By Sam Hamad
Most world powers have aided or stood by silently as revolutions have been crushed across the Middle East and North Africa but the people’s desire to rid themselves of tyranny is still alive.
It might sound absurd to say the ‘Arab Spring’ is still alive, given the usual and not entirely erroneous presentation of chaos and violence that has come to popularly define the struggles in the Middle East and North Africa.
The reality is that the Arab Spring’s goal of freedom from tyranny exists beyond its popularly accepted timeline.
How many people in the liberal democratic world knew or cared about the daily lives and hopes of the millions of Mohamed Bouazizis who were struggling across the region?
How many even considered the dreams and fears of the Khaled Saids?
It was only through the former’s self-immolation and the latter’s torture and murder that ‘Arabs’ forced themselves into the consciousness of the collective world.
And, however fleetingly, the world cared.
But it was barely even a year after this that the perversely simple and cliched term ‘Arab winter’ began to become normalised. The main culprit in the pessimism of the world towards revolutions in MENA was so-called ‘Islamism’, but the dominance of ‘political Islam’ was always a simplistic false sunset.
As was the case in Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Syria and Yemen, the popular forces on the ground, often with overt democratic backing, were parties and movements that reflected the religiosity of the populations – a religiosity that had often been viciously repressed by ‘secular’ tyrants.
But so pervasive in the West was the ‘war on terror’-era doom-mongering (often deliberately conjured by those who supported counter-revolution) around anything overtly Islamic in politics, it was in silence that the world watched as the real counter-revolution swept the region.
This counter-revolution took the form of, at the very best, democratic parties being forced from office, and, at the very worst, such as in Syria, genocide.
Those who claimed that the real ‘end’ of the Arab spring were events like the ‘Islamist’ Mohamed Morsi being elected to the office of the presidency in Egypt, were suddenly quiet when they saw what counter-revolution really looked like in the heaps of corpses in Rabaa square.
Those who claimed that counter-revolution had triumphed in Syria due to the rise of ‘Islamic extremists’ among the Syrian rebels could only offer silence or denial when they saw the pictures of the children gassed to death by the Assad regime.
Nearly everywhere counter-revolution has triumphed, it has been allowed to do so without any hindrance by the so-called democratic West – in fact, in many cases, it’s with direct or indirect support from it.
The fact is that there was never any genuine support for democracy from those who pretended to be its bastions and patrons, all while powerful foreign anti-democratic forces, such as Iran, Russia, Saudi and the UAE, mobilised viciously on the side of counter-revolution to crush nascent democracy.
In the shadow of the Iraq war, anti-humanitarian intervention has come to define the modern era.
It’s why one can look at what’s currently occurring in Sudan and Libya and say that these situations are simultaneously proof of the life and death of the Arab spring. We’ve most recently seen widespread pro-democracy protests forcing the removal of one of former President Omar al Bashir.
But it hasn’t taken long for the counter-revolution to rear its ugly head again.
The proponents of democracy in Sudan suddenly found themselves up against a familiar enemy. The Transitional Military Council (TMC), backed by the UAE and Saudi, moved from a conciliatory position with the protesters to murdering them.
Echoing like the massacre of pro-democracy protesters at Rabaa in Egypt in 2013, on June 3 this year the Sudanese military began a brutal crackdown on the protesters. The concessions and conciliation had ended – over 100 were killed in one day.
The murder continues.
As I write this, I read three more protesters have been killed in Khartoum – despite this brutality, thousands of Sudanese have joined a general strike against the TMC.
The free world should be rallying.
But as has been proven in Egypt, Yemen and, worst of all, Syria, the TMC and its backers in Sudan know that no amount of dead Sudanese is enough for the world to do anything. All they have to do is glance over the border towards Egypt and observe as Sisi’s counter-revolutionary regime is showered with support from Europe and the US.
At the UN, a draft resolution sanctioning the murderous TMC was predictably shot down by Russia and China. One suspects that this move saved those countries, such as the US and UK—who at least have to pretend to care about human rights—from the difficulty of having to act against their natural instincts of supporting the TMC.
In Libya, eight years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, not only does peace in that country seem to be remote, but some of the same powers who supported and participated in the NATO-led no-fly zone that aided the revolution are now directly involved in stoking war.
Though France has condemned the would-be tyrant Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli to overthrow the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), the fact that they have been arming and aiding him in this endeavour for over two years contradicts such condemnation.
Again, one ought not to be swayed by the waves of Islamophobic propaganda on this. The GNA contains forces like the Muslim Brotherhood (proponents of Islamic democracy), and the system it envisions for Libya is one of parliamentary democracy.
Haftar, on the other hand, models himself on his ally Sisi, while he receives backing from the counter-revolutionary Saudi-Emirati bloc, Sisi’s Egypt and Russia. There would be no democracy in Haftar’s Libya.
France is merely a vanguard of the EU in Libya, where while lip service is paid to the GNA, the reality on the ground is support for Haftar. As is ever the case with Europe, and despite the conjuring of Haftar as a bastion of secularism against ‘Islamism’ (Haftar’s forces contain pro-Saudi Madkhali Salafists), the real problem is the GNA’s unwillingness to accept the EU’s colonial plans for migrant detention camps in Libya. Haftar, on the other hand, would have no problem in allowing such camps to stop the inflow of African migrants to Europe.
To cut several long stories short, if Haftar were to take Tripoli tomorrow and overthrow the GNA, the world would not do a thing about it. In fact, Europe would rejoice, while the US, which mainly follows Saudi on these things, would likely swiftly accept the status quo.
It’s so easy to speak of the death of the Arab Spring or the onset of an ‘Arab winter’. And though the realities of the horror of the counter-revolution are not to be baulked at, the continuing situations in Libya and Sudan prove that the simple struggle for freedom and democracy persists in MENA.
It is the rest world that is determined to see it die.
Sam Hamad is a Scottish-Egyptian writer based in Edinburgh.