Original Articles, World

Of Oil, Arms and a Chance for Change

As the Arab Revolt spread to neighbouring Arab nations, the revolution has become increasingly bloodier starting from Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who met the revolutionaries peacefully and promised changes, to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who tried to ride the revolt by offering a mixed bag of changes and coercion tactics. The Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa al- Khalifa resorted to bribing its populace and then by resorting to force but the Sunni dynastic ruler over a largely Shia population could not keep up the fight.

As the revolt reached the gates of Libya its supreme leader Colonel Qaddafi, infamous for his brutality, is lusting for blood. The Libyan people are well aware of their leader’s caprices. And no one expects him to forgo power like Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak. Marauding Gangs and African Mercenaries armed with machine guns aboard open backed trucks searching for people and snipers on rooftops fire indiscriminately at Libyans even as Qaddafi’s helicopter gunships attack from the skies. The Libyan capital lies strewn with bodies of bullet-laden corpses of its citizens as Colonel Qaddafi clambers against his own people to seize back the power that is slipping away from the iron-fisted grasp that controlled Libya for over four decades.

As the Western world comes to terms with the revolt, condemning and hollering at the the Libyan massacres, a queasy truth sticks out. The arms and ammunition that fuel the crackdown of the Arab Revolt by its monarchs and dictators come chiefly from America and Britain. The two countries have courted the Arab Nations including Libya for decades to ensure a smooth flow of oil to lubricate its economies. Their closet and strongest ally in the region, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has so far remained insular to the revolt. However, even the powerful Saud Royal Family may not grapple with the situation if it continues to support the repression of the Bahrain people by Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa al- Khalifa.

The Middle East has remained stable in the past owing to enormous oil revenues, but its suppressed population is finally up against not just their own nation states but against the global construction of power whose foundation is based on oil flows, arm sales and instilling dictators in the heart of Middle Eastern politics. If the revolt succeeds then the people will eventually overthrow its despot leaders. However, the question that requires serious consideration is ‘What Next?’. Libya, even without Qaddafi will remain a violent place because it does not have adequate social institutions to fall back on. A pattern that is visible throughout the gulf. This coupled with inadequate constitutional laws and more importantly tribal animosities will leave Libya in wreckage that will take a lot of time and a lot of ingenuity to sort out. And, as the revolt spreads through the heart of Africa, the question will only get graver with time. The only hope is, like in Libya’s case, years of despotic rule will bring people together to forge a unique national identity that will ensure this magnificent chance in history is not squandered away.

As strategists around the globe study the revolt, the lesson that will be learnt is that the Arab revolt is essentially one of cynics and idealists. The cynics always believed that the Middle East will never be ready for democracy, that idealists clamouring for a people’s rule will never succeed. The Western world always believed that dictator governments are the only bulwark for the Middle East from falling prey to a wave of Islamic Revolution.  However, every once in a while, ordinary individuals bring about a revolution that can upset the predictions of even the most astute political pundits. And, that is precisely why dictators, and countries that engage them, should realize that there is chasmic difference between engaging and endorsing a dictator government. It is imperative that Western nations must press for universal values of people’s democracy and human rights while dealing and doing business with such countries. For, like the Tunisians have shown and as have the people of Tripoli, a revolution is in the offing.