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02 March 2011

A New Era.
By : Latif Yahia

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..
I had better stop there or I’ll be charged with plagiarism, but, it is definitely an interesting time, especially for the Middle East. The spark that ignited that whole region of the world and gave hope to the idea of democracy or at least regime-leader change, has fully taken hold and now and there is no turning back.
As I watched the events unfold on television, I was struck by a mixture of elation at the fact that after forty or more years of rule, the people had had enough of their masters and were –for the most part- protesting peacefully for their removal and a sadness that this “liberation” was not the kind that Iraq had been able to achieve for itself.
Having said that Iraq had played it’s part in recent events, Iraq was held up to the rest of the Arab world as a ‘cautionary tale’ and example of ‘how Not to do it’ and when outside help was offered, the nations replied ‘No thanks, we’ll do this ourselves’ a lesson hard learned by Iraqis.
I send out my greatest respect to Tunisia and Egypt, who have made effective change without the loss of too many citizens and I send my deepest sympathies and respect to the families of those that did lose their lives in the protests.
I know that Tunisia and Egypt especially are open minded and progressive countries and will be strong enough to continue on their path to democracy, I can only hope that the other countries that are following in their footsteps –like Libya- will not succumb to extreme Islamists, something that is quite possible. Maybe that is why the drums are beating for Ghadaffi in a way that they didn’t for Ben Ali or Mubarak, add to that the fact that Libya holds nearly 5% of the world’s petrol and you have a recipe for America to go in there and secure it’s position. Unilateral sanctions only punish the people, not the regime. The regime have enough money outside the country to still be able to do and buy what they want, it is only the man on the street that feels the lack. It is estimated that Ghadaffi has 20 billion in London alone. While I am writing this, his money - 40 Billion in America and god knows how much in Switzerland- is being frozen.
Which leads me neatly on to my next point, an International court needs to be set up not just to hold Dictators, Tyrants and Despots to account, but those who supported the regime and I’ll explain this point clearly, a regime cannot function if it does not have suppliers, weapons, banking, business. A petrol filled country with a tyrannical leader cannot make money from it’s petrol if there is no-one who is willing to do business with them, they cannot keep control of their population if they cannot buy arms and their money is of no use if they cannot keep it somewhere safe outside their own country.
So often we are shown people like Saddam, held up high for us to despise and point at, but could or would he have survived so long if he didn’t have ‘friends’, let’s be clear here, business is the agenda of the day. Big business. It’s too easy to point the finger and say ‘Dictator, Despot, Tyrant’ but then under the table sell them billions of dollars worth of weapons so you can buy the oil cheap, the people who suffer are the citizens of that country.
But let’s also take a look at how these people get power, it could be argued that they took it by force, yes, but how did they get that “force”? somebody had to support and supply them.
I was a participant in a peace mission five years ago, and one of the other participants was a retired Colonel from the US Army, during this mission he tried to explain simply what the policy of the US was with regard to Non-US leaders, his explanation went something like this:
A country has a leader who is a bad guy, the US doesn’t like this Bad guy so we decide that he needs to go. He has an enemy who is not a really good guy, so we support the not good guy against the bad guy to get him out. But then after the not so good guy gets power he turns out to be a really bad guy.
Does that make sense?
My case in point is Noori Al Maliki, you only have to look at Iraq, the corruption (yet another Minister ran form Iraq yesterday with the best part of 100 million dollars), lack of any sign of progression since the installation of Democracy, the damning fact that 80 people have died in Iraq while protesting for change of the governing system, not the government. The fact also that none of this is getting any coverage in the Western media, why? Because, America doesn’t want to look like it has failed. But it has, America made so much noise about not letting Iran get it’s hands on Iraq but then handed the leadership over to people that it Knew were supported by Iran, Noor Al Maliki stood up a few days ago and said that nowhere in the world had democracy like Iraq, Iraq had the best democracy in the world, well if you call handing Ministries and positions of power over to people who haven’t been elected by the people Democratically, then I don’t know what the Yemenis, Bahrainis, Saudis or Libyans are demonstrating against, they already have democracy!
The leaders in the Middle East are in a state of panic, most of these leaders be they Presidents, Kings or dictators acquired their power with the help of Britain or America 40 or more years ago, the King of Saudi for instance has made an offer of 150 Billion dollars to buy Facebook! Why? Because he knows that through social networking the people are exacting change, they can mobilize and exchange ideas faster than the country’s intelligence service can track them. If he was a good leader why should he worry? If his people were happy why would they need to protest against him? As with most countries in the Middle East the power is held by the few, it is designed that way.

I wish all those who want change the best and send them my heartfelt support, I hope that those who succeed always keep in mind what it was to be downtrodden and instill in their children and the generations to come a sense of responsibility for their democracies. When we are complacent, tyranny has the opportunity to reign, when we say ‘ what can I do? I am only one’ we forget that that we are many and it is our voices that should be heard. When we say ‘ Uh, I‘m not going to vote, they’re all the same anyway’ then we let down not only ourselves and our country but the ones that had to fight and die for us to have these rights.
Never take your right to be heard for granted, you have heard the phrase ‘Use it or lose it’ and it is far easier to lose it than it was to get it in the first place.