Monday, January 31, 2011


Democracy is a messy concept and it's a messy reality. In my own time, probably my first proper look at revolution was with what happened seemingly very quietly in Rhodesia in the 70s. School then was in Lusaka, Zambia, a nation that came to be in 1964 at the ailing end of the British Commonwealth 'Empire'. I had friends and schoolmates from Rhodesia. They never invited me to visit, something that was unusual in hospitable Zambia. I'd been to the homes of friends from much farther away, but the Rhodesians respectfully declined. It wasn't till we once almost casually crossed the border (after crossing at Kariba, the  huge dam on the Zambezi river) and came across an inn by the roadside where we decided to stop for a cuppa, and were just entering the drive when dad slammed on the brakes. I looked up and there was a large board that read "whites welcome"  "no entry to coloureds" well that was more than enough for us and we very quickly went back 'home' to Zambia. And, that's when I first started to understand apartheid. It had of course been taught to us in some detail in school, but it isn't untill you come up against the thing itself that the reality starts to sink in. I can't imagine what actually living under this sort of oppression would do to my psyche... Well, of course a revolution was happening at that time, a war of independence was indeed on, and it wasn't very long after that that that regime fell. Zimbabwe was born. Zimbabwe was and is a democratic nation. Unfortunately, it was a nation born of hatred, and the hatred grew and was vented against its own self.  Reverse discrimination became the norm... The rest is recent enough history that you probably are quite familiar with it. Still, it is a democracy isn't it? So, what went wrong?

In between then and now, a newly imperialistic America has decided to dabble in regime change, and they have used 'democracy' or the lack of it, as an excuse to topple those who have fallen into their disfavor. The current US president, who once claimed to be somewhat of a dove, has in practice turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing (do follow the TITLE link to an interesting rundown of the present incumbent's recent track record). For one thing he has vastly increased the use of drones to do remote 'assassinations' and in countries where America is supposedly not even militarily engaged. How long will it take for these drones to get fully operational in places like Egypt and Yemen?

Unfortunately, the virus of democracy is not as easily controlled as is 'terrorism'. Regime's and dictators whom the US considered 'friendly' (however despotic), are now suddenly being ousted, and without US military help. I think the Americans have managed to temporarily stave off a similarly huge Yemeni revolt, but they have been a bit too slow to completely protect Egypt's Mubarak. The outcome in Egypt is still far from certain. In Yemen the crackdown was immediate, and the lack of local news agencies has resulted in a vacuum of silence there. Mubarak did call out the tanks, but the people were aroused, and his police seemed to know they were in for it and had temporarily gone underground. The police are now back though, and backed by gun wielding and truncheoned 'supporters' of Mubarak.

I'm sure that all out efforts are on 'behind the scenes' to somehow bring the cries for freedom (and democracy!) under control - and to prevent the virus from spreading to other nearby dictatorships.  I am also quite sure that El Baradei is a marked man. The actual list of dictators that continue to bask in America's favor is much larger and very informative in its own right. With tacit American approval, there exist many that oversee regimes so repressive that revolution will not come easy. Talk of freedom, or of democracy, or of human rights, in any of these places will end you up in jail without trial, or just as likely, dead. I'm thinking in particular of places like Saudi Arabia, and then too most of the '*istans' of Asia.

Stability is the new key word. A world order that should not be shaken up too much, for fear of...well, democracy. People should be free, but not free to be for example 'too conservatively Islamic' in their outlook. I guess the thinking is that somehow Islamic democracy itself is dangerous, and can only be controlled and 'properly channeled' by friendly, hardline (read 'utterly ruthless') dictators.

Some parts of the world are apparently not yet ready for democracy, after all, democracy can really get quite messy, can't it?

The sign at the top is from South Africa, which was also an apartheid state, but the policy as such actually goes right back to the British colonists though it is commonly thought of as only a legacy of the Dutch settlers.  I clearly remember taking a book out from the Lusaka Public library when I was in high school and seeing a sticker on the inside back cover that detailed the rules for the handling of the book including stuff like "if the book is requested by a black or coloured servant on behalf of a white, the servant has to bring the note in a cleft stick", should be provided with a bag in which the librarian can place the book etc. etc. I guess to absolutely ensure that the book was not soiled by being handled by 'coloured' folks. Zambia was never Dutch and had always been a purely British colony.

Update September 2013 On the Egyptian front things have gone from bad to worse and so too in Syria and in Bahrain. Perhaps, Zimbabwe is now in slightly better shape than it was.

Overall, as of end 2013, there seems little chance that 'the will of the people' is going to make any headway. Internationally, the Russians and Chinese are not averse to a little dictatorship/military rule. The Americans and Brits who have (mostly in theory) promoted 'democracy' first dithered and then openly backed down. The UN, well, Ban's UN has been the joker in the bridge pack (i.e. MIA).

An excerpt from the NYT today is telling:  "On Thursday, with much of the world distracted by Syria, the Egyptian generals and the civilian officials they have appointed extended a countrywide state of emergency for two months ... security forces have also begun to round up other dissenters, a chilling warning that no Egyptians should feel safe if they dare to challenge authority. That was not the kind of country that most Egyptians envisioned during the 2011 revolution when they sought democracy and freedom and demanded jobs and education."

For a rundown of all the recent hot news from these hotspots, check out today's A Righter World!

And now, three years down the line, the democratic counterrevolution has been crushed, the Muslim Brotherhood has been jailed and all prodemocracy voices of dissent silenced. Of course, Egypt remains the USA's staunch ally... see

Egypt’s 1984


john doyle said...

I presume that the US government's insistence on an "orderly transition to democracy" refers not only to preserving the status quo in Palestine but also to upholding the agreements Mubarak made with the World Bank and the IMF. The army has now dissolved the Egyptian Parliament, setting the stage for a new constitution. Will the new democratic government attempt to renounce the debts incurred by the prior regime? If so, then Egypt will really have taken a revolutionary course, in contrast with the new nations that emerged from the collapse of the former Soviet bloc.

Unknown said...

The aftermath of any transition brings on more questions and more frightening questions. I doubt very much that any debts will be forgiven, and apart from some oil, the Egyptian economy is very dependent on tourism, so the perceived safety and stability are going to be very important challenges for a new and probably amateur bunch of politicians to effectively tackle.

In any case they will be heavily in debt and broke to start with and that's probably what the US is counting on to 'keep them in line' vis a vis Palestine and Israel.


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