The Middle East: New Dawn or False Hope?

By Ramsay, Allan | Contemporary Review, December 2011 | Go to article overview

The Middle East: New Dawn or False Hope?


Ramsay, Allan, Contemporary Review


IMAGINE the following scenario: in the not too distant future, in a world more fragilised than our own by the effects of recurrent economic crises and climate change, the Cornish people make a bid for independence, seize Plymouth and raise the Cornish flag throughout the county. The Welsh and the Bretons rally in support. Unrest grows among the Basques and among the Catalans. In London the Crown is in a quandary, facing the further disintegration of the realm. The government determines to use force to suppress the uprising.

This affront to nationalist aspirations proves too much for an idealistic young Colonel of an oil-rich Arab state. He determines to intervene to 'protect the Cornish people'. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a pretext he circumvents a Security Council veto with OPEC support. The United Nations declares a no-fly zone over Cornwall and the Scilly Isles and a wide area of surrounding sea, to be enforced by aircraft from Arab League states, operating from Ireland. The embargo extends to UK government assets held abroad. There is a flight from sterling. The terms of the relevant UN Resolution are 'more flexibly' interpreted as time goes on and the British Prime Minister is indicted for 'crimes against humanity'. The Cornish rebels are provided with money and arms and military advisers are landed secretly by small boat at night. Military installations in the UK are attacked. They include the 'compound' at No 10 Downing Street and GCHQ at Cheltenham and others as widely separated as Catterick and Chatham. BBC transmitters are targeted. Civilian casualties are attributed to the British government's practice of using human shields. The Coalition - as it is called - while denying that their objective is 'regime change' state that military action will continue until the occupant of the Throne abdicates, the government resigns and the people of Cornwall are free to determine their own future.

Fantasy, of course; yet, wind the clock back to the present and reverse the roles, and we find that the scenario is, broadly, what happened in Libya earlier this year, when, contrary to all international norms, France and Britain and then the USA, followed by NATO with support from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, intervened on the side of a rebel movement to unseat a Head of State, Colonel Gaddhafi, one-time supporter of the IRA, not long ago rebranded by Mr Blair as an ally in the 'War against Terror' and a convert to democracy. In that new guise President Sarkozy had invited him to Paris before becoming, once again, a man disgraced with a price on his head, an enemy of his people and an international pariah. Of the many and far-reaching consequences of a desperate vegetable seller's decision to pour petrol on his clothes and set himself alight in protest when police confiscated his barrow in an insignificant small town in Tunisia a year ago, the Libyan debacle is surely the most unexpected.

Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid was not merely the act of a single family man driven to despair; in a symbolic sense it epitomised the self-immolation of millions, throughout the Near and Middle East and North Africa, caught between the natural yearning for a better life, as represented by the Western democracies, on the one hand, and the brutality and blindness of those who run their countries on the other; between the appeal of tolerance and liberty and the repressive doctrines and violence of their own governments and of religious extremists; between the West's stated determination to export democracy, its defence of Human Rights and the liberty of the individual, and its paranoia about terrorism and support for repressive regimes. Ordinary people of the Middle East want to earn a living, feed, clothe and educate the family, aspirations which the greed and corruption of governments have denied them. They want to express their opinions without risk of imprisonment or to be tortured for their opposition to the policies - or lack of them - of their rulers, to vote without knowing that the result has been pre-cooked, whereas the only legitimacy possessed by the Ben Ail, Moubarak, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Bouteflika, Gaddhafi, Assad and other regimes was that conferred by the international community in the name of stability whose sophisticated and expensive armaments helped to keep the people in order when they started protesting about failure to build schools and hospitals. …

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