Over the last few weeks we have seen amazing scenes in north Africa with the popular uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt and in Jordan in the middle east.
Western governments have been generally caught off guard with events and have been trying to work out what their responses should be. What makes things worse for them is that these are governments the west felt it could “do business” with. Even if they were regimes that to most people would be seen as abhorrent, corrupt and anti-democratic.
Like the revelations regarding the position of the Labour government on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi where the UK government saw it in their interest that he should be released even though he was convicted of a terrible crime. “In the interests of” is a phrase often used by governments to allow or support reprehensible actions around the world. In our economic interests that regimes are propped up so our companies can get access to markets as in Libya.
The truth is sadly that the “west” does not believe in democracy. It believes in the “national interest”. The two are not the same.
I do not wish to denigrate the USA in particular as there are many other countries who have supported reprehensible regimes. However, the difference with the USA and the UK is that we preach the most about exporting democracy. Indeed justified wars, under the democratic flag of convenience. Therefore, the scrutiny of these countries is paramount in any discussion of this type.
The USA has supported the attempted overthrow financially or militarily of democratically elected governments in Chile (1973), Iran (1953, with UK help ), Democratic Republic of Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Nicaragua (1990), Venezuala (2002), as well as many interventions militarily and otherwise in other sovereign nations. In addition the US government has been responsible for propping up reprehensible regimes or supporting groups like the Khmer Rouge following the Cambodian genocide of the 1970’s.
Rhetoric against governments they dislike on ideological grounds is widespread in US foreign policy. Hugo Chavez is constantly referred to by US media and members of the US legislature as being a dictator when he has won far more elections than any recent US president. The US similarly refuses to accept the authority of freely elected regimes like Hamas in the Gaza strip.
We can see throughout the last 10 days how the US and UK governments have been figuring out their language as the days go by. They are frightened of the possibility of an extreme islamic dictatorship, and afraid of the people deciding that extreme islamists should take a large part in a democratically elected government. This may not chime with their “national Interest”.
The US policy to the middle east and Israel is dependent on a friendly Egypt and Jordan. If this falls apart they can see nothing but trouble ahead. Israel is bracing itself.
As we see so often with our own government on many aspects of policy in domestic politics, the difference between rhetoric and actual policy decision making is vast. Do we remember the “ethical foreign policy”. In tatters since at least 2003.
I genuinely hope that Egypt gets what it deserves, which is whatever their people want, not what the west would like them to have.