It is hard not to be inspired by the example of the young people of North Africa and the Middle East who have launched and sustained the most dignified, principled and peaceful democracy movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In Lybia, Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, Algeira they have taken to the streets and the blogosphere to demand democracy, freedom and human rights. But what does that mean?
There has been a deal of confusion in the west about how to make sense of these pro-democracy movements. We don’t quite know who is fighting for what. It all looks so spontaneous and un-organised. Where are the leaders? What’s the programme? Will they end up like Iran after 1979 as dismal theocracies run by religious obscurantists? Will they degenerate into civil war like the Balkans and the countries in the horn of Africa. Or will they become democracies like the former communist states in the 1990s or South Africa under Mandela? Is the CIA involved – either suppressing them or encouraging them. There are reports that a number of the student leaders in Egypt had been trained in the use of social media by US-backed NGOs.
Now, my own very strong view is that these revolutions are the property of the people who make them, and it is not for us at this stage to pronounce on them; provide a radical kite mark to those we favour. I don’t see any coherent strand of Islamic fundamentalism – quite the reverse. Nor do I subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the movements are unwitting agents of American foreign policy – though I recognise that there are some who do. Here is the foreign policy analyst, K R Bolton, speaking to the website Global Research.
“The revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and as they are spreading further afield have all the hallmarks of the NED/Soros “color revolutions” that were fomented in the former Soviet bloc states and in Myanmar and elsewhere. They all follow the same pattern and many years of planning, training and funding have gone into the ridiculously called “spontaneous” (sic) revolts. The organisations that have spent years and much money creating revolutionary organisations in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere include the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, International Republican Institute, Freedom House, Open Soceity Institute,and an array of fronts stemming therefrom, including: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, centre for International Private Enterprise, and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, These organizations have for years been backing Egyptian “activists.” Freedom House for example trained 16 young Egyptian “activists” in 2009 in a two month scholarship.” http://bit.ly/feEis8
Now, Bolton isn’t making this up. There is indeed a constellation of agencies that support globalisation and liberal capitalism that have been working for years to bring down first communism and now the North African dictatorships. However, the fact that freedom movements may have don’t had support from ‘open society’ think tanks, or even the CIA doesn’t invalidate them. There is no monolithic conspiracy here, any more than there was when the Comintern was funding revolutionary movements across the world. The demonstrators’ very naivete here is their strength. So long as they keep their focus on freedom and democracy of the demonstrators are relatively safe from manipulation. Getting lessons on using social media from US NGOs doesn’t mean that the skills learned will be used in the interest of American foreign policy. Hosni Mubarak was the largest beneficiary of American military aid and it didn’t do him a lot of good in the end.
The fact is that freedom IS slightly woolly and a little naive. Thinking that the people can prevail against these covert political forces is a triumph of hope over experience. But at least they have hope on their side – and that can be immensely powerful. Moreover, many of them look to America as a civic role model, even though America was supporting dictators like Mubarak. This is a paradox that the Western Left finds difficult to live with. America is still the land of the free to the huddled masses of North Africa, even after the Iraq invasion which showed America to be anything but.
Note how many of the demonstrators interviewed on the mdia have American accents. Most of the demonstrators are calling for a free society modelled on the US constitution. Look at the videos on You Tube. They want democracy, political and religious freedom, an independent uncorrupted judiciary, freedom from arrest, detention and torture. The protesters want their countries to be like ours. They want the army and the police to be under the rule of law and not a law unto themselves. They want education – 33% are illiterate in Egypt and 40% in Morrocco. They want jobs. More than half of under 30s are unemployed in Egypt.
Of course, they also want lower food prices and proper homes. But for the time being, they would settle for freedom. The kind of freedom taken so much for granted in the West that we hardly appreciate the value of it. On the Left we are so programmed to condemn political corruption, official secrecy, cash-for-donations, cash-for-questions and cash-for-duck houses that we have forgotten that we at least have the freedom to say these things. We don’t get shot or locked up for protesting about tuition fees. The media, corrupted as it may be by monopoly interests like News International, can still expose phone hacking and expenses scandals. Popular protests can still prevent things like forestry sell offs, and – in Scotland at least – £9000 university tuition fees.
It is not complacent or naive or Tory to celebrate these achivements – this mundane liberty. Looking at the incredible bravery of the people on the streets in North Africa, the best we can do is to encourage them to be simple minded about freedom.. Life IS a lot better in America, Britain Europe, because we live our lives largely without fear. We laugh at our politicians and ridicule parliamentary democracy – but we should remember that this is what it is all about. Freedom comes at the cost of blood and broken heads. Just look at the You Tube video from Morocco http://bit.ly/eQ1ZtL