Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Perspective from West for the Middle East

The revolutions in Middle East today are rooted in two historical calamities of the last century.

The first major historical calamity is Colonialism – (from middle to the 90’s of last century) - divided the entire region into colonial entities delinking the historically linked peoples and communities whose language, culture & faith for the most part was shared.

For example, Syria became a French colony and Iraq was occupied by British and neither people were able to travel, communicate or trade with eachother.
Another interesting example of colonialism is in South Asia which was although occupied by only one foreign power - British - but yet the populations of India and Pakistan were kept separate and hostile to each other.

The second major historical calamity is the Cold War era – another source of delinking the countries and dividing the societies. Countries that were together for centuries became enemies.

For example, Turkey was (& is) part of NATO and Syria was pro-Soviet. And Yemen became a divided population – partly Communist and partly traditionally Islamic. Same was the case in South Asia – India embraced Soviet Union and Pakistan was courted by the United States.

We may say that the uprisings & revolutions in Middle East now are a “delayed historical correction”. They should have happened in the late 80s and 90s just as it happened in the Eastern Europe.

Post colonialism and cold war, the West preferred that the Arab countries remain in the hands of authoritarian regimes – primarily for their geopolitical interests – that is now framed in the name to prevent the “Islamist radicalism” for the good of regimes and the population!

So the foreign colonial masters were replaced by domestic dictators – yet serving the foreign colonial master. Populations knew all along of the “grand chess game” (Brezenski) but the yoke of oppression was on their necks and the barrel of the gun on their head that kept them quiet but angry.

And what we see today is that anger … among ordinary Arabs – may they be Tunisians or Egyptians or Libyans or Syrians who are totally determined to help history correct itself – they are simply reclaiming their own dignity and restoring their right to their own resources and destiny.

Of course there are four other important factors that contributed to the unfolding of uprisings & revolutions …

first demographics … a phenomena termed as “the youth bulge” – that has been itching to challenge the powerful - unlike their parents & grandparents … for example the data indicates of the youth under age 24 in Yemen at 65%, Saudi Arabia and Iraq at 62%, Iran at 59% and Algeria at 57%.

When we examine the social movement[s] of the past – we will always find two major components in its success – (1) that the youth plays a major part in bringing about a change and (2) that they are dozed in or inspired by either spirituality or nationalism.

second the birth of internet - connecting the people across the region “digitally” despite of the (artificial and) physical barriers throughout the region
… diversion for a minute – the geographical arrangement of the Middle East is almost diametrically opposite to the geographical model in Europe – (a) although it’s smaller in size than Middle East – yet it’s declared as a continent – (b) most European countries have their distinctly unique culture unlike in Middle East, (c) most Europeans have their own language (French do not speak Dutch) unlike in Middle East, and (d) now Europe is a Union without barriers (for the most part) and Middle East has been kept divided …

So the physical but artificial barriers that were erected in Middle East post colonialism – that still remains alive and well – are now broken by the digital age … people are no longer subjected by the censorship of “foreign perspectives” on one hand while on the other hand conditioning the populace with the “propaganda” best suited for the continuity of dictators ….

third – the 24X7 media first from CNN & then to Al- Jazeera (1996) – a phenomena that, despite its brief history, has changed the face of a formerly parochial Arab media and the political equation in the entire Middle East. We can confidently say that there is a pre-Al Jazeera and a post-al Jazeera era in Middle East.

The walls erected by Colonialism and the Cold War are now broken, near completely !

fourth - social media – a 21st century phenomena … Facebook & Twitter did not invent courage but undoubtedly facilitated the “deepening of courage” and “broadening the courageous” --- as is abundantly evidenced in the unfolding revolutions in Middle East.

Digital media (Internet, Satellite broadcast & the social media) is now a paradox for the dictators … the very medium that enabled them to stifle change has accelerated it.

Now all of the Middle East is set on an irreversible course of change – most important of which, I believe, is complete absence of fear and near total presence of courage. No people can ever progress and prosper without these two basic aspects in any human endeavor.

People in the Middle East have now figured out the recipe for their destiny. Question is how we in the West will respond to their intense passion to be simply free and fight for the right of self determination.

We must now understand that these societies were bound to reconnect themselves some day …. their communities, tribes and ethnicities after all share a common destiny.

Patronizing would simply not work.

We need to undertake four simple but equally important steps.

• First save lives and protect property.
• Second help them to restore a level of new-normalcy.
• Third assist them in rebuilding what is lost.
• Fourth work with them as equal partners for the greater good.

Without these four equally critical steps, I am afraid we will be seen as an opportunist and hence will be dealt as such.

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