Friday, 25 March 2011
End of the Arab Spring
How easy it looked back in January. Wikileaks reveals Western doubts about President Ben Ali and a few weeks later he is almost bloodlessly removed from office. Shortly afterward the Egyptian army removes Mubarek from power.
The future looked rosy. Information was being set free, and the people were following.
Now things don't look so great. Civil war in Libya, probable civil war in Yemen, brutal state repression in Bahrain and Syria and so on.
True, the West stepped in and saved Benghazi at the eleventh hour, but even as I type Gaddafi is altering his tactics and his men are trading in their military vehicles for civilian 4x4s and swapping their armour for human shields. The Libyan rebels aren't saved yet.
There are significant differences between the current intervention in Libya and the 2003 invasion of Iraq; a UN mandate and regional support being one, that this is aerial interdiction and not invasion being another. But there could one similarity.
Under Saddam Iraq was unjust but at peace. Now it is in a state of turmoil and strife. Libya may well be going to follow suit. And this is the liberal dilemma: unleash civil war across the region or back the tyrants.
Do we do nothing and let the security forces brutally restore the status quo, as in Bahrain, or do we intervene and trigger a civil war, like in Libya? Keep Arabia happy under its dictators, the failed policy since World War II, or intervene and unleash forces you can't control, the failed policy of the last decade?
To do or not to do, that is the question?
Lets look at the facts. A quarter of the population of the region is under 29. Unemployment in Saudi Arabia is 40%, and they're doing better than most. Across Arabia 100 million young people will enter the jobs market over the next ten years.
Meanwhile economic and climate woes are pushing up world food prices, which are going to go up even further when the unrest triggers an oil spike and transport and fertiliser costs rocket.
This is a huge mass of disinherited humanity that cannot be ignored.
Even Jordan's Queen Rania, who may yet end up playing Marie Antoinette in this drama, has looked down from her ivory tower and seen the ticking time bomb.
At the same time the environmental stresses on the region are huge. To thousands of years of soil erosion is about to be added drought and climatic change.
This is what is driving the revolts, not a conspiracy by the West to grab the oil, or French Imperialism or other conspiracy theories (although the West does like grabbing oil and the French are empire building in North Africa, it's just that these aren't the main factors here).
There are no easy solutions here, and certainly bombs aren't going to solve the problem (on that I agree with the pacifists, where I part company is that I think if judiciously placed they may alleviate the symptoms slightly).
Economic and environmental justice is the answer, economic and environmental justice. Say it over and over again.
How we get that is another matter entirely. And I don't have the answers.