Protests in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan have all had different effects. The news media focuses us on a few while largely ignoring the situation in others. This is insufficient to tell the whole story. What is happening here is part of a larger trend – a demand by the Arab people for more control over their governments, an end to corruption, a call for accountability, and a desire for representation.
Most US media is specifically focused on Libya, primarily because of our involvement. The primary topics are the air campaign in Libya and the nuclear reactors in Japan. Everything else gets a five minute mention (if that). If you want to know what’s going on, you have to dig. I managed to find one article here: Libya, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen: anti-government riot signs that attempts to cover the trend. It’s from AvioNews, an aerospace news site.
What we’ve apparently failed to discuss much is why now? Why this trend, and what is driving it? The article: Egypt’s Revolution Will Determine the Arab Peoples’ Revolution indicates that it is Egypt that sparked this, but that it has been brewing for some time. This comes as no surprise to most people. The repression of the Arab people has been obvious for decades.
On 17 December the brave Tunisian people ignited the spark of the Arab Revolution. And 25 January was Egypt’s rendezvous with history, as it responded to the Tunisian call. The giant awoke and millions of Arabs rushed from the backstage, seemingly out of nowhere, from the margins of cities and villages, the areas of misery and tents, from universities and schools. They left the halls of conferences and meetings. They rushed to re-occupy the world stage. Coming with their dignity and courage they marked a place, with their own blood, courage, creativity, initiative, originality, morality and authenticity, in the book of contemporary history, which had long overlooked and almost forgotten them completely.
These challenges are also, of course, faced by the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Oman and Bahrain, amongst others. The more deeply rooted the Egyptian Revolution becomes, the more the process of revolutionary change in various Arab societies will benefit from clarity and balance. As Egypt is the most mature country in the Arab world, the model and nature of its change will orient the changes of the Arab revolutions, preventing them from moving toward expatriate models.
So how will the Arab world, if it manages to revolt, if it manages to establish new government structures, view Western intervention? In short, how will they see us? After years of our influence in their politics, after decades of our attempts to impose stability on the region at any cost, I believe we will be viewed in two different ways. Firstly, we’ll be viewed as the ones who kept dictators in power. Secondly, we’ll be viewed as the ones who were willing to take military action. Neither of these are likely to cast us in a positive light. In their history, we, the Western nations, will likely be reviled as oppressive forces that maintained governments that did not represent the will of the people over which they presided. Regardless of our intentions, where we interfered and how we did so, will be used to point out the fact that Oil was our primary motivation. We fought battles in our own interests. We supported oppressive regimes when they guaranteed us oil. We ignored revolutions in countries without oil and allowed horrible events to take place in countries that meant nothing to us while jumping into conflicts when our own interests were at stake.
For us to claim that we did good where good was possible is not entirely incorrect. Our leaders have political bases. Our governments are controlled by elements that see things in vastly different ways. The opinions of our representatives are in conflict – always. Therefore, it wasn’t just about oil. It was far more complicated than that. And it wasn’t just about preventing genocide or saving civilian lives. It was far more complicated than that too. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was really only one superpower who was willing to interfere and inject itself into conflicts. China, for the most part, does not project its military might in order to “adjust” the world stage. Therefore it was America, at this junction in history, who served as a “steward” for the nations. How will the history of Arab countries view America during these decades? What will their history books say about the US? I think many of the complications and the details of our motives may be lost. Only our actions will be truly visible. Will what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan be seen as “good?” We can only hope that it will, but a lot of that depends on the ultimate outcome, and even then, history may write it differently depending on the views of those who write the history books.
For the most part, I believe the American people, and the people of other Western nations, desired to see these revolutions. If the Arab people succeed in changing their governments to represent the wills of the people, we will be pleased. Would we not welcome them with open arms? A democratic, or at least semi-democratic, Arab world would be something completely different than anything we’ve witnessed in the past. A democratic Arab union willing to work together would be an incredible thing to see. We would certainly hope that our governments view this the same way. And if they gouge us monetarily for their oil, whose fault is that? It’s up to us to stop using it.
Oil has been the darkness between the pages for too long. The taint of it has caused Humanity too many problems. Its effects will resonate for centuries. Think of what our history would have been like without it. What would the world have been like? I sometimes wonder. Maybe someday having gas will simply mean you need to eat more fiber.