Sunday, March 27, 2011
Protests, Riots, and Insurrections
By Alan Caruba
I’ve been thinking a lot about protests, riots and insurrections lately because they seem to be happening all over the Middle East and even in London.
In London, an estimated half million Brits turned out in the streets to protest government cuts in services, paying little heed to (a) how heavily they are taxed for them and (b) how they have all but bankrupted the nation. Though the protest was at times raucous thanks to local anarchists, it should be noted that the local constabulary did not shoot anyone.
Contrast that with the streets of Yemen, Syria and even little Bahrain where protests have generated a number of deaths as the main means of “crowd control.” This is also the way protests in Iran have been dealt with, along with imprisonment, torture, and all the other arts of despotism.
In Libya, an insurrection against four decades of despotic rule by Col, Gadhafi has dragged in the U.S., the U.N., NATO, and, briefly, the Arab League into the dispute. Given that Gadhafi had made it clear he intended to kill as many Libyans as necessary to retain his grip on the nation, there was no way this could be ignored.
By contrast, when a huge crowd gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo the military did not roll out the tanks. After a few futile efforts to disperse the protesters, President Mubarak was eased out of the office he had held since 1981 and sent packing. All things considered it was a bloodless coup. The Egyptians just held an election to decide some changes to their constitution.
Other contrasts come to mind, most notably, the 1989 massacre that took place at night in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square when protesters, mostly young Chinese, gathered to seek more freedom, more justice, and more democracy. It did not happen. While outwardly prosperous, China remains the classic Communist state.
One of the biggest gatherings in the U.S. capitol involved an estimated million people who came out in March 2010 to protest against the passage of Obamacare. It was an extraordinary turnout and one that the mainstream media tried to depict as unruly and impolite, but it was nothing less than astonishing that so many people could gather in one place without any disruptive behavior. David Axelrod, an advisor to Obama at the time, gave the White House response. “They’re wrong.”
When Obamacare was passed, the Tea Party that had organized the protest just grew like Jack’s beanstalk and, by November 2010, lots of Democrats who had voted for it found themselves cast out of the House, along with some in the Senate. Americans know how to protest, how to organize, and how to vote out liberals.
The differences between American, British, and Middle Eastern protests are quite evident. In the former two, you show up, speeches are given, and everyone goes home. In the latter, you show up and the regime in charge is likely to shoot you.
In America it was the Boston massacre that literally kicked off the Revolution against England in general and the king in particular. British troops, feeling threatened, fired on a relatively small group of protesters and, as they say, the rest is history.
The history of what is occurring in the Middle East is playing out in its cities and, while the region is not famous for democratic reform, the U.S. intervention in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein may well be seen in retrospect as the trigger for all the insurrections occurring throughout the region. Before the Marines and infantry showed up, you could only vote for Saddam.
The trigger incident in Tunisia occurred when a street merchant, harassed by the local police, set himself on fire, but it really doesn’t matter what the trigger is because it is the far larger resentment of the populations in the nations of the Middle East that has finally been ignited.
The other largely unreported factor is the deep schism between Shias and Sunnis. It expresses itself in different ways in different nations. Sunnis are the majority or control the affairs of most nations except Iran.
The old regimes are being challenged. If you are a monarch the last thing you want to see are other monarchs being dethroned. If you are a despot, you can be replaced.
What will come of it? Is it good or bad for the United States and the West? Will the Muslim Brotherhood and/or al Qaeda take advantage and somehow secure power?
Questions, questions, questions!
And no one knows the answer.
© Alan Caruba, 2011