leaders, this will involve a lot of bloodshed, massacres and even civil wars, which may last for many years if not decades.

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