Introduction, Righting an Historic Anomaly
Only a few governments in the Middle East and North Africa are representative of their people. Most are not and cannot speak with any legitimacy for their people. That such governments are recognized by democratic governments throughout the world is a historic absurdity, which the present waves of uprisings calling for democratic governments in the region give those democratic governments elsewhere an opportunity to redress. The opportunity is not being grasped as wholeheartedly by democratic governments outside the region as it might be.
It’s Not Going to Go Away
After three and half months of successive uprisings in an every increasing number of countries, it should be plain to all that this phenomenon is no flash in the pan. The tidal surge towards democracy in the region has, if anything, gained in impetus. In any affected country, the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful, are secular in nature, and seek to be inclusive of all the people within that country.
A Painful Birth, the Placenta of the Despot
Each call for democracy is met consistently with an obscenity of violence on the part of the entrenched regimes, secular or monarchial. The push for democracy is an extraordinary courageous one on the part of the people involved and is not quelled through loss of life. The conclusion is obvious if you wish to make it; all of the people in the region want their aspirations met and they want them met in the present, not on the basis of some set of promises held out by a frozen-with-fear head of state.
Democratic countries throughout the world who have expressed good will towards this movement have now had ample time to adjust to the new realities. All governments have diplomatic staff on the ground in the affected countries, and in the yet to be affected countries, who are no doubt ably relaying and reporting the mood and demands of the people of the country in which they are resident. Governments should be listening and trusting their reports. It will quickly become apparent as to the legitimacy of the calls being made. There is no reason so far to suspect that the people of any country in the region will not come up with anything other than completely legitimate demands.
Who Calls Legitimacy?
In the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, each had a powerful force which could accept the legitimacy of those demands and act, at least so far, as an honest broker for them. It is possible that Yemen, with good fortune, may fall into this group.
Not all countries are so placed, Libya being an example. Countries of goodwill should be acting now to anticipate the ramifications of this. How many interventions are required? Do outside governments even want any more? Intervention is never a good course of action and governments should be appraising other options now rather than later, when those options become more and more restricted.
There are still two troubling aspects which have not been addressed. Articles on this blog have drawn attention to them before but repetition serves to reinforce the point.
Blind to the Nature of Dictators’ Wiles
Governments acting towards the region with goodwill have not yet recognized that there exists an unwritten dictator’s playbook.
Each embattled despot, whether in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and, I am sure, in those whose turn has yet to come, have employed the same stratagems played out in the same sequence. The only difference from one country to another is the time line connected to the various ploys employed at any one time. Any scrutiny of the record will find remarkable parallels. It is an exercise which governments wishing to play a part in helping events would do well to conduct with all possible speed. The whiles and whims of dictators might be held in check as a result and lives will certainly be spared. A concerted effort on the part of the international community is urgently needed in this regard.
The World’s Press in a Mess
The second aspect which continues to trouble at least this observer is the sheer gullibility of the world’s press and media. Propaganda is propaganda and should not be dignified in any way by media outside the region.
While it is true that the press in most countries, democratic or otherwise, this same press as above, act as a fourth arm of government in their home countries. This is to say that the home country media spew out government pronouncements completely undigested and without comment or criticism, there is not reason that they should adopt this role voluntarily towards the regime of a state violently suppressing the legitimate aspirations of its people and vigorously lying to the world in the process.
The world’s media must come to terms with the fact that their job is to report fairly to the people of their home country, not to act as lackeys for despots. So far the media record has been appalling. The notable and noble exceptions have been the half dozen to dozen journalists and camera men who have braved first hand the dreadful violence of the embattled regimes to report the truth. They should not be the exception.
Libya, the No Fly Zone, and the Negligence of the United Nations Security Council
The international community’s record with regard to Libya is exemplary in many respects, not least the speed at which actions were decided upon.
In two respects, however, it is very poor. When considering what actions the United Nations Security Council considered should be taken, there was one matter in which they were totally negligent.
The No Fly Zone was put into place without secure communications being offered to the forces on the ground. No allied troops would have gone in under such circumstances and to have not considered supporting the anti-Gaddafi forces in this respect is reprehensible. Many lives would have been saved and coordination of ground forces more easily facilitated. Friend/foe recognitions is of prime importance in conflict and the accidental killing by allied forces of civilians would have been avoided.
The cost is not great, the security of the forces out of Benghazi would have improved immeasurably. That military professionals advising on the NFZ did not insist on it is incomprehensible.
Getting the Message Across
As a corollary, the UNSC was almost equally negligent in not addressing the question of who controls the airwaves. It is not sufficient to control the airspace. Colonel Gaddafi should have, from the outset, been denied a voice. Such denial would have seriously undermined his claims to legitimacy. Equally, the TNC in Benghazi should have been given broadcasting equipment so that their message could go out clearly to the Libyan people, especially to the beleaguered people, starved of real information, in Tripoli.
It is still not too late to remedy these short comings.