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How beautiful is freedom

كيف جميلة هي الحرية

Since December 2010 there has been revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, a pending change of government in Yemen, a civil war in Libya, and an insurgency in Syria, along with significant protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. Yet there is a disturbing distrust among some towards what has become known as The Arab Spring (although it is not limited to Arabs), a mistrust that can only be characterised as a racism towards Arabs and a bigotry towards Muslims. With the benefits of liberal democracy, some are questioning the motives of the revolutionary protesters suggesting that they will institute governments as despotic as those that currently exist, or that they will seek to establish theocratic dictatorships.

On one level such attitudes are the result of an apparent inability to consider life from the perspective of a person living in such countries. For decades these countries have been ruled by absolute monarchs, dictatorships, or regimes with only a pretence of democracy, all of which have engaged in gross violations of basic human rights. At the same time there has been economic development in the Arab world; living standards have improved (especially in those countries with exploitable natural resources), as has education levels. Yet the people remain poor, with the price of staple food increasing along with a long-standing high Gini coefficient in the region. Technology and demographics have played their role as well, the region having a relatively high youth population and with increased knowledge of government corruption and nepotism identified through avenues such as the Wikileaks diplomatic cables.

It is extraordinary to think that anything else could have happened; a young population, educated in the ways of the contemporary world, aware of the wealth of their countries, aware of the lack of democracy and civil rights, aware of the degree of corruption and painfully aware of the level of economic insecurity. When one considers the arab as being a normal flesh-and-blood human being, with the same existential desires as any other member of the species, why is it all surprising to witness these revolts? Is it surprising to see the importance of Internet technologies in these uprisings? If these basic human conditions are insufficient surely then the empirical evidence should serve; rather than taking the path of repression, successful revolts have achieved not insignificant improvements in civil and democratic rights, and none have taken the path of religious fundamentalism.

Consider the victories to date; in Tunisia the government has been overthrown, the hated political police abolished, political prisoners released and free elections are due on July 24. In Egypt, every demand has been met or is being implemented; the government has been overthrown, the state of emergency is being cancelled (after 44 years), with the State Security Investigations Service abolished, a new constitution has been approved by the largest plebiscite ever held and free elections will be held later in the year. In Algeria the 19-year state of emergency has been lifted, the King has dismissed the prime minister and cabinet of Jordan, in Oman ministers have been sacked and economic concessions have been announced by the Sultan. In Yemen the President will be stepping down, although protests continue. Even in Saudi Arabia, the most medieval of dictatorships, an announcement has been made of (male only) municipal elections in September. Quietly, the monarchy of Morocco has announced political reforms with a referendum on constitutional reforms.

But hand-wringing has still occurred, none more obvious than the NATO-led military intervention in Libya, following UN Security Council Resolution 1973. This resolution "authorises all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, except for a 'foreign occupation force'". Tariq Ali makes the unsurprising point that the western powers are selective in who they target. Others, who are barely worth spitting upon, still support the Gaddafi dictatorship on the grounds that it was "socialist" (read: engaged in corrupt nepotism), "anti-imperialist" (read: supported international terrorism) and has supported Palestinian self-determination (sorry, one out of three simply isn't good enough). What is forgotten is that it is the Libyan civilians in rebel-held territory themselves who have been making the call for intervention - rather like the call for intervention in Timor Leste (and very much unlike the invasion of Iraq in 2003). The loyalist forces have superior arms and have shown little concern against targetting civilian areas to the point of allowing mercenaries to kill without provocation, and using cluster bombs against population centres.

One can certainly criticise the Libyan rebels for attempting to fight a conventional war against an enemy with superior weapons and training, but that's their choice, not ours. Certainly rebels in the loyalist-held west are learning the advantages of a guerrilla campaign with support of locals. What must be rejected is the claim that international solidarity for the rebels is somehow illegitimate because those carrying out the military actions may have ulterior motives. This is most certainly insufficient justification when it comes to protecting civilian lives and the political self-determination of the population who, it is emphasised again, are requesting the intervention. Clarity is necessary at this point as it must be realised that in the near future intervention may be requested in Syria and Yemen where government forces have already deployed lethal force against democratic protesters.

It must be understood that the political events in North Africa and the Middle-East as the most significant changes since the downfall of the totalitarian dictatorships of the European eastern bloc in the late 80s and early 90s. Like the people of those countries they seek nothing less than the basic freedoms that have been denied to them, the right to free expression and assembly, the right to choose their own rulers, and the right to have a fair share of their commonwealth. No matter where we are in the world, we can help; Amnesty International has provided a guide for supporting freedom and democracy in North Africa and the Middle East and the Red Crescent is seeking donations for refugees from the conflict. These are practical tasks will have real effect for those who are seeking the basic rights that we take for granted.

How to Help

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on June 30, 2011.


Guy Rundle made similar comments in New Matilda pointing to several historical examples where revolutionaries have asked for help from foreign powers.

Oh, I see you've already commented there... RIght you are!

There is no doubt of the war crimes in Libya. No wonder all the tribes want Gaddafi to go..

Hey Lev,
I expanded on the idea of "not viewing each other as humans" at my blog:

Paving an Interstate on the Moral High Ground

It's bizarre how readily people will endorse imperial power-grabs in the name of humanism, too. Adam Curtis wrote an interesting blog about it recently: Goodies and Baddies


Excellent article by both yourself and Adam Curtis as well. The extract from the Panorama programme is particularly harrowing.

Well, the leader the Adam Curtis/Panaroma clip has just been arrested!

More at:

Interesting how the guerrilla strategy from the FFs in the western mountains ultimately succeeded where the conventional warfare from Benghazi and Misrata became stuck.

"We faced such direct and indirect violence, and continue to face it. Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government's own admission, 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed and all of the ruling party's offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on 28 January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted "peaceful" with fetishising nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured and martyred to "make a point", we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious."

One year after the Libyan revolution that swept the Gaddafi family from power, Libyans were out in the streets celebrating. It’s certain without United Nations intervention there would have been no celebrations in the streets. To date, the doomsday scenario painted by the authoritarian fossilised left that the removal of Gaddafi would result in the re-colonisation of Libya by the West, has not occurred.

Muslim fundamentalists have not as we were told by the neoliberals and neo-conservatives, taken over Libya. One year after the Libyan revolution Western leaders lament the transitional government is a government in name only. The reality on the ground in Libya continues to be determined by the hundreds of armed militias that did the fighting during the revolution. Power continues to rest in their hands.

The power vacuum that occurred as a result of the fall of the Gaddafi regime continues to be filled by militias who maintain order in conjunction with the people’s councils that emerged during the revolution to ensure daily life continued unabated. They and they alone embody the spirit of a revolution that was based on a universal desire for freedom and autonomy that overrode religious nationalist and regional sentiments.

The armed militias tipped over the Gaddafi apple cart so that everyone could enjoy the bounty of Libya. The forthcoming parliamentary elections are important because they will be used by the West to undermine the militia’s power and recolonise Libya. Whether the calls for the militias to lay down their arms and cede authority to the new central government succeed will determine whether Libyans continue to control their own destiny or Western carpet baggers or religious bigots control their future.

Anarchist Age Weekly Review No.966

Did you know there are good nuclear bombs and bad nuclear bombs? Good nuclear bombs belong to the United States and her allies. Bad nuclear bombs belong to everyone else. Did you know there are good struggles for parliamentary democracy and bad struggles for parliamentary democracy? Libyans and Syrians’ struggle for radical political reform has caught the public’s imagination and is supported by most thinking people, including the United States and most of her allies. So far, so good. I have supported and continue to support the Syrian and Libyan people’s attempts to overthrow despots and replace them with more democratic political processes and political structures. Unfortunately my support for the people of Bahrain’s struggle to free themselves from the despots that currently rule them and the people of Saudi Arabia’s attempts to free themselves from the grips of what can only be described as the most reactionary authoritarian state on the planet, is not shared by the United States and her allies. Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s struggle for democracy could have concluded long ago if the United States had withdrawn support from these brutal feudal monarchs.

Unfortunately I've forgotten a very important lesson. There are good democratic and bad democratic struggles. The struggle for democracy in Libya and Syria suits the United States’ strategic interests for the region, hence those struggles for democracy are good struggles. The struggle for democracy in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia do not promote United States interests in the region so they are designated as bad struggles for democracy. It seems the struggle for freedom, independence and democracy is not value free. While China and Russia openly oppose the struggle for democracy, the United States only supports “value politics” when what are touted as universal human
values do not interfere with its strategic interests. No wonder so many people are so confused about what’s happening in the world today.

People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.