The right to self-determination is an internationally recognized right. It is also the cardinal principle of International Law, and is binding upon all members of the United Nations. The recent Arab Spring, which was sparked in Tunisia, and spread like wildfire across the Middle East has highlighted the importance of self-determination, and the value of freedom. Although, highly exalted and praised, the participants and supporters of the Arab Spring failed to evaluate the cost, value and repercussions of freedom. The United States of America has always been a beacon of democracy and freedom. Many modern democracies borrowed well-tested principles of governance from the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. has been a firm proponent of democracy and the right to self-determination. Its support to liberate Libya through the NATO strikes was crucial in overthrowing Gaddafi. The U.S. also voiced its support against Mubarrak’s regime in Egypt. But, gifting freedom to people who do not have a vision can lead to catastrophic results, which were witnessed in the Middle East resulting in loss of the life, allies, strategic dominance, and destabilize the regional politics.
The recipe for forging a democracy
Overthrowing a dictator is not sufficient enough to establish a democratic government. Neither is there a perfect recipe to forge a new nation, but a democracy often needs much more than a mere change of regime. One of the most essential elements of a freedom movement is a popular ideology. The ideology that is well debated, based on the values, beliefs, vision and embodying well established governance principles is a prerequisite to the foundation of a strong democracy. The ideology becomes all the more essential in the Middle East, as the religion is a major influence in every sphere. This is another factor where Middle East differs from other democracies, where secularism is one of the major stabilizing foundation blocks. A country governed by religious extremism is no different than a tyrannical dictator.
The history is witness to many freedom revolutions, and the common thread among all of them was an ideology. The Declaration of Independence (1776), the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), The Communist Manifesto (1848), writings by the Russian revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky; Marat and Danton of the French Revolution; selections by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine, Emma Goldman, Mohandas Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, and others, not only shaped the future governance of their respective countries, but also influenced many other movements all across the globe. Nothing similar was seen during the Arab Spring. It is impossible to forge a new country in absence of an ideology, to which majority of the citizens agree with.
The Arab Spring was influenced by the social media, which helped organize and mobilize the masses against the unpopular government. The importance and power of social media was phenomenal, without which the revolutions would not have lasted long. The social media, no matter how strong is incapable of expressing complex ideas that run into a few hundred pages; involve critical thinking, and analysis. Tweets, Facebook status messages, and blogs flooded the cyber space with divergent views and proposals on how the countries should be governed post revolution. But these cyber messages have so far been unable to put forth a major ideology that can be adapted to forge the countries in the future. The accessibility of social media only to a few elite and wealthy citizens is another major drawback that could not encompass the entire citizenry under one ideology.
The U.S. and the Arab Spring
The entire civilized world was concerned about the human rights violations being committed under the guise of restoring peace in the countries facing civilian protests. While the killings of innocent citizens, claiming the right to self-determination should be denounced, but arming them was an extreme step. It was extreme because it created a sudden overthrow of the regime, while the new one was not prepared to takeover. This was the perfect opportunity for the radical opposing forces to seize power and dictate their own terms.
The U.S. has been a caretaker of peace in the Middle East for over 60 years. Be it through diplomacy, military intervention or outside support, thanks to the U.S. Middle East stayed calm until recently. The tide turned during the Arab spring where the U.S. helped the Egyptian citizens oust longtime American ally, Hosni Mubarak, out of office. It also supported the removal from power of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, and Zine Al Abedin bin Ali in Tunisia. The NATO forces launched air strikes in Libya that led to the decisive defeat of Mummar Qaddafi. Washington now demands Bashar Al Asad to step down in Syria.
Although the foreign policy experts in Washington might believe that every country can be wrapped under the democratic aspirations, leading to a strong democracy and a fruitful participant in the international arena. Unfortunately, this time they undermined the regional politics. It must not be forgotten that Washington once regarded all the parties now coming into power after the Arab Spring as secondary partners. The anti-American sentiments are at its all time high in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, considered once to be the gateway to the Middle Eastern geo-politics. The recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans reflects the gratitude of the newly formed government, to the administration that played a pivotal role in granting freedom to them in the first place.
The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya were not the outcome of mere protests gone haywire, but a well-planned terrorist attacks, says Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges. The perception is very important in international politics, yet, Washington has not effectively been able to demonstrate the importance of democracy, and play the diplomatic cards effectively in the Middle East.
Is it the calm before the storm?
During the recent visit of the new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to the U.S, a clear message was sent to Washington, making it amply clear that Egypt would not play as per American rules. While the world waits for the new governments in the Middle East to stabilize, watchful eyes should keep a track on which direction the new governments decide to take. Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential political party across the Middle East, which is also in power in Egypt, in the past has been criticized for its alleged links with Al-Quaeda. While being optimist about the democratic aspirations in the Middle East, caution should be exercised to deter any approach that is targeted towards fostering Islamic Extremism, and destabilizing the peace in the Middle East.
Another significant factor that needs immediate attention is the Palestinian demand for U.N. membership, and the Iranian nuclear crisis. Both these issues are intertwined, and directly target Israel’s existence. The small, yet the most dynamic democracy in the Middle East is Israel. It has been the watchdog, because of which Middle East has been calm and quite in the last few decades. Israel is also one of the strongest and the most important geo-political partner that the U.S. has in the Middle East. Neglecting Israel at this stage would be Washington’s biggest mistake. As the Iranian nuclear crisis escalates, and the pre-emptive strike warnings issued by the Iranians and the Israelis make the headlines every week, coupled with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 on the brink of breaking; the tensions are at their all time high.
Any pre-emptive strike or an aggressive move towards Israel should be taken seriously as it would trigger a war engulfing the entire Middle East. The nuclear armament of Iran should be stopped at all cost before it tilts the balance of power. No matter how strong the new governments emerging from the Arab Spring are, until they are subordinate to religious influences there will always be a threat to democratic aspirations within the newly liberated countries, and democracies across the globe.
A good Samaritan or a necessity?
To many it might fell that the U.S. might have played a role of a good Samaritan, by helping in ousting the dictators, but that might not necessarily be the case. Factors like oil, and the geo-political location of countries are much larger factors in making international political decisions. As of now oil is a commodity that shapes the policies, economies and business decisions of countries, and corporations alike. Oil not only vests tremendous amount of power to the oil producing countries, but also acts as a bargaining chip in international politics. This is the reason why the entire world had its eyes on Libya. In case of Egypt it was the vast Arab gas pipelines that run across Egypt supplying natural gas to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Egypt also controls Suez Canal, which happens to be the lifeline of the maritime industry. It is because of these vital economic, and geo-political location issues that Tunisia, although a triggering point for the present revolutions could not attract as much global attention as Egypt, and Libya did. The U.S. acted as per its democratic aspirations, and supported the right to self-determination, while protecting its personal interests, and the interests of its allies. It helped save, the already devastated economies in Europe from further crisis that would have resulted from increased crude oil prices, and shutting down of the maritime trade.
The Face off
The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East will also have a direct impact on the upcoming presidential elections. President Barrack Obama, and the Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, will debate their agenda on the foreign policy in the upcoming Presidential Debates on October 16 and 22nd. The Middle East will acquire the centre stage, and will swing voters on either sides based upon what is presented and debated; especially on the issues of financial aid to Egypt and Pakistan; support to Israel, and the Iranian nuclear crises. Every word spoken during the debates will be scrutinized, weighed, evaluated and interpreted by the political pundits, and campaign gurus.
The foreign policy will also have a direct bearing on the domestic policy. Any inclination towards another war will mean a drain on the economy, while taking a soft approach on the Middle East situation might jeopardize the interests of the American allies, especially Israel, and threaten the national security. Walking this tightrope would not be an easy task for the incumbent President or for the Republican nominee.
The bottom line
Freedom comes at a high price, and has to be often nurtured by blood. Despite of the democratic aspirations, the revolutions have failed to garner much political expression for its citizens. Be it Libya, Egypt or Tunisia, none of the new governments there have granted the citizens what was initially envisioned. Much of this can be attributed towards the lack of ideology.
The interventions by the U.S. and other countries during the Arab Spring should continue to facilitate harmonious environment for the citizenry to debate, and determine their future. Whatever the history or the recent quest for self-determination might have taught us; it surely has made one thing implicit, that without an ideology a revolution no matter how strong is futile. The new Middle Eastern politics can either be used for the advantage of American interests, or on the contrary it also has the potential of becoming a perpetual international problem depending on how Washington plans it policies. Whatever the case may be, measures to highlight democratic aspirations, their advantages and prospects should never be neglected or stopped. It is only through diplomacy and projecting democracy without religious influence that the Arab Spring can reach its logical conclusion, while safeguarding American interests, the interests of its allies, and also that of the democracies across the globe.