So much for the Arab Spring. Two out of twenty two countries have disposed of their dictatorships, which, on the basis of the encouraging start is beginning to look like a disappointment.
However, there’s no doubt that the despots have been jolted out of complacency. They will no longer underestimate their populations. Serfdom has ended. The Arab Street has become a Boulevard.
The most unusual moment so far, was when the dictators came together at the Arab League and called for foreign intervention in Libya. It seems that dictators aren’t such a closely knit group of self-preservationists as we thought.
On the same day that Saudi Arabia sent tanks to repress the people of Bahrain, they called for western intervention to help the revolution in Libya.
Another moment of sobering thought came from Tahrir Square, during the protests, when an American journalist was sexually assaulted by a group of men, right in front of everybody. Perhaps because they now use Twitter and Facebook, we assumed them to have become as advanced as us, but the truth is that this is still an extremely repressed part of the world. Even the democracy protesters think western women are loose, on the basis that they don’t wear a veil.
It’s early days yet. What started with a sudden revolution in Tunisia, spread to the seemingly slow revolution in Egypt, then spread to a drawn-out civil war in Libya, while to the north, the Syrian masses are just waking up to the idea. It was as if the easiest dictators to remove fell easily enough, while the harder managed to withstand more protest. Others will not be removed at all.
Will Syria be next? I’d say that since Gaddafi came in from the cold, he was never the main enemy from this region. Nor is Libya threatening in terms of strategic location. Syria is the country that really unnerves the west. Syria encouraged Al-Qaeda into Iraq to kill Americans. Syria is an ally of dangerous Iran.
There would be no great logistical difficulty in providing the same military support to Syria that has been provided to Libya. Air support can be based in neighbouring Iraq or neighbouring Israel. But there is no point in providing air superiority if there is no one on the ground to take the country.
The difference between Syria and Libya is that it’s very unlikely that a serious armed rebellion will take hold in Syria. Syria has a much larger civil state and is a more advanced country. Gaddafi was just a gang leader past his best. Once people realised they were no longer frightened of him, it was easy to persuade them to cross to the rebels’ side.
Then again, the one thing we’ve learnt is that nothing can be predicted. The very nature of dictatorship closes off enquiry, so no one really knows much about these countries. Even the dictators don’t know much about the states they govern.
For decades now, we’ve looked at the Arab world as being one country divided by colonial-imposed borders. Often they’ve acted as one people: the Arab street being an example. But today, we’re seeing a whole bunch of separate countries with different cultures emerging. Some will be democracies, some dictatorships and monarchies. All will be different.
It is the Arab Spring. A new era has dawned. We wish them well.