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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 25 New Delhi June 8, 2019

Democracy Cannot be Exported or Imported!

Sunday 9 June 2019

by Nilofar Suhrawardy

The “news” spread and propagated about the Arab Spring spelling a “democratic revolution” did not convince me from day one. This prompted me to write articles for Mainstream,Aakrosh and other outlets of the print media. My approach towards the issue, from the very beginning, was a communication-oriented analysis. Though numerous books have been written on the subject, with a few even critical of the United States and its allies’ role regarding the so-called Arab Spring, this writer chose to delve a little more upon “news” manufactured about this being a “democratic revolution”. Initially, I confined the analysis of the subject to articles. However, a suggestion about moving on beyond articles to writing a book on the subject prompted me to give it serious consideration and actually start working upon it.

In the beginning, this writer delved largely on research about the impact of the “Arab Spring”, which led to statistical data regarding crises and chaos in areas allegedly affected by this phase assumed to be a “democratic revolution”. But somehow, this approach failed to satisfy me. Besides, several writers had already delved on this aspect. This was a part of this “revolutionary” phase which people were gradually becoming familiar with. So I decided to go back to factors that had initially prompted me to analyse the subject and focus on the same to write the book. These included factors which had made me quite critical about “news” spread about the Arab Spring as a democratic revolution. The “news” about the revolution having begun because of a Tunisian vendor’s suicide never convinced me.

The situation would have been different if the vendor had headed some revolution or had been marked as a rebel leader. Also, Tunisia can from no angle be assumed as representative of the entire Arab world. In the book, I have also deliberated on what could have prompted those who initiated the hype about the Arab Spring to choose an incident in Tunisia as the one that began the “democratic revolution”. In other words, why weren’t larger and more well-known Arab nations chosen as being places responsible for initiation of the “Arab Spring”? Besides, the book focuses on the role played by the Western media in spreading the “news” about the Arab Spring. It is possible, had the Western media not gone overboard in raising the hype about the Arab Spring, the rest of the world may not have become aware and initially convinced about it. This aspect also draws attention to labelling the so-called “democratic revolution” as the Arab Spring.

Paradoxically, these words—Arab Spring— bear little relevance for the people assumed to have been affected by the “democratic revolution”. However much importance any controversial issue is given by the media, in my opinion, its real significance needs to be judged by deliberating upon the issue from the angle of the people linked with it. I have used the same approach in studying the Ayodhya-issue, the hype raised about the Modi-wave and other subjects. The urge to understand the Arab Spring from this angle may be viewed as a primary factor responsible for my writings on this subject. In the book, the writer has focussed a great extent on studying the subject from people’s angle. The difference in it being understood as the Arab Spring by non-Arabs and the approach towards the same by Arabs, particularly believed (by outsiders) to be facing a “democratic revolution” has been deliberated upon. The notion of this “revolution” having suddenly surfaced in several countries has been analysed. Seriously speaking, from the beginning, this writer had been fairly critical of the alacrity with which the hype was raised about “democratic revolution” in several Arab countries. What was more amazing was that these revolutions were accorded one label, Arab Spring, despite there being no record of these being led by any one “revolutionary” leader, party, group or any other organisation.

Revolutions can take decades, even gene-rations, to take roots and develop in any country. When the word democracy is added to the same, it raises more questions, at least from this writer’s angle. Democracy is not a commodity, which can be exported or imported from one place to another. Also, democratic revolutions can simply not be imposed by any one or more powers upon people of other countries. Warfare can certainly not be used to initiate revolutions leading to spread of democracy in any nation and/or upon any community. This is one of the few negative impressions that has been spread about the Arab Spring, which has been deliberated upon in this book Even when extra-regional powers use humanitarian, education-oriented policies to acclimatise people of targeted areas about democracy, there is no guarantee that the latter may respond as desired by the former. Also, even if they do try, they cannot be expected to suddenly become “democratic”. Cultural differences of various degrees between people of different regions also need to be given some importance. But when they are ignored, it also amounts to abuse of democratic and diplomatic norms. The book has viewed the Arab Spring from this angle also.

Diplomatically speaking, the hype raised about the Arab Spring being a “democratic revolution” has been focussed upon from another angle. Questions have been raised on the diplomatic importance of usage of the label “Arab Spring” and the same being propagated for spread of democracy. It is possible, that this strategy was shrewdly exercised to convince the rest of the world about the Arab Spring being genuinely a “democratic” revolution. Dependence of a greater part of the world on American diplomacy as well as media coverage regarding Arab nations cannot be sidelined. This writer chose to analyse these aspects from several angles, including the stereotyped, negative opinion held about Arab culture in general. This trend and several other factors aided in raising the hype about the so-called Arab Spring being a democratic revolution. But, thanks to this being an era of communication boom, gradually questions began to be raised about this phase being a mirage and subsequently the same being viewed as Arab Winter. However, as limited importance has been given to the rhetoric about the Arab Spring as a trap, diplomatically as well as democratically, this writer has touched upon these aspects too.

The negative opinion about Islam has also been delved upon from several angles. The ease with which “news” has been propagated about Islamic terrorism in areas supposed to be affected by the Arab Spring has been deliberated upon. The book on Arab Spring would have remained incomplete without delving into the manner in which “Islamic terrorism” has been linked to it. Here, it may be noted that I have been against linkage of religious labels with terrorism from the day I came across usage of this terminology. This can be traced to my questioning and opposing the American media (through my writings and television interviews) blaming “Hindu terrorists” for demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. I was based in Madison, WI (US) then. In fact, as this writer has frequently questioned linking of religious labels with terrorism, it was but imperative to elaborate on this issue in the book.

Interestingly, the diplomatic hype raised about the Arab Spring doesn’t bear the same relevance for the entire Arab world. Diplomatic and non-diplomatic policies of the powers that have chosen to promote the same, that is, Arab Spring, also cannot be viewed from the same lens for all Arab countries. In addition to studying this aspect, this writer has also comparatively analysed several aspects of diplomatic approach of the key powers (that have promoted the so-called Arab Spring) towards a few non-Arab countries, particularly India and Pakistan. This aspect has been deliberately included in the book as from the day it began being promoted, this writer was not convinced about the hype raised about the Arab Spring. In fact, in my perception, the so-called Arab Spring never really began. But yes, the “news” about it was certainly manufactured and spread to suit the diplomatic interests of the powers indulging in this game. In essence, comparatively, Afghanistan has been (or rather is being) subject to policies similar to what the Arab nations have faced in the name of the Arab Spring. The difference is that Afghanistan is not an Arab country.

If the Arab Spring really spelled the so-called democratic revolution, the question of analysing several aspects linked with its hype would not have risen. But as mentioned earlier, this writer refused to be convinced by the hype raised about the Arab Spring from day one. Instead, one chose to pose numerous questions about it from various angles, a few of which have been mentioned here.

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a Senior Journalist. She has come out with three books: Arab Spring Not Just a Mirage, Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office and Ayodhya Without Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism.

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