February 22, 2011
The dramatic rise of Arab people against their oppressive rulers reached its climax in Libya. An oil-rich large country, sparsely populated, Libya in the last few days has been the scene of the worst possible violence against pro-democracy demonstrators. Every day, Gaddhafi’s 5,000-strong heavily armed security troops are busy increasing the death toll, which now stands at 240.
The uprisings herald the end of the president-for-life rule across Africa and the Middle East, in force for decades. If one defines democracy, like J.A. Schumpeter did, as “a method of selecting political leaders through competitive elections”, the Arab demonstrators rose not only against their current rulers but for one of the most important rights enjoyed for two hundred years now by nations on the other side of the Mediterranean or across the Atlantic.
The protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, where unemployment and poverty made oppression and corruption more visible and less acceptable than in other parts of the Arab world. The uprisings in Libya and Bahrain, however, show that the oil wealth of a country and cash handouts are no substitutes for the most basic human and civil rights. This should be a lesson even for Saudi Arabia, whose rulers long believed that money and religion are a surrogate for good governance and freedoms. While endeavouring to cater for the spiritual needs of their subjects, the kings and sheiks of the Gulf states have repressed, sometimes with outside help, their citizens’ drive for dignity, for political or social rights. In so doing, they have promoted and enlarged the huge civilisation gap between Arab nations and the rest of the world that pro-democracy demonstrators are now trying to bridge, at the expense of their own lives.
Whilst the protesters in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are making sure that the president-for-life rule is brought to an end, the monarchies in Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf cannot rest easy, if Bahrain is any guide. Jordanians, for example, are longing for a constitutional monarchy. Moroccans are themselves unhappy with the way their country is run. The Gulf kingdoms are seriously behind when it comes to granting their citizens the right to vote or representation in the decision-making process affecting the distribution of oil wealth. Important as faith might be, it cannot be misused as a replacement for accountable government or for an institutional framework guaranteeing everyone’s rights and curtailing the privileges of a few.Florian Pantazi