Thursday, August 25, 2011
The West's Responsibility For Repressive Regimes Continuing In Power
By Randa Takieddine
The policy of western countries, led by the United States, France, Britain and Germany, bears considerable responsibility for the continued survival of repressive, dictatorial regimes in the Arab region for long decades. We are now hearing Western leaders, from Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, to David Cameron and Angela Merkel, express their relief at the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Or, they are demanding the departure of the Syrian president and are rushing to aid the Egyptian and Tunisian peoples. The ordinary Arab can only welcome such a change in western policy vis-à-vis repressive dictatorships. However, they must continue to ask who is responsible for seeing these leaders survive in power, and about their continued use of repression, corruption and western complicity in this corruption – this is a necessary, legitimate question for the future. For example, an observer of the policies of French presidents in recent decades, from Mitterrand to Chirac and Sarkozy, might ask about France's political schizophrenia. Who would believe that Gaddafi, who is now being hunted like the rat he once talked about, was the guest of Sarkozy in 2007? A tent was pitched for him at the historic presidential palace and he was given an unprecedented welcome, despite the crimes he had committed, not only against his own people and country, but also France and the French people, as he had bombed a plane carrying French civilians. The reception for Gaddafi was not limited to France, since Britain's Tony Blair was also a leader in showing openness to Gaddafi and rushing to secure contracts and other financial benefits. As for Tunisia's Zein al-Abidin bin Ali, he was also a guest of Sarkozy, in September 2008, at a presidential dinner, and Sarkozy visited him the same year. France's guilt over this recent past has led to seeing the French presidency website remove any photo of Sarkozy with either bin Ali or Gaddafi, while it has been unable to hide the picture of Sarkozy with both Bashar Assad and Hosni Mubarak. The latter visited Sarkozy more than six times, while Assad was repeatedly welcomed by the French, up to only a few months ago, in October 2010. The change in western policies was certainly the result of Arab popular revolts, which these regimes had extinguished with western collusion. For his part, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, in a historic address on Arab Spring Day at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, acknowledged that France had remained silent about the acts of these regimes in the past in the interest of stability, in their understanding, and that France and its allies were now on the side of Arab peoples. The west must now stop building its interests on dividing up the wealth of states with regimes that arise from these revolts, and should be honest about its support for these peoples, by assisting the building of true democracy. France, Britain and the US must be very cautious in their dealings with the National Transitional Council, so that it becomes action, and not only words. It must represent all elements of the country and its responsible figures should not be supported unless they are truly held to popular accountability in Libya. While the figures making up the TNC are respectable individuals, power must come from the people, and these people must be responsible before them.
As for the revolt in Syria and supporting the popular opposition, the west has a huge responsibility here as well. For a long time, the west has turned a blind eye to all of the Syrian regime's violence and repression in its own country, Syria, as well as in Lebanon. Today, the west is responsible for helping the Syrian people, who aspire to freedom and a dignified life. The days of seeing pleasantries exchanged between dictatorial regimes, as in Tunis, Damascus or Tripoli, and the democracies of the west, are over. The building of honest relationships, not based on corruption, lying and hypocrisy, must be substituted for this earlier policy, and this will constitute the true revolution in state policies.
Unfortunately, we remain quite distant from this goal. In the dealings between the west and some African countries, we see that the transition to honest ties between the west and the African dictatorships has not taken place, and perhaps will not take place. Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam, or Assad, and his "wise" foreign minister, have described their peoples' revolts as conspiracies, which are weak excuses that have been boosted by western support in the recent past. This has led these rulers to dismiss the notion that this same west, which used to be love with them, might abandon them so quickly.
This commentary was published in al-Alhayat on 24/08/2011