No lessons learned from past mistakes
Wednesday 03 July 2013
The conflict in Egypt is being played out on screens all over the world as popular opposition mounts to President Mohamed Morsi and his economic failures.
This is compounded by the former Mubarak regime‘s attempt to regain power and Western interests in maintaining Egypt as their close ally – although of course their most important ally in the region is Israel.
The so-called Arab spring was prompted by many complex issues, such as the lack of democracy and free expression in many Middle Eastern and north African countries, but also by the huge economic inequalities and high levels of youth unemployment.
Essentially, many of the demands are economic.
The demonstrators on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria are not looking for market solutions or privatisation of public services.
Similarly, the people on the streets of Turkey and Brazil are also looking for economic and social security rather than an even deeper development of market economics.
Interestingly, the authorities’ responses have been very different.
In the case of Turkey, there has been outright condemnation and repression of the protesters by the Erdogan government, which seems to have made peace with the military. Now lawyers and journalists have been arrested and detained and many of the popular movements in Turkey are under threat, be they Kurdish or Turkish.
The response in Brazil has been very different, where President Dilma Rousseff conceded people’s right to demonstrate from the very beginning, despite the brutal behaviour of the police in Rio and Sao Paulo.
By a series of negotiations her government has now conceded on a number of issues such as transport prices and the need for far greater investment in education.
The approach being taken in Egypt could not be more different and the situation is in danger of spiralling out of control into a civil war.
Interestingly, when questioned about President Morsi in the House of Commons yesterday, David Cameron said it was the duty of leaders to reflect the diversity of opinion within their society – something his government has resolutely refused to do. Indeed his government has systematically dismantled many of the democratic rights and economic opportunities of the poorest in Britain.
British international policy seems not to have learnt the lessons of the past 12 years.
To the bemusement of many, David Cameron told the Commons on Monday that the morale of British troops in Afghanistan was very high, that confidence in the Afghan government was even higher and that the whole experience in Afghanistan had been broadly successful.
It was only under pressure that he conceded that spending of £17 billion, the loss of 444 British soldiers, many thousands of civilians and illegal drone attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan had left a terrible legacy behind.
Ominously, he was extremely unclear as to what British or US military presence will remain in Afghanistan after the supposed drawdown of forces next year.
The US will want to maintain a massive presence, either by direct troop involvement or by the use of security companies to carry out its policies.
It seems ironic to point out that both Cameron and Barack Obama have both welcomed the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, from which negotiations will be conducted on the future government in Afghanistan.
One is tempted to ask why Tony Blair and George Bush didn’t take up the offer of negotiations with the Taliban in 2001, opting for invasion instead, leading to countless deaths in Afghanistan and the destruction of civil liberties in every Western country that was involved.
As if the lessons have not been learnt of involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Cameron and William Hague are now the big cheerleaders, along with the latter-day Blairite Francois Hollande, in supplying arms to the Syrian National Council to continue the prosecution of the war there.
The war in Syria is in many ways a proxy for the conflicts of the entire region.
The Assad government, with its appalling human rights record, is fighting with Russian and Iranian support against an opposition which is partly funded by Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
While the West claims to want a political solution to the conflict, the signs are that this is the last thing on their minds, preferring instead Western intervention.
If there is a real wish for a political solution, the question has to be asked why the conference in Doha 10 days ago of the GCC countries plus the US and European Union had specifically excluded Russia and Iran.
When put under pressure about this, Hague and Cameron claimed it was the only way of promoting a political settlement in Syria, yet at the same time, they continue to promote the supply of arms by ending the European arms embargo. Nor have they challenged Senator John McCain‘s hawkish demand for a no-fly zone over the entire country.
So far, opposition in the British Parliament by MPs of all parties has meant that Cameron is reluctant to risk a vote in the house on approving arms supplies.
Indeed, pressure by backbenchers from all parties in the Commons has forced a debate tomorrow on the question of how a decision on arms supplies could be made.
The conflicts across the whole region, and indeed Afghanistan, all have their origins in European colonialism and the cynical partition of communities and societies for Western interests at the end of the first world war.
Western interests at that time were strategically economic and sought to ensure trade routes throughout the region and the supply of oil to Western economies.
The interests now are not really very different but what has changed are the popular uprisings that removed so many governments in 2011 and now threaten Morsi’s rule in Egypt.
The one thing that is very clear is that Western involvement will not solve any of these issues. What we need is a foreign policy that does not assume any moral superiority or financial greed.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
Libyan weapons and foreign fighters are increasingly finding their way to the front lines of the Syrian conflict, where tens of thousands of civilians have died over three years of war: here.
Syria Videos: Insurgents Kill & Abuse Captured Regime Fighters in Khan al-Assal: here.
US military leaders have been meeting with regional allies to discuss the next phase of the United States’ proxy war in Syria: here.