By Dr. Basil Wilson
On January 25, 2011 when thousands of young people in Egypt rose up against the undemocratic and corrupt Hosni Mubarak regime, there was great hope for the establishment of democracy throughout the Middle East. The new generation of Egyptians who communicated over social media, confronted soldiers and were determined to break the back of the Mubarak dictatorship.
With the mass protest, the military decided not to turn their guns on the people and to allow a democratic process to unfold. Interestingly, it was not the “Young Turks” who dominated the electoral process but an old established religious-political entity, the Muslim Brotherhood that captured a majority of the voters.
The Muslim Brotherhood was oppressed by the military regime prior to the fall of Mubarak. One year after assuming state power, Mohammed Morsi’s government was defrocked by the military. The euphoria of the Arab Spring has quickly evaporated and the new Al-Sisi regime has cracked down on dissidents of any stripe. Journalists have been jailed, resisters have been sentenced to death and free assembly and respect for human rights are non-existent in the Sisi military dictatorship.
Sisi, the military dictator in Egypt, represents a new generation of scalawags that have popped up in the Philippines, in Syria and in Russia. The only saving grace from the Arab spring has been Tunisia. The Tunisians carved out a new constitution after expelling their corrupt dictator. But Tunisia has had to cope with terrorists within their bodypolitic. Terrorists have mounted a number of deadly attacks killing innocent foreigners and indigenous Tunisians. That ethos of fear has necessitated the Tunisian government to pass legislation that infringes on democratic precepts.
Shortly after the Arab spring erupted in Tunisia and Egypt in March of 2011, the people of Syria came out in their thousands to protest against the Bashar Assad government. Syria is predominantly a Sunni nation but Alawites and Shia have exercised hegemony over the control of state power. The Syrian civil war has been destructive and terribly costly in human lives and displacement of civilians.
The civil war in Syria has not only affected the Syrian people but the millions of refugees who have made their way into Europe, Turkey and Jordan. Particularly in the case of Europe, the massive influx of Syrians has had a destabilizing impact on Europe. The refugee crisis has bolstered the neo-fascist forces in France, in Hungary, in the Netherlands, etc. Winters, who heads the neo-fascist movement in Holland, did not perform as well in the recent elections as some had feared. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of Winters captured only approximately twenty percent of the electorate.
In addition, elections will be held in France and Germany this year. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front is expected to do well in the first round of the Presidential elections but is not expected to win in the run-off election that will be held in May.
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, does not face a serious challenge from neo-fascist forces but faces more formidable opposition from the Social Democrats. Merkel has emerged as the voice and leader of liberal democracy in the world. She is a strong advocate for globalization especially in light of Trump’s stewardship of the American nation. Merkel has dealt with the refugee crisis with aplomb and compassion. She made it clear to the America First President that in dealing with trade agreements, the United States would have to negotiate with the European Union as an entity and bi-lateral agreements were off the table.
Trump’s decision to strike the airfields in Syria where the chemical weapons were used against civilians, sent a clear message to Assad that he could not continue to use chemical weapons in the civil war. Those weapons are banned by international conventions. What is required by the Trump administration is a strategy to contain Assad’s regime without a massive presence of American boots on the ground.
Assad has been propped up by Russian intervention, Iranian militia and Hezbollah militia from Lebanon. Thus far, the United States has failed to gather a formidable Sunni force distinct from Al-Nuestra, from Al Queda, and from the Islamic State. What is occurring in Syria illustrates the complexity of the Sunni-Shia struggle and the difficulty of cultivating moderate and secular forces in a theater of religious fervor.
Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war has further muddled the waters. But Putin has become like a giant octopus that has his tentacles in the United States presidential elections as well as meddling in the elections of France, the Baltics, Ukraine, etc.
Under Putin, Russia does not even pretend to be democratic. He is surrounded by oligarchs who use their proximity to the throne to enrich themselves. But the Kremlin entourage is not only wallowing in capital accumulation but have no compunctions about poisoning and assassinating elements inside or outside of Russia who have the audacity to oppose Putin’s kleptocracy.
The Kremlin has refined the art of poisoning opponents with substances that are not easily traceable. And the regime is far from reluctant to murder opponents living abroad. Just a few weeks ago, an opponent of the Kremlin was mowed down in Kiev, Ukraine.
There is no shortage of scalawags in the twenty-first century. There is no question that liberal democracy is under siege. That is clear in the Philippines, in Egypt, in Syria and in Russia. Extra-judicial killings of drug dealers and drug users are heavily supported by the voters of the Philippines and Rodrigo Duterte boasts of his death squads and contempt for due process.
With Putin’s record of poisoning of opponents, it is impossible to see how there can be any rapprochement with Putin’s Russia. President Trump will be forced to recognize the pivotal role of the United States in preserving liberal democracy in the twenty-first century.