A coup, contortions and a confused foreign policy
Published in The Independent on Sunday (August 18th, 2013)
As rivers of blood flowed in Egypt this week, the frightening crisis in a wounded nation turned even more critical. With each bullet the prospects for peaceful and political resolution to increasingly deep divisions over faith and freedom receded that bit further.
No longer is it far-fetched to see the shadow of Syria hanging over this influential country, home to one in four Arabs and sitting at the crossroads of Africa and Asia. Yet even as the generals ordered their goons to slaughter protesters angered by their President’s ousting, there were fresh ripples in the revolutions spinning out of control across the region.
Not just in Syria, being ripped apart as a corrupt clique clings to power regardless of the cost. In Bahrain, there were more violent protests in a place engulfed in turmoil for two years, where 1,200 dissidents have been rounded up in the past six months alone. In Libya, three journalists in four days were targets of assassination in attempts to silence the media. Tunisia still reels from the murder of a second opposition leader.
Revolution is messy and unpredictable. And Western influence is more limited than we like to think. Yet countries such as Britain and the United States have a duty to stand firm with those seeking democracy and shouting about human rights; we did, after all, shake up the region in a misguided attempt to impose our values on Iraq. Instead, we are left looking hypocritical. In Libya we helped the rebels oust their hated dictator – but in Syria we mouth platitudes in support of insurgents but shy away from intervention. Meanwhile, rulers repressing protesters in Bahrain are invited to Downing Street and sold weapons – partly for fear of upsetting the Saudis.
In Egypt an army overthrows an elected government – but leaders of Western countries enjoying the luxury of democracy shy away from calling it a coup. The US cannot use such a dirty word when it wants to keep stuffing aid down the throats of the generals calling the shots, although the idea this buys influence is delusional given far bigger sums flowing in from regional allies. Once again, Britain trots along like a pet poodle, offering just a few admonishments.
Our failure to condemn the coup backfired last week. While we ignore the lessons of history, our contortions confuse other countries and fuel the paranoia of militants claiming the West will never tolerate political Islam. Ultimately, for all the complexities, our stance should always be informed by a determination to stand up for those seeking to share liberties we take for granted. Half a century ago, John F Kennedy said that those who made peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. His words remain true today.