The West just thinks it knows best
So, rad times in the Middle East? In the bright light of this historic moment can we assert that the Bush Administration’s neo-cons were partially right: the Middle East was ripe for a series of popular revolutions?
If only they didn’t have to destroy a country, countless people, and potentially the prospect for better relationships between the West and the region in attempting to prove it.
The farcical aspect of popular demonstrations in the Middle East is that although Western Governments and observers have for years mused about the notional benefits of individual will being translated into national policy through some nice democratic practices, the instant any such thing becomes a remote possibility, westerners start getting anxious.
After all, let’s not forget these people sit on top of key strategic littorals, not to mention other regional cousins parked on energy supplies which are key to western economies: can they really be trusted to act in the West’s best interests? Who wants to take the chance?
This dynamic is somewhat indicative of the fantastic relationship between western onlookers and their subject others. Many of the few Westerners actually aware of the existence of overseas places that are subject to western interference enjoy the fantasy that perhaps all these things may work out nicely and those subject others will get with the program and adopt the obviously superior and recommendable forms of social, political, and economic organisation found in many western nations.
However, like so many fantasies, what is highly attractive in an imaginary realm may be completely the opposite in “reality”. The real is often deeply unpleasant, frequently shocking, unpredictable, and out of control.
Assuming the impending onrush of something real, some observers are starting to get itchy about the Islamic Brotherhood and their role in Egypt. Despite El Baradei’s reassurances that we should give the Egyptian populace the benefit of the doubt and let them try out real democracy, he is already having his credibility undermined by insinuations that he can be no more than a fig-leaf to an impending Islamic power grab.
From my excellent vantage point in Melbourne’s suburbs there are some credible questions about the likelihood of such predictions.
The most obvious power source in the country is currently the military, holding the potential and the means to instill some kind of order: both a degree of current legitimacy and the ability to employ overwhelming violence.
That they have sided with the protesters, remain in control of themselves, and are closely linked to the US as the recipients of large amounts of military aid implies that, unless things go dramatically pear shaped, they can remain central to any future order in the country.
In order to keep this financial lifeline open it is reasonable to imagine considerable pressure will be brought to bear through this relationship in order to keep the new Egypt within the scope of Western-approved behaviour.
Beyond these mundane Realpolitik points there are wider questions posed by this display of democratic spirit in the Middle East. That is a gauntlet thrown in the direction of the West. People on streets in the Middle East have taken practical steps towards some kind of emancipation. How will the West respond now that its bluff and rhetoric about democratic reform in the Middle East has been called?
Dare we live out the fantasy and embrace democratic practices amongst subject others who are so implicated in our own interests? It is probably a fair guess that Middle Eastern constituents may have some different ideas about how they see the world and how they want to live their lives.
What business of that is ours?
Aside of course from control of oil and strategic maritime routes: not much.
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