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Ομιλία στο συνέδριο της νεολαίας του EPP στην Κύπρο με θέμα Arab Spring
Ημερομηνία: 06-07-2012

The Stolen Revolution

 The Arab Spring marks an important turning point in the contemporary world. It has been the result of the natural evolution of the globalized international system, through trade, technology, and the circulation of ideas and knowledge.

In attempting to give an accurate definition to the Arab Spring, I could describe it as a revolution expressing the genuine will of the Arab peoples to follow their destiny.To establish a democratic political system within their countries.  

The question that arises however is whether the Arab peoples have succeeded in their quest or not, and if they really know what western democracy is, and if this is the kind of democracy they need.

In a few decades time, when historians look back at the Arab world's evolution, they will be able to observe a perpetual cycle of revolutions, all resulting from, and leading to,  the same desperate  search of hope.

Traditionally, the quest for power, for modernization,and for democratization, has been at the core of each revolution.

However, history has come to tell us another tale.

This tale says that the Arab peoples are trapped again, in a vicious cycle.

Our first and most evident starting point with the Arab Spring, is Egypt, which has undergone a long and violent road.

Following more than half a century under the British Empire, it saw a military coup d'état in July 1952 led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser who aimed at:

1.overthrowing King Farouk,

2. abolishing the constitutional monarchy,

3. establishing a Republic and

4. ending British occupation.

Thus, in 1953 they established the Republic and so began the "Nasser era" which spanned from this revolution, through Nasser's presidency of Egypt, up to his death in 1970.

This era was characterized primarily by Arab nationalism, clearly seen through the  establishment of the United Arab Republic, a Union  between Egypt and Syria.

Throughout this time, challenges from Britain, France and Israel were imminent as the regime remained strategically nationalist, during the Suez Crisis. The Nationalist Nasser regime was among those taking the initiative of the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement, by refusing to align with any particular international power.

However, the post-Nasser years saw a different face of Egypt. When Anwar el Sadat assumed office in 1971, he declared a 'corrective revolution' aimed at setting the country on the right track. It was during his tenure that the Camp David accords were signed, ending 30 years of conflict between Israel and Egypt.

Furthermore, Sadat had a more accommodating approach to foreign policy, and we saw a huge improvement in US-Egyptian relations.

Despite this, there was also the encouragement of Islamist movements, which eventually led to his assassination in 1981 by Islamist extremists.

The regime that followed the end of Sadat is well known: Hosni Mubarak's assumption of power since 1981, left little space for opposition and he continuously regained power through popular referendums where he was the sole candidate.

The 30-year period was highly characterized by opposition to radical Islam and a progressively better relationship with the US, as Egypt became one of the largest recipients of US aid, both economically and militarily. Furthermore, support from the EU continuously ameliorated as cooperation between the two, both economically and politically flourished. The support and trust Mubarak had from European states, was evident, until his resignation last year.

Another prominent state of the Arab Spring, is Libya, which itself has quite a history to account for.

We can say that the history of modern Libya began when Italy renounced it, as a colony in the 1947 Peace Treaty, and its subsequent independence in 1951.

It was initially constituted as a Kingdom with Idris al-Senussi being offered the Crown in 1953, the year when Libya also joined the UN.

When in 1955 oil exploration commenced, this began to transform Libya as a state, as its economy began to thrive with wealth being shared amongst the elitist few.

Monarchy came to an end, when Muammar Qaddafi staged a coup d'état on September 1st,  1969 and the Libyan Arab Republic was formed,   adding the word 'jumahuriyya',  to its name,  -meaning a highly populist "state of the masses".

And thus, started the 40 years of dictatorship under Qaddafi rule.

Throughout the years, Qaddafi self-proclaimed himself as "leader of the Arab world" or "King of Kings" and retained full control of the Libyan Armed Forces. Despite a rough period, with the 1986 US bombing of Libya, by the 2000s, Qaddafi developed benign relations with most Western democracies.

Syria, on the other hand, endured a more dramatic fate, when, after its independence in 1946, it was taken over by revolts and populist strife until 1963, when the Ba'ath party took over and assumed control of all executive and legislative authorities.

Even then however, it suffered long intra-party insurrections and a number of 'rectification' revolutionary attempts, resulting in 2 subsequent Ba'ath governments and numerous foreign hostilities. In 1970,  the then Minister of Defence Hafez al-Assad organized the "1970 corrective revolution", a bloodless military coup, and he himself assumed the role of the President,  bringing the Alawites, an Islamic tribe amounting to only 12% of the population, into power.

This is when a 3 decade long rule began which included Syria's involvement in the Lebanese Civil War, the Yom Kippur War including Egypt and Israel but also the 1982 Massacre, which came as a result of the government's attempt to crash fundamentalist opposition in Hama.

When in June 2000 Hafez died, the Presidential position was taken over by Bashar al-Assad, his son, who ran an "unopposed" election gaining a supposed 97.29% of the votes.

We must admit that Bashar did at first inspire hopes for reforms and foreign relations. In any case, he remained cool with little tension between Syria and Israel and some pressure from the West upon the Syrian government to uphold human rights and withdraw from Lebanon. Which he did, in 2005.

The uprisings that have affected these three countries, in addition to the Tunisian and Yemeni Revolutions, have come as a result of evident democratic shortcomings.

When peoples undergo decades of oppression, a reaction to the high levels of corruption, police brutality, unemployment and lack of respect for human rights, is expected. The Arab revolutions did not come about alone. Instead, they were triggered by a much greater force: globalization.  

The evolution of a more globalized and interlinked world has bridged the gap between cultures, civilizations and identities.  The use of the Internet as a communication method  and tool  has allowed the spread of ideas and the pooling of information across the globe.

It has given the term ‘distance’ another meaning, thus making the world smaller. Suddenly, the globe can fit within a computer screen.

This has enabled the Arab peoples to come a step closer to their quest for democracy and human rights. In this sense, we can suggest that the Arab spring constitutes the revolution and uprising of the globalization in countries which have been subject to "dictatorial political systems". These are systems which human rights were violated and disrespected and were the traditional division or independence of powers upon which a system must be based, meaning the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, was inexistent.

Furthermore, the uprisings are a result of  the lack of sufficient and effective “rule of law” and the evident extremes between corruption and poverty, that are closely related to the social and political injustice within the system.

Here, social order is imposed upon through the terror of a “police state” and constitutional and democratic values are ignored. This is a clear reflection of the democratic deficit. We can also see this reflected in the educational systems which remain a tool  of the political establishment.

I could say that the uprisings of the Arab peoples prove their political intention to fight for a better life, and the respect of human rights.

However, success has not been an easy task.

The Arab spring faces numerous problems, starting from the lack of experience in democracy of the Arab people. The question remains whether, in their case, it is possible to establish a democratic political system from scratch. It would be an illusion to expect the establishment of a Western democracy overnight.

In the past, the West has attempted to impose its political will over the Arab peoples, and this is the reason they have failed so far. It must be appreciated that the mentality of these societies is dramatically different from the one existing in the Western democratic model, and the revolutionary ideologies which led to the European revolutions in European States, occurred over a century ago.

As for Libya, we could say that the Allied Forces won the war. The question is whether human rights and democracy triumphed. This task has yet to come to a successful end. The political system remains under the Shariah – a legal system inspired and based on religion. Thus, we have not yet seen the establishment of a "secular state".

A number of reports, issued by international NGOs such as Amnesty International, accuse the newly established political systems in Libya and other Arab countries of violations of human rights. They also report that there is no respect for the rights of women and children or for the freedom of neither press nor governmental opposition.

( For example, when the new Libyan President Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil  delivered a speech at his inauguration, he referred to the values and principles of the new political system: he upheld the "right" to the male population to marry four women! We can therefore see how, as long as there is no political stability and conflicts continue to erupt in the Arab countries, the Arab Spring can only be described as having turned into an Arab Winter).

Another severe problem that the Arab countries and the entire world face, is the threatening role that Al Qaeda and its global network as well as other Islamic extremist organisations play in the regional and global system.

According to the documents of the leaders and the religious theorists of Al Qaeda, the aims of the Organisation are threefold:

Firstly, to fight against the US and the West, who exploit, steal and plunder the wealth of Arab World.

Secondly, a commitment to uphold a rule in line with the dictates of the Koran, which includes using all means, and even force, if necessary.

Finally, to establish a Global Caliphate in order to counterweight Western globalization, and thus change the structure of the international system. )

In light of these, we can obviously observe that whilst the Western Powers wish to see the progressive establishment of democratic political systems, Al Qaeda and other Terrorist Organisations aim at changing the structure of Muslim and Arab states with the hope of establishing Regional and Global Caliphates.                                       

Our greatest question therefore is: what role does the international system play regarding the Arab Spring? This can comprise of four different angles.

Firstly we have the states, as the main structural components and sovereign actors of the international system. Then, we have the UN, which constitutes the only truly international organisation that could affect military action through the Security Council.

Thirdly, the EU, which constitutes an important actor of the international system and also operates through its individual sovereign member states. 

Fourth, Alliances such as NATO who assumed a leading role in the campaign against Libya. In the absence of an international government, the US, through NATO and as a superpower, took the lead and fought for the respect for human rights under the guise of a “missionary” diplomacy. 

We realize a fundamental issue: the importance of collective and concerted action in order to bring about stability and peace. Always bearing in mind that the UN does not constitute a supranational government and that it cannot forcefully impose stability and peace.

Such a role primarily belongs to the Member States of the Security Council. However, major issues regarding national interests arise, leaving the Security Council in a stalemate.

Syria and Libya constitute two obvious examples that show how the decisions on the level of the Security Council are taken. On one hand, the international community took action in Libya in the name of protecting democracy and human rights. The legality of such collective action came from the Security Council. On the other hand, in the case of Syria, the UN Security Council has failed to take any decision so far. This is because of the conflicting national interests between the permanent member states: namely between Russia and the others.

Through such failures to reach concerted action, we can only assume that the international community can only act to protect human rights when the national interests of the permanent member states of the Security Council permit.

On the other hand, we have seen the European Union, being an important actor of the international system, participating and taking the lead in civilian and humanitarian missions when a crisis erupts.

Military missions belong to NATO with which the EU has established a complimentary relationship. This relationship allows the leading EU Member States to take decisions at different levels, including the Security Council and NATO.

What is dramatically evident however is the European reaction to these uprisings, or, may I say, the lack of European reaction to these uprisings.

This has given rise to a number of criticisms, such as, the reasons for which Europe has turned the blind eye year after year, decade after decade. Our credibility and loyalty to the support for human rights comes into question when it is evident that we ignored the populations' interests and continued our good foreign relations with these dictatorial regimes.

Even in the case that the West was unaware of the suppression of freedom, liberty and human rights, the very fact that these were societies under constant dictatorial rule raises questions.

Furthermore, the time taken to react to these uprisings that have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives is also called to question. Why do we wait and prolong our reaction until the very end?

It must be noted that the French reaction to the Syrian crisis only a few weeks ago is by all means welcomed, yet seems to have arrived late in the conflict.

A prominent example showing the way that the EU acts when a crisis erupts is the campaign against Libya. Whilst the EU did not take a common decision, France, in acting as sovereign state, and part of the EU, NATO and the Security Council, took the initiative and bombed Qaddafi's military forces which had laid siege to Benghazi and were, at the time, one step before victory. The French reaction stigmatised the war; it was in fact a turning point. It also triggered the diplomatic discussion leading to the establishment of a multinational coalition under NATO, with the EU leadership drawing the legality of its actions from resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council. This resolution called for Qaddafi's resignation and for the power to be passed to the sovereign people of Libya. It stated that, in the alternative, the international community would use force in order to protect human rights and innocent lives.      

We wish to see all nations living within democratic political systems characterized by stability, human rights and peace. However, from a realistic perspective, wishful thinking cannot be the quintessence of a realistic policy and strategy. In the current period, the democratisation of the Arab peoples is a procedure that needs to unfold and will, without a doubt, go through numerous conflicts, wars and bloody incidents. The primary lesson stemming from the Arab Spring is that we should find ways to escape from conflicting situations and establish democracy and peace through constructive dialogue and collective security, bearing always in mind that the Arab  societies do not know how to deal with any sudden change of regime or system. They do not have the knowledge in democratic foundations of governmental institutions, and so, do not know how to build their own democracy now.

In this sense, the Arab Spring did not blossom. It did not lead to stability and peace, but a political situation that remains chaotic. Syria is in flames. Egypt still struggles to establish a democratic political system and the results of the presidential elections just last week have been put to question when the Egyptian population was only faced with two options during their elections: the Islamic regime or the old regime.

So little seems to have progressed that we are already referring to a “stolen revolution”.

As you know, Cyprus assumed the European Presidency last Sunday, and has consequently also assumed a large role in the Union's struggle with the Arab spring. As a small Mediterranean state, it can play a catalytic role in consolidating peace and stability in our region with regards to Syria, at a crucial time when the situation remains unclear and chaotic.

As President of the European council, Cyprus can take advantage of its good relations with Syria and can aid in constructive dialogue between it and the EU. On the other hand however, Cyprus can also take a more active role and promote stronger support to human rights and the idea of collective action toward the assurance of democratic principles.