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Glasnost or Perestroika? The Middle East Edition

Glasnost or Perestroika? The Middle East Edition

President Obama has been described as a teacher, a leader and that he is to politics as what Mozart was to music.  In my book, that is high praise to the highest order, and rightly so. But the events unfolding in the Middle East is an even sterner examination for even the seasoned political horse trader. He once said that “if you’re walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress”. The new political highway that is being constructed on the Arabian Desert does not sound like a plain sailing political architectural feat. The bumps are getting bumpier and it is fast evoking the feelings of the road to perdition. In his speech on Super Tuesday, Feb, 2008, Obama told the world that “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.  By the goings on in The Middle East, it sounds like President Obama has just discovered new political converts to his sermons. The protesters seem to have hung on to his every word and the clamour for a change of course has never been louder. In the midst of all that is happening, from Tunisia, to Egypt, Libya and now Bahrain, politicians have not lost their knack to feed us a diet of political Ironies.

Until last week, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been one of the staunchest proponents of the “no fly zone in Libya”; an option that has been  on the table of the International Community, but remains there, as they debate on the best course of action, to arrest the deteriorating situation in Libya. It is obvious that a no-fly zone will change the dynamics of the uprising, not to talk of foreign boots on Libyan soil. Gaddafi will milk any such action as a crusade. To all intents and purposes, the West wants to clean up the muddy waters it played a role in generating in the first place. Sadly, the same interests have yet to get a consensus. Italy is preaching caution, Germany is war phobic, America has too much on its plate, while Russia and China remain true to form;  the high priests of human rights abuses. Britain, France and Lebanon may shout, push and lobby to do the “right thing” with like -minded states, but with the EU lacking the political clutch; it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how this vehicle can get moving.

You can be forgiven to think that such a political stance on the no-fly zone by Saudi Arabia was an indication of not only siding with the protesters, but also a reflection of its desire to entertain change. Little did we know that the kingdom will support military intervention, if, and only if it is thousands of miles away from its doorstep? It is therefore a classic irony that the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which is also of a Sunni persuasion, together with the UAE, readily sent military personnel to Bahrain this week; to protect another Sunni dominated monarchy. Sounds like the Saudi’s have caught on the idea that” if your neighbour’s house is on fire, it is best to help put it out; for you may never know where it may end”. Or is it a question of “if they bury your fellow slave, it is worth taking a look, for you may have the same grave when your time comes?”  Better still, “it is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home”. But the Saudi’s should remember that power in defence of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression.

The protesters in Bahrain, with a population of 525,000 may have stirred the Saudis into action because they threatened to march on the Palace; after suffocating the financial district last week.  We now seem to live in a world in which politics has replaced philosophy. What the International body should realise is that “no piecemeal solution is going to prevent the collapse of whole societies and ecosystems….a radical re-thinking of our values, priorities and political systems is urgent” (Maude Barlow).

It is exactly twenty years ago that the world was dragged into its first Iraq war (1991). The reason; Saddam Hussein had the audacity of arrogance to march into Kuwait because of squabbles over  a disused oil well he claimed belonged to Iraq. You don’t need a reminder of the consequences of Saddam Hussein’s folly as the world rushed to Kuwait’s rescue.  Twenty years on, the victim is now the perpetrator. How ironic. One of the consequences of such behaviour may just give it another meaning: foreign intervention, a military gesture that may just fan the flames in an already combustible environment. Foreign intervention is now becoming the best used vocabulary in that part of the world; an excuse for national aggression. Iraq and Afghanistan bare and continue to bare the hall marks of such an exercise.

The world is changing and so is fashion. Ideals survive through change and they die through inertia. Considering that both Kingdoms have been ruled by the minority Sunni sect since the invention of time, such a move might just surgically open the wounds that hitherto, been cauterised by religion and bandaged by Western foreign policies and relations. I don’t want to sound like a doomsday merchant, but one would hope that this would not lead to intra-religious instability. With religion described as the opium of the masses, the view is that any political snorting of religion into the mix will have grave consequences.  Ibrahim Shareef, the leader of the Waad Party, the largest non religious political party in Bahrain, has called for “more democracy and not more armies”. If truth be told, the monarchy in Bahrain had opened its doors to negotiations.  The willingness to change is strength. Sadly, the protesters don’t seem to have the appetite for an evolutionary process; but want it now; Egyptesque.  There is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotion, and that is oppression (John Locke).

Interestingly, restraint has been one of the nearest forms of condemnation for this latest political soap opera.  The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that, by the good people.  Oppression can only survive through silence and all oppression creates is a state of war. With oppression and cruelty, it becomes everybody’s business to interfere when they see it. “These radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society” (Pope John Paul 11). The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  John F. Kennedy said that “ mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind…War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objectors enjoy  the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.

As you finish reading this piece, please spare a thought for the people of Japan, who by no fault of theirs have borne the wrath of nature. Unfortunately, even nature has contrived to keep Gaddaffi from the radar of the world’s attention, giving him the latitude to inflict more suffering on his people, while Japan’s catastrophe and its stock market take centre stage.  A little prayer in that direction will not go amiss. Amen, Amen and Hallelujah to that. Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

Abdulai Mansaray

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