After the fall of the Berlin Wall in autumn 1989 the world was never going to be the same. Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history. That this was not the case is obvious. What has followed between 1990 and 1999 could be argued as being an interregnum. What started with the protests at the WTO Conference in Seattle in 1999 has been repeated ever since: Glenneagles, Gothenburg, Genoa, Heiligendamm…The places changed, the scenes were almost always the same. Heavily guarded politicians, riot police and a huge crowd of protesters.
Organizations such as attac provided a platform for resistance, peaceful or not, in a similar kind as Greenpeace did in the 1980s. What has this got to do with North Africa or the Near East? Movements of a similar nature, albeit less organized have developed in these regions to fight against their oppressive regimes. The role of the West, i.e. NATO, EU and America in the sustenance of these regimes can not be described as one of being moralistic but instead was driven by need for assurance of easy access to cheap resources, namely oil on the back of exploitation of the people.
The recent uprising across the north of Africa and the Arab peninsula will not significantly alter the way the region will look or will be governed and yet it is the end of an era. For the first time, the people stood up for themselves simply because they could not bear any longer the injustices, lies and corruption offered by their leaders. The EU would better be advised to back off and let the countries get on with their business. Coming up with suggestions and advisors would only underline the fact that Europe considers Africa and the Middle East as easy to manipulate and steer from Brussels and Washington. This must not be the case.
In Europe, where the right for protest has a longer history, people express their incomprehension at politicians lax actions towards the banking sector, which has relied to a huge extent on public finances but the public won’t benefit from that. Instead they are made to pay more. The faith in politics is fading.
Examples are manifold. Demonstrations against the rise of tuition fees in Britain last winter have shown that students are not as lazy and laid back as they are said to be. Protests against plans to build a new rail station in Germany have led to a public debate about the pros and cons. In the end, the construction will go ahead but it became clear that the benefits are not as big and positive as they were made out to be by the planners in the first place. The French president is married to an ex-model and musician instead of trying to get to grips with xenophobia and racism in his country.
What we witness in Europe is a shift in power from bureaucratic politics towards more participative politics where the public will not back down over important and sensitive issues. Whether this is bearing any fruit at all, remains to be seen. There are doubts about the means of protest but as long as campaigns and demonstrations achieve at least publicity and are able to voice their concerns, a lot has been achieved. This strategy won’t win elections but it makes life a bit more difficult for those elected. And makes them think, hopefully.
Northern Africa and the Arab region experience nothing short of a revolution where the motives and targets are not easy to define and reach. The consequences could have an impact worldwide but that depends on how the development of events unfold.