New Internationalist

Libya, Egypt: Fashioning democracy, packaging revolution


Egyptian protesters burn the Israeli flag outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Photo by Gigi Ibrahim under a CC License.


Democracy, democracy.  Don’t we just love it?  Don’t we love it as a pretence for furthering our international ambitions?  Don’t we love it when it means cheaper oil and cosy partnerships?

In the case of Libya, the façade of supporting a democratic movement has fallen from even our most blatant sources of propaganda.  To quote BBC News this week, ‘Rebel leader Jalil might be the leader of an unelected government, but he seems popular...’ Well, that must be OK then? Who needs democracy, anyway, when you have an Arab Spring to boast about?

On 9 September, the entire Israeli envoy to Egypt was evacuated on military planes after demonstrators over ran the embassy in Cairo.  Somewhat conspicuously, the Egyptian army stood and watched as the wall built to protect the embassy was torn down. Their response, when it came, left three dead and more than a thousand injured.

Whatever the motivations behind the army’s ambiguous actions there can be little doubt that the demonstrators outside the embassy represented a strong anti-Israel sentiment felt throughout Egyptian society. They, like the Jordanians and Lebanese, have had their land occupied by the state of Israel, while for Palestinians and Syrians this indignity continues. How long will people in this part of the world accept a state on their doorstep that they experience as racist and founded on apartheid?

When pro-democracy activists take aim at Israel, the West’s much-vaunted support evaporates. The Obama administration was quick to react to the embassy incident, standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with claims that Egypt was breaking international law.  Cairo-based journalist Sarah Carr wryly observed in her blog the following day: ‘You’d have thought Israel would be the first to understand what drives people to trespass on, and occupy, what is not theirs.’

On Wednesday night, Israel evacuated its embassy in Amman, after Jordanians planned a demonstration for Thursday.  News of the protest was spread on a Facebook event entitled ‘No Zionist embassy on Jordanian territory.’ I doubt that revolution co-opters, from Cameron to Clinton, CNN to Al Jazeera, will be glorifying and celebrating this type of change.

The truth is, this is what democracy in the region would really look like, and it would not serve the interests of Britain or the US. The uprisings which forced out Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt were not only against those two individuals, but against the imperialist powers that bankrolled, armed and continue to arm the military remnants of their regimes.

And what has the good pro-democracy fight in Libya brought us so far? Western-armed, NATO-backed insurgents, causing black civilians to flee from their home towns in Misrata. Apaches from foreign nations bombing the path to Tripoli. Democracy should not come in the form of mass murder, privatised oil fields, and ‘humanitarian intervention.’

In Janzour, a town six miles of Tripoli, there is a refugee camp, populated by black Africans fleeing persecution (or rather ‘African mercenaries,’ the racist term used by most of the media to describe black people in Libya as the insurgency accelerated).

Women at the camp say they have been raped by the rebel forces, and that people who leave the camp are arrested. Black people who worked and contributed to Libyan society are now humiliated as ‘refugees’.  But their skin is dark, so who cares? After all, we don’t need pesky black people spoiling the victorious mood of our glorious Libyan wa-, sorry, ‘revolution.’

Israeli flags burn in Cairo. But American flags are raised in Benghazi with the message ‘Dear US,  you have a new ally in North Africa.’ Now that’s the type of ‘democracy’ we like.

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