By Steve McGiffen in Britain:
Monday 04 June 2012
Egyptians have been taking to the streets this week in protest at the “farcical” trial of ex-despot Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak was convicted of “complicity” in killing hundreds of protesters during the uprising that overthrew him last year, but cleared of having ordered the crackdown and of various corruption charges.
The trial is one of many ominous signs that Egypt’s “transition to democracy” is not going smoothly – the continued rule of the generals and controversial decisions by the election commission on who was allowed to stand in the recent elections are other examples.
To listen to most mainstream commentators and politicians, you would think that democracy was an absolutely uncontested concept, a word we can all easily and accurately define.
That countries are democratic, or they aren’t.
The member states of the European Union, like the United States, are “democracies” and the EU has an unquestioned commitment to democracy and its development around the world.
It says so in the Treaty of Lisbon, the latest version of the EU’s fundamental law, and in the Copenhagen Criteria, which applicant countries must meet if they are to be accepted into the club.
The failure on the part of the EU and its member states to make any effort whatsoever to dislodge the Mubarak dictatorship, or that of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, despite being the biggest export market for both regimes and therefore potentially influential, rather tarnished this democratic image.
The French foreign minister’s offer to send riot police to help Ben Ali stay in power and Tony Blair‘s description of Mubarak as “immensely courageous and a force for good” were just two incidents in Europe’s own “transition” – from supporting the dictators to reluctantly accepting the new situation.
This has not eroded Europe’s view of itself as a democratic bloc, but it will certainly have increased scepticism about that self image among the peoples of north Africa, whose memories of colonialism are still fresh.
The dominant assumption in Europe is still that if the “Arab Spring” is successful its end product will be political systems modelled on our own.
The relationship between “democratic” Europe and “transitioning” north Africa is one of teacher-student – and teacher-student of a distinctly old-fashioned stripe in which knowledge passes only in one direction.
And the talking heads warn that grave dangers will arise if the student fails the course.
The dictatorships were, in the view of European elites, able to guarantee decades of “stability.”
They were also seen as allies in the “war on terror.”
Stability is the real aim of EU external policies – defined as a condition conducive to European corporate profits.