How democracy came to roost – Arabian style
The wind of change continues to blow across the Arabian Dessert. If the recent unrest in Egypt is anything to go by, it looks like the geotropic wind of change is gathering momentum from some Carioles force on a mesoscale. The effect of such political wind action will definitely affect global wind systems. Even the political cloud cover from the west will struggle to slow down the political abrasion of this desert. Enough of the geography lesson but I recall expressing caution about the much heralded change of the Arabian political landscape. I cautioned that in spite of the victory for democracy, it was not a “mission accomplished”, as George Bush once infamously proclaimed. The world had witnessed the unseating of “democratic despots” who had ruled their people with iron fists for decades. Their demise started with protests and transformed into revolutions. The wars were won but the battles have just commenced. It will be ingenious to call them battles but in reality, the new rulers, governments or transitional bodies of these states have battles on their hands. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)
The new dawn of democracy had been thrust on a people who have known nothing other than autocratic rule for a long time. With their new found voice and taste for democracy, their appetite is fast becoming insatiable. The battle was always going to be about rapid results, against a background of utopian euphoria. It was a question of how much patience the people of Egypt, like their brethren had left in the tank. As we have come to notice, patience for the Egyptian people is in short supply. It was a seen as a move, wrapped in political expediency for the army to hold the baby following the downfall of Mubarak. But like all transitory periods, they were expected to return to their barracks as soon as possible. The people of Egypt, in varying degrees have come to expect rapid and sincere efforts for a change from the old guard. Results on the ground seem far from the expected outcomes.
Indications are that the military has been seen by Egyptians as wolves in sheep’s clothing. If anything, it was just a change of driver but with the same vehicle. For starters, the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades; not two years. The people did not choose freedom established on a hierarchy of degrees of freedom. They wanted to be free not because they claimed it but because they wanted it practised. When the military takeover, there is always that fear that political power will grow out of the barrel of the gun. It is this fear that has led Egyptians to mount the second phase of their uprising. It was a question of preventing the revolution becoming a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters. The people have just discovered that the basic problems facing Egypt are not susceptible to a military solution.
Since the ousting of Mubarak, Egyptians had apparently waited patiently, though not long enough some may say; to see any concrete changes made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)). At the peak of the uprising, the people and the military became unlikely bed mates as the latter reportedly refused to carry out Mubarak’s orders to put down the protests. They were seen as heroes of the people and the potential midwives of Egypt’s transition to democracy proper. The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants. But when the SCAF ruled out any presidential elections until late 2012 or 2013, it was the beginning of the political divorce proceedings. As if to add insult to injury, SCAF produced a draft constitution that exempted the military and its budget from civilian oversight. Sounds familiar? George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” comes to mind. That was the last nail to the coffin; which instantaneously brought the people back to Tahrir Square; a place that has come to symbolise violent peace.
What the people saw here was political power growing from the barrel of gun. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Essam Sharif’s cabinet resigned and the military made a concession by bringing forward the presidential elections. But it took four days of unrest and the reported death of at least 30 people to bring about this change. However, the people still want parliamentary elections to precede the presidential one, unlike the military. It sounds like the road map to Egypt’s democracy remains a bumpy ride with loads of road works along the political highway. Military glory can be an attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood and become the serpent’s eye that charms to destroy.
Mao Tse Tung once said that a “revolution is not a tea party”. With what is going on in Egypt, you wonder what it would mean for the wider region. When Tunisians expelled their leader, the domino effect was far reaching. What followed was seen as a copy cat, with nations drawing inspirations from their neighbours. We saw how Egypt learned from Tunisia and Libya from Egypt. Like a pack of cards, regimes gave way to popular uprisings. Yemenis and Syrians continue to draw strength from the notion that if it can be done in those countries, it can be done in theirs. Perseverance has thus become the driving force behind the ongoing struggles, in the face of brutality. If the situation in Egypt is anything to go by, you wonder how long the NTC of Libya has before the second wave of unrest unfolds. I have no intention to masquerade as a salesman of doom, but as the saying goes “history tends to repeat itself”.
Unlike the other countries in the region, the situation in Libya is a worst case scenario if such should happen. Firstly, the NTC has not shown any demonstrable evidence that it is in full control. The background to their ascension to power is fraught with a lot of controversies and divisions; notwithstanding the tribal affiliations, the killing of Gaddaffi and the recent capture of Saif Al-Islam. Unlike Libya, Egyptians were unarmed, but they had perseverance, courage and lack of fear in their arsenal. Set against this background is the fact that the Libyan uprising could be best described as a “rebel or civil war”. The rebels were well armed during the war, courtesy of western arms dealing governments. There are as yet no indications to suggest that these militias have been disarmed. The arms bazaar continues unabated; there is money to be made. Make wars unprofitable and you make them impossible.
Furthermore, the loyalty of the army that fought alongside Gaddaffi until the last ten minutes cannot be guaranteed to switch in such a short space of time; when you consider the possibility of Gaddaffi populating the army with his own tribesmen. In a country where gun ownership is a domestic necessity, one would be forgiven to fear the worst, if the political trend continues to replicate itself in the region. The NTC may need to act faster to bring about concrete changes on the ground.
There is no doubt that there has been some political progress in these regions. Unfortunately, progress can be precarious as the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another. But with the humankind unable to bear such reality, riots could become the language of the unheard. If the wind of change that is blowing in the Middle East is to have prompt and lasting positive political outcomes for state building, a hybrid of political orders must be put in place. This is more so for the transition governments which oversee the fragile rebirths of whole communities.
To achieve this, there is a need for negotiated transitions, trade-offs, co-existence and state-society relations to underpin the forward-looking transformative process. But judging from what is going on in the Middle East, it looks like politics has become an art of looking for trouble, finding whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedy. The proponents of regime change in the region might be losing their finger nails from scratching their heads. Italy and Silvio Berlusconi were arch advocates of the regime change in Libya, but as the saying goes, “some people might have been feeding the crocodile hoping that it will eat them last. Sometimes, you can be the last one to know of your own funeral, even when the bell is tolling.
Don’t forget the lights when you leave the room.
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