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The north African arab revolt

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By Firoz Osman – Media Review Network

This is a shortened version of the paper delivered by Dr Firoz
Osman at the Africa Day Conference held on Friday, 27 May 2011 at UNISA.

Alarm bells have been ringing in Washington, Tel Aviv, Paris and London, as they desperately try to contain and dilute the shock waves emanating from the North African and Arab revolutions. These states are all artificial creations that enclose diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, incorporated as minorities in the post-colonial era. The installation of monarchies and puppet rulers accountable only to their Western masters ensured the ferocious subjugation of the populace.

The majority of these states failed to introduce good governance and institutions of representation that ensure inclusion, the equal distribution of wealth among various groups, and respect for cultural diversity. The spread of poverty, unemployment, civil wars, sectarian and ethnic clashes and conflicts began with corrupt political leaders who exploited tribal and class differences to advance their rapacious ambitions.

Many African and Arab states underwent extraordinarily long periods of martial law or emergency rule, transforming interim measures into a permanent way of conducting political life. Declarations of emergency were simply a pretext to suspend basic rights and exempt rulers from any constitutional limitations.

After decades of brutal rule, all the while maintaining their control through fraudulent elections, the banning of opposition parties, the persecution of critics and the use of emergency laws, they systematically robbed and plundered their countries resources. The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation, one that masks the structural weaknesses of many Arab economies and the resulting insecurity of countries and citizens alike.

For nearly two and half decades after 1980, these regions have witnessedscant economic growth. World Bank data show that real GDP per capita inthe Arab countries grew by a mere 6.4 per cent over the entire 24 year period from 1980 to 2004 (i.e. by less than 0.5 per cent annually). Overall, the Arab countries were less industrialized in 2007 than in 1970, almost four decades previously.

Transparency International in its Corruption Perception Index 2010 has listed several Arab countries as among the most corrupt in the world. The Arab Labour Organisation estimated it to be in excess of $400 billion.  

The widespread practice of bribery, fraud, discrimination, nepotism and corruption has destroyed the social fabric and development in these countries. Collectively the Arab countries are unable to generate sufficient jobs for their growing populations, thereby situating themselves among the highest in the world in terms of unemployment rates.

One of the useful indicators for nurturing and utilizing talent and skills is the number of patents obtained each year. The wholeArab World has only 63. This is conspicuously low relative to a countrywith limited natural resources, South Korea alone which has more than 9566.

For decades, the West has maintained strong economic and military ties with Arab autocratic and totalitarian regimes, keeping dictators in power and paralyzing Arab economic progress. As Tunisia’s former colonial ruler and largest trading partner, France offered to train Bin Ali’s police force to prop up his regime, obviously more than satisfied with Ben Ali’s performance during his 23 years in power.

USVice President Joe Biden told an interviewer, “Look, (Egypt’s) Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with Israel.” Asked if he considered the Egyptian a dictator, Biden squirmed momentarily then said, “I think thatit would be — I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Dictatorshave been extremely good business partners, in terms of enlisting them in the “war on terrorism,” delivering oil, keeping the Suez Canal open (even to Israeli military vessels) and in backing the (illusory) “MiddleEast peace process” stymied forever by the Zionist settler movement. The Western countries paramount interest is to guard the interest of theApartheid Israeli entity, and to control and dominate the flow of oil from the region.

The US, Britain and France endlessly claim to promote “moderation (following orders from Washington and to accommodateIsrael); stability (crushing all opposition, particularly Islamist-oriented parties, muzzling the media, and paving the way for USbusiness); and democracy (holding fake elections every few years).

Theprotesting youth have watched helplessly as their brethren were starvedand butchered under siege in Gaza for almost 4 years by Israel, a ‘democracy’ that violated International Law with impunity. Furthermore, the pain and humiliation they endured as their leaders embraced these warmongers became simply unbearable.

The peoples of the region, without exception, revolted not only in the name of universal values butalso to regain their long-suppressed national pride and dignity. Their primary concern is getting rid of the western-backed oligarchies that keep the Muslim world in particular, and the “Third” world in general, backward and in thrall.

Young Muslims have also been rediscovering their faith, their beliefs and their identity, and their strident call is to share their resource wealth, for social welfare, education, to uproot thieving oligarchies and to fight the endemic corruption. They vehemently oppose this climate of instant gratificationand violent consumerism penetrating their societies. They yearn for an Islam that emphasis the dignity and honour of the individual and society, and exhorts the quest for justice in the face of oppression, injustice and repression as has been so prevalent in the Arab countries.

TheUS may be tempted to use its old tricks to abort or dilute democratic movements in the Arab and African world as it did in Iran in 1953; in Guatemala in 1954, in Chile in 1973, and in Nicaragua between 1984 and 1989. Most recently, it has attempted to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza.

While much of what has come to be known as “the Arab Spring” remains a work in progress, there can be no doubt that a new dynamic has been unleashed across the region – one that will have a profound impact as it continues to play out in the years to come, for weare witnessing, in the heartland of Islam, the empowering potential of faith which is not a static but a dynamic condition of the human spirit.

Dr Firoz Osman is the secretary-general of Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in TshwaneMobile: 082 337 6976Email: