Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Arab Spring and Nation Building




Many people and policy makers from western countries were so happy witnessing the rise of democracy in few Arab countries just a couple of years ago. It all started with Tunisia on 18th December 2010. Then spread to countries like Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Many other countries in the region were affected witnessing major protests against its governments. People in some of the Arab countries threw the dictators and installed democratically elected governments. Many of the dictators were propped up by western powers, mainly USA. They were replaced by conservative, if not fundamentalist, organizations like Muslim Brotherhood. Yet the current American president Obama welcomed the uprising. Described it as 'moment of opportunity' on May 2011. For the first time in many years, probably ever, people in these countries elected its own governments. Many people in some poorly governed democracies like India started dreaming for such Arab spring style uprising. So far so good.

Now comes the challenging part. Current political situation in Tunisia, the most western   influenced poster child of Arab spring, is 'poisonous' dominated by Islamic extremists led by the salafists. Situation in other countries are equally challenging and similar in nature, not identical though. Recently we are hearing more about Egypt, its recent coup that uprooted democratically elected Morsi government. It seems to be heading towards more trouble. Many western governments have no clue whether to support or oppose it. Previously the american president took no time to come out openly to support the revolution against Mubarak regime, despite the fact that Mubarak government was one of the strongest supporters of US foreign policy in the region. But now Obama is keeping mum, probably confused. American administration probably will continue its financial assistance even after the ‘coup’. Many influential American politicians like John McCain are equally confused whether america should do the ‘right thing’ by suspending aids.


Arab spring reminded us, once again, that revolution is only the first act of a big drama. Subsequent acts are more challenging and require long term sustained preparation. We can get a clue if we analyze more successful transition towards peace, prosperity and democracy in many east european countries. Alternative elite group of people were active in those countries during communism and soviet dominance. Many political leaders, bureaucrats and other professionals started working towards civil society during communist rule. Former Czechoslovakian president, author and poet Vaclav Havel started his work organizing people around 1970s. This trend is not limited to Czech republic but a consistent pattern in other east european countries as well. Such socio-political elites presented a qualified and, most importantly, acceptable alternative. People with shared vision of nation building and professional ability filled the vacuum after collapse of communist rule. It was not the same for Soviet Union and some of its breakaway republics. Reformists and oppositions were either too fragmented or repressed and harassed. Former wolves just changed its skin to become social democrat and came to power. They continued almost same policies of previous regime. No wonder Russia is now branded as a 'mafia state', as per Wikileaks revelation of US diplomatic cables.


It’s not economic or political system but human resource that makes the difference. It seems to be the main challenge with Arab spring too. Most Arab countries never had any such alternative elite group of leaders. Professionals working for past regimes were either killed or totally rejected. Political process and leaders who could lead were simply not there or disenfranchised. Now it have to start from the scratch. It will take a long time if get the right direction and the direction has to come from within.


We see the same trend in both Asia and Africa that were affected by european colonialism and apartheid. Countries that drove away almost all from past regimes suffer more. Almost every former european colony suffered when all white people fled rather than assimilated with native population. Zimbabwe is an extreme while India is a more moderate example compared to former european colonies in Latin America and post-apartheid South Africa. Assimilating socio-political elites, irrespective of past affiliation or racial identity, with shared value and decent sense of professional ethics seems to be a better route. It takes time and sustained effort preparing ground for a beautiful spring that people would enjoy and be proud of. It's tough but surely not impossible.

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