We are in the midst of a political revolution in the Arab and Muslim world which shows no signs of abating. Over the past week, we have witnessed one dictatorial regime crumble in Tunisia under the will of its people and another, Egypt, is bound to follow as we enter the 7th day of nationwide protests and demonstrations. These events may be the beginning of what many commentators are calling the “domino effect in the Arab world”, with some predicting that it is only a matter of time before other countries in the region follow suit. Revolts have already spread to Yemen, while the king of Jordan has promised political reform after thousands of citizens took to the streets.
Why are we seeing this revolution in Egypt today?
All eyes are on Egypt because it is a key strategic ally for the western powers and Israel. One thing is certain; whatever the outcome in Egypt, the region will never be the same again. For three decades, the Egyptian people have lived in a state of fear due to perpetual deception and tyranny but on 25 January, Hosni Mubarak’s western-sponsored “democratic” façade was unmasked and shattered.
On what has been called the “Day of Anger”, hundreds of thousands of citizens marched in the streets of Cairo, gaining their defiant strength from the events in Tunisia. For decades they have laboured through life under false promises of prosperity and benefits, and have been forced to endure large-scale corruption. The political promises of reform, security and social welfare for all made by Mubarak and his government have driven many Egyptians out of the country; those who weren’t able to emigrate have suffered under his brutal regime. Moreover, the well-known democratic façade that was brandished by Mubarak through the suppression and torture of his political opponents has long instilled fear in the nation.
All of this came to an abrupt end when the masses came together and took matters into their own hands, no longer able to wait for help from the “democratic” power states. Their intention was clear: to shape their own destiny and create a new order within Egypt.
What of their western sponsors?
For decades, the west has relied on a 2-fold strategy. First, suppress freedom through the ruling dictatorship; second, deny meaningful participation in the political process for those they call “Islamists”. The west has long championed the “moderate” puppet governments, but the language used by western leaders and commentators recently has been telling.
In Tunisia we have seen the Islamic spiritual leader return from exile, much to the west’s chagrin. Mubarak’s supporters such as Israel have tried to rally support to keep him in power by suggesting the adverse effects Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood could have on the “peace process” in the Middle East. There is a fear that the collapse of the current regime in Cairo will weaken Israel’s position in the region and, according to an Israeli commentator, put Israel’s “largest strategic assets” into disarray if the regime were to change.
In the UK, in an urgent parliamentary session on Egypt, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt MP, answered questions pertaining to the region. He emphasised the important role that Egypt plays in the Middle East peace process and called on Mubarak to show restraint and avoid any violent confrontations with his citizens. Several British MPs reiterated the importance of Egypt to the peace process and its relationship with Israel, and tried to infer that any participation by the popular Muslim Brotherhood in the regional political sphere would be detrimental to the region and risk Egypt “aligning itself more with Syria or Iran”. Burt emphasised that it was in Britain’s strategic interests for Egypt to form a government that can ensure stability in the region and help move the peace process forward. However, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw MP asked, “Does the Minister not recognise that stability sought through non-democratic means, including the removal of people’s freedoms, can only be temporary, and that although democracy can have many inconvenient consequences, including the election of people we do not like, it is far better, in the medium term, for the stability of the region and Egypt’s future that there be free and fair elections in which candidates of any party and persuasion can stand and take office?. Alistair Burt replied, “The rt. hon. gentleman speaks the truth.”
America’s refusal to appreciate the valid grievances of a nation is to be expected, in a world where its political strategy and dominance is guarded fiercely. However, these short-sited policies are the very policies responsible for the current turmoil spreading across North Africa. The only way forward is for every effort to be made to be inclusive and allow Islamic parties to contest elections. Parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has wide support in the region, have not been given a fair chance to govern even when they have won free and fair elections; if it is indeed the peoples’ choice to have an Islamic government in power, then the US and the international community should step back and respect that choice.
Moreover, the “moderate camp” in Tunisia and Egypt and its western-sponsored tyranny has lost any hope of ruling. These dictatorships have long served and advanced their US and Israeli allies’ strategic interests in the region, in return for which they have received tacit approval for their own geopolitical and colonialist agendas; despotic regimes have been bolstered by weapons to control their own people, finance to line their own pockets and ever blind eyes turned to their human rights abuses. Such despicable regimes have also allowed their soil to be tainted with the blood of hundreds of extraordinary rendition and torture victims of America’s “anti-terrorism” crusade. The people of Tunisia and Egypt have suffered brutally at the hands of security forces loyal to the regimes who protect the corrupt elite from any accountability. Today, though, the “dictatorship of fear” is over and there is no turning back. As one Egyptian declared:
“I am proud to be Egyptian today! And I am proud of all Egyptians today. I’m proud of the masses who are cleansing Egypt of the dirt of the criminals who have been oppressing us. I am proud of all Egyptians who are cleansing themselves of all remnants of fear…I am proud of the masses who collectively … have raised their heads up high…and no one, no one will bring it down again! No one! No one!”
The people have spoken and it is time for the west to listen.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.