“Regime-change” has been the rallying cry of western interventions in the arab world. But not in the new wave of internal revolution sweeping the Arab world. Is this maybe a new and more positive type of revolution?
“Regime change” was rightly rejected as illegal in February 1991 when George Bush Senior refused to entertain heated suggestions that the Coalition continue from Kuwait into Iraq to topple Saddam. Twelve years later, despite regime change being Bush Junior and Blair’s actual aim, they did nothing to prepare for rebuilding Iraq, even getting rid of the police and army – the only forces capable of maintaining some sort of stability. Regime change got rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the replacement government is struggling.
But now we’ve seen a couple of home-grown arab rebellions in action, it’s very clear that regime change – even after Mubarak’s elitist, parasitic and long-standing repression, isn’t top of the list of the people’s priorities.
In the kingdoms of Jordan and Bahrain, there’s no suggestion of replacing the monarchy – or even deposing the king for another royal, but of making specific political changes, introducing democratic process and getting rid of corrupt officials and politicians. In Tunisia, the corrupt President and his dreadful wive have fled – but most of the administration remains in place. Other Arab countries seem to be going through similar processes – in which the people rebel against repression, brutal police, and corruption.
The Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt are playing a careful game, determined not to upset their potential share of the vote by appearing extreme. The Iranians by contrast urged religious extremism and violence – the spectre of their type of government encouraging the Egyptians to moderation. The USA, which needs a moderate Egypt to support the peace treaty with Israel, has urged the regime to moderate itself and proceed to election – a far cry from Bush-Blair regime change.
So are we seeing a new sort of Arab revolution, in which the people retain stability, the law and even the people who’ve repressed them, but insist upon more liberal, equable and benevolent government? Might this be a consequence of discipline already imbued into everybody by religion – which rejects anarchy. It’s obviously very early days, but there’s a strong and very encouraging desire across the Arab world to be more democratic and free. It also seems that the regimes themselves – which in most Arab countries are well-established with the ability to be brutal, are cooperating rather than repressing these demands.
Fingers crossed, but I hope to see some rather new and encouraging ideas emerging from all this. I’d also hope that this pan-Arab grass-roots movement will succeed – especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the western forces will be able to nurture it. And also, in Iran, where the government’s attempts to foment revolution in Egypt have so far found support only among their own highly repressed opposition parties.