THIS IS NO AMERICAN JASMINE!

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Uprisings against tyrants are not always in support of a pro-western, pro-market paradigm -- the picture that the western media is once again manipulating in West Asia
Harsh Dobhal Delhi

Soon after the spontaneous, popular uprising in Tunisia, a top US State Department official told the press that what happened there was uniquely Tunisian; the events drove from "particularly Tunisian grievances, from Tunisian circumstances, by the Tunisian people". So, are all these uprisings driven by specific, exclusive, isolated, existential narratives?

Not quite true. While all these protests have different, local dynamics, there are underlying common threads running across the region. That the unrest and anger has swiftly spilled over to the streets in large part of the Arab world amply demonstrates that the US, and its allies and footsoldiers in the region, had begun to lose complete touch with reality quite sometime back - in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere.

The West Asia uprising continues, after the fall of Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, with the entire region erupting in protests. In a remarkable display of unprecedented passion for change, the refrain echoing across the spectrum is to remove the old, repressive orders and bring in new ones. The odds, though, are not stunningly idealistic at the moment. In Libya, megalomaniac and mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled ruthlessly for 42 years, has launched a war on his own citizens. 

The western media has quickly branded him: Butcher of Tripoli. At the time of writing, desperate to cling on to power, he has turned abusive and hallucinatory in his hysterical speeches on State-run TV channels even as rebellion against his dictatorship is heading towards a near-end game. He has used tanks, aircrafts and marauding foreign mercenaries to quell the ever-swelling masses, in which over 2,000 people have been feared killed. Actual casualties in the massacre might be many times more. But most of the country, stretching from the outskirts of Tripoli, is now in the hands of popular committees, who have aligned with local security forces that have deserted Gaddafi after sensing the popular mood. 

In Libya, Jordan and Yemen, different tribes have always played key social and political roles. The survival of different regimes has historically hinged on the support of and solidarity among these tribes. Out of the 140 tribes in Libya, nearly 30 have had political influence and the 'Gaddafi tribe', to which the dictator belongs, is a small, insignificant clan. Time seems to be running out for Gaddafi - the most powerful Warfala tribe that the dictator cultivated for decades has turned against him, quickly followed by others. The despot had shrewdly managed to balance various tribal groups, rewarding the loyal while brutally persecuting any opposition. 

Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Libya has had no Constitution since 1977. Hence, while Gaddafi is likely to exit anytime soon, it is difficult to predict the future course of political action in Libya. The only prediction that can be made on the basis of popular mood is that more tribes are likely to find representation in any future form of governance, unlike the present situation where the Gaddafi's tribe and its few allies have remained at the helm of affairs for four decades, including in the armed forces, police and intelligence. 

Bleeding clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protestors have continued in Bahrain (home to the Fifth Fleet of US Navy) where demonstrators occupied Manama's Pearl Square for weeks, demanding that the prime minister be elected rather than appointed by the king.  They have demanded that King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah should step down. Faced with poverty, rising food prices and unemployment, protestors in Algeria - largely university students, unemployed workers and youth - have remained united in their resistance despite heavy State repression. The dynamics of resistance is still unfolding in Algeria, with the French and Islamic shadow still lingering in its political unconscious. 

Sensing the popular mood across the region, Jordan's King Abdullah was forced to sack his cabinet and appoint a new prime minister. Syrians, too, have been demanding an end to archaic emergency laws that prohibit demonstrations without government's permission, besides more political freedom and human rights. President Bashar al-Assad was prompt to announce 'symbolic' reforms. But these fig-leaf changes will keep their regimes entrenched for now, without radical transformation on the ground. Not for too long though. A similar spiral of protests have continued in Yemen, Morocco and elsewhere. 

Indeed, the involvement of youngsters, workers, the jobless  and the poor - frustrated in the face of rising unemployment, poverty, skyrocketing food prices, lack of social security, relentless absence of political freedom and fundamental rights - is a common thread that binds these protests across the oppressive oil-rich landscape. Besides, the disparities across the Middle-East societies are very sharp with the microscopic filthy rich - the tyrants and elite, pampered by the US and the West - brutish and insensitive, often hiding behind patriarchy, Islam and dogmatic, orthodox, ruthless dictatorships, presiding over organised censorships, oppressive regimes and mass alienation.         

While the West expresses surprise, the Muslim world is not really astonished by the lukewarm support from the US and its allies. They unsuccessfully tried to save Mubarak, like many other pro-western puppets, after supporting them for decades. However, as is typical to US hypocrisy, the same government later welcomed the change. Within two weeks it changed its tune from calling Mubarak  "not a dictator", "a good friend", "a stable ally", to "the people have spoken" and "an immediate transition". Let us also not forget that Barack Obama had chosen Cairo to deliver his historic speech in 2009 addressing Muslims across the region, because Mubarak was a long-trusted ally of Washington and Tel Aviv. 

The US has for decades played on the bogey of Islamic threats to justify the endless dictatorships in the Middle-East, which in turn have been using the same canard to market themselves in the West. Syria and Libya, with their stated opposition to western hegemony, were integral to this strategy - they were small irritants and not real threats to larger US interests in the region. Indeed, an authentic pro-people democratic regime could have actually posed a genuine threat to one-dimensional US interests. 

The sweep of democratic churning in the Arab world was long overdue. It has jolted the western world, particularly the US, which has been financially, politically and morally supporting many of these tyrannical and corrupt regimes for its own strategic and commercial advances - and to protect and insulate Israel, its main footsoldier in the region. 

For decades the western media's reportage on the West Asian region has been typical, focussing on radical Islamic thinking and thereby giving rise to bogus clichés like that of Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilisation' thesis. This stereotyping of West Asian worldview turned it into a false twilight zone, allegedly incompatible with democracy due to religious and cultural factors. But recent historical developments have clearly demonstrated that these forces of simmering change and spontaneous rebellion are not propelled by any religious extremism. That it is a rainbow resistance moving beyond one ideological paradigm, rejecting the old order of infinite oppression, and seeking multiple forms of a new social order and freedom.

One should not be misled that uprisings against tyrants and dictators are necessarily in support of a pro-western, pro-market, neoliberal paradigm - the picture that the western media is once again manipulating and trying to paint. That the backward Arab world is finally arriving, redefining its self-image, shifting its stereotypes, is a priori, a truth. Indeed, the popular revolt is against joblessness, hunger, and the monopoly over resources that neoliberalism has created in the last many decades in these otherwise resource-rich countries. It is against handpicked tinpot dictators, embraced and let loose by the US and its allies to corner huge wealth at the cost of the people. 

The popular sentiment is also against wars launched on flimsy grounds to protect geo-political interests in the name of supporting stability; it is against compromises made on the historic injustices meted out to the Palestinians. The uprisings are also against foreign invaders, military funding and coups. The deeper realism is gradually emerging from the suffocated silence of unimaginable suffering. That is why what happened in Tunisia was not so uniquely Tunisian.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2011