Time For West To See The Distinctions

There has been a tendency among western commentators during the past few weeks of popular uprising in the Middle East and north Africa to interpret the events as occurring along starkly defined fault lines.

There are the people versus the regime; Islamists versus the secular; and autocratic, corrupt rulers pitted against a popular desire for democracy, human rights and economic inclusion. All of which contains some truths, but it remains a partial picture.

In our desire to create a joined-up narrative out of the unrest, from Yemen to Iraq and Bahrain, we have ignored the specifics. In the rush of politicians such as Hillary Clinton to support the new wave of “freedom,” western governments seem to be replicating the same errors they made during the “color” revolutions, mistaking the act of revolt for the outcome of a long period of revolution, and accepting the incomplete in the name of “stability.”

For, like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each of the autocracies now embroiled in popular uprisings is autocratic in its own way. What can be said about the events in Tunisia is as inapplicable to Egypt as it is to Bahrain or Yemen.

In truth, there are some broad common strands: each country has a young population with a significant, well-educated segment and many people looking for work. In each, power has been monopolized by a small elite, either drawn from a royal family or from a figure backed by the military and business and the west. Corruption is often rife; a culture of repression is vigorous and deeply ingrained.

But that tends to be where the similarities end. Take, for instance, comparisons between Egypt and Bahrain. The former is a huge state with a massive urban hinterland centering on Cairo, one of the planet’s mega-cities. Its recent history includes a “revolution” in 1952 that was in reality a coup. Its social conflicts have been defined by the notion of the threat – in substantial part manufactured by the old regime – of the Muslim Brotherhood and a corrupt system of patronage overseen by the military and the associated National Democratic Party which have enjoyed a monopoly on power and economic opportunity.

Complete article via The Observer.

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