At the zenith of the mass protests in Egypt on 25 January 2011, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms based in the West appeared to be the most essential tools for the Egyptian Revolution. Although some observers later contested the descriptions “Twitter Revolution” or “Social Media Revolution”, one cannot deny the centrality of these platforms in the discussion around the events which attempted to redefine Egypt’s power structures.
It was thus hardly surprising that, on 26 January 2011, the Egyptian regime decided to block access to social media in a desperate attempt to prevent the spread of the protests. Twitter, Google and other platforms, reported France24, responded quickly by establishing a system that allowed users to continue posting 140-character tweets despite the Internet shutdown in Egypt.
It seemed that US-based technology companies were keen to see the removal of Hosni Mubarak and his regime. Indeed, their action was quite elaborate and well-coordinated: “The solution proposed by the two Internet giants is called ‘speak-to-tweet’ and allows people to publish updates on the famous microblogging site by leaving a message on a voice mailbox. The service is free of charge, with Google offering users three international telephone numbers,” explained France24, which published the actual numbers in the US, Italy and Bahrain.
The irony is inescapable. How could these supposedly “revolutionary social media platforms” be part of the same Western structure that is dedicated to attacking and censoring Washington’s enemies, while elevating America’s often corrupt allies? While some choose to overlook the obvious dichotomy, we cannot all be so gullible.
This becomes yet more intriguing when we consider the war against Palestinian and pro-Palestine views on the very same social media platforms. While pro-Palestine activists are frequently banned, blocked and censored for rejecting Israel’s military occupation and apartheid in the occupied land, Israeli propaganda is allowed to flourish on social media, with little interference. This is not just a social media phenomenon.
The fact is that social media companies’ attitude towards the upheaval in the Arab world was consistent with the general zeitgeist of the US; in fact, of Western societies, governments, mainstream media and even public opinion polls.
While some — in fact, many — people may have been genuine in wanting to support a popular push for democracy in the Middle East, governments and their media allies knew that by appearing to be on the “right side of history” they would get the geopolitical spaces to influence the agendas and, ultimately, outcomes of the Arab revolutions. Libya paid the heaviest price of that self-serving Western crusade.
However, when the revolutions largely failed to create the major paradigm shift that the Arab masses coveted, Western governments were the first to reincorporate the post-revolt Arab regimes back into the embrace of the so-called international community.
The West’s real goals
For Washington and its Western allies, the entire exercise had little to do with democracy, human rights and representation, and everything to do with new opportunities, geopolitics and regional relevance. By supporting the revolts, the West wanted to ensure that the resulting political discourse in the Middle East was simply not anti-Western. And, sadly, they partly succeeded, at least in creating a separation between corrupt regimes and the colonial powers that had sustained their corruption.
Although some laboured to articulate a discourse that connected those who carried out the oppression — Mubarak, for example — and those who made the oppression possible in the first place — his Western allies — these attempts received little traction when compared with the mainstream Western-driven discourse. Indeed, the anti-colonial discourse was not allowed to taint what the West wanted to paint as purely “pro-democracy” rhetoric with no political or historical context beyond the simplified version of “the Arab Spring”.
This is precisely why the New York Times, Twitter and the White House — and numerous other Western parties — ultimately parroted the same political line and accentuated the same language, while suppressing all other possible interpretations.
Since then, the political discourse in the Middle East has been rife with contradictions. For example, some of those who rejected the US war and genocide in Iraq in 2003 later joined the chorus of interventionists in Syria in the post-2011 uprising-turned-civil war. Moreover, not a day passes without the US and other Western governments being called on by an Arab human rights group or civil rights organisation to put pressure on this or that regime to release political prisoners, or to ask them to withhold aid, and so on.
Bizarrely, Washington became the guarantor of war and peace, chaos and stability in the Middle East. The unrepentant violator of our human rights is, at least for some of us, our human rights champion. This is more than a simple case of unfortunate contradictions. It was done by design.
Sadly, Arab revolts were largely suppressed. The old regimes reinvented themselves and are now back in business. Yet again, they have the direct support of, and funding from, Western governments.
Our own contradictions
Is a different path possible? Or are we simply trapped forever in this conundrum? We reflected on all of this during the BRICS conference in Johannesburg on 22-24 August.
Without downplaying the internal contradictions among the main countries that established the BRICS group — Brazil, Russia, India, China and, later, South Africa — or the newcomers — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Argentina, the UAE and Ethiopia — one cannot help but ponder a world without US-Western domination.
For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, there seems to be a real global political momentum of actual worth that does not emanate from the West and its regional lackeys and representatives. Without a viable alternative for change, we have been trapped in these seemingly inescapable contradictions for decades, criticising Western colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism, while appealing to the moral values of the West. We continue to call for the respect of international law, although we are fully aware about why and how “international laws” were designed and are interpreted and enforced.
In short, we want the West to leave us alone, while beseeching the West to come to our rescue. We suffer the consequences of Western wars, and yet flee to the West as desperate refugees. We have experienced this dichotomy numerous times in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and every part of the Middle East; in fact, across the Global South.
In truth, the contradiction is hardly Western, it is entirely ours. The “West” has rarely attempted to present itself as anything but a political mass that is motivated solely by economic, geopolitical and strategic interests. Its use of human rights, democracy and so on is but a continuation of an old colonial legacy that has served it for hundreds of years. The target audience for such double-speak has never truly been the colonised masses, but the colonial entities themselves.
What’s more, there is actually no historical basis or evidence for claims that the West has changed, is changing or is capable of change.
The case of Palestine
The case of Palestine remains the most powerful example of Western hypocrisy and our own gullibility. Without the West, Israel would have never been established. And without Western support and protection, Israel would not still exist as a military power and apartheid regime.
Over a hundred years after the British promised Palestine to the Zionists; after 75 years of Israeli conquest and violence; and after more than fifty years of Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the West remains Israel’s greatest supporter and benefactor. These very recent headlines should illustrate our point:
- “A Dutch court grants immunity to Israeli leaders from war crimes charges”
- “UK slammed for opposing ICJ [International Court of Justice] ruling on Israeli Occupation of Palestine”
- “Biden dispatches top adviser for talks with Saudi crown prince on normalising relations with Israel”
This is all taking place as Israel has become a full-blown apartheid regime, and when Israeli war crimes in the West Bank are at their worst, at least since 2005, and there are no signs of things improving for the Palestinians in any way whatsoever. Israel is now ruled by a government coalition whose ministers openly deny the very existence of the Palestinians, and are calling repeatedly for genocide and religious war against them.
Meanwhile, the West is still financing, protecting and defending the racist, apartheid entity against the mere possibility of legal accountability. And mainstream Western media and most social media platforms continue to censor Palestinian voices, as if the Palestinian quest for justice is unworthy and, in fact, offensive to Western sensibilities.
The way forward
In the final analysis, neither BRICS alone, nor any other economic or political body, will save us from our own contradictions. The new political formations in the Global South, however, should serve as a starting point for confronting our dichotomy, at least through the realisation that a whole world full of potential allies and new ideas extends beyond the confines of Washington and Brussels.
In the Global South, we must explore these new margins and possibilities, and move forward towards real, substantive and sustainable change. Imploring the West to help us cannot be our strategy, because history has taught us, time and again, that our torturers cannot also be our saviours.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.