It is too early to tell what the affects of the Arab Spring will be. However, what is clear is that these protests seem to be spreading beyond the Middle East and North Africa and into the world’s emerging markets. Brazil is supposed to be a rising world power – it puts the B in BRICs. Yet, we see unprecedented protests. These follow protests in Turkey, Russia, Indonesia, India, South Africa and the UK. On the face of it, events in Tunisia at the end of 2010 have had an unprecedented impact, starting what looks like a very unpredictable chain of events. The reasons for these protests are all different, but it would appear that an new age of mass protest has emerged, aided by the organisational abilities of social media and technological innovations. Protests breed protests, as the text message has become as mighty as the sword. Technology has provided protests with a strategic advantage.
Yet, despite all the technology and organisational apparatus, what appears to be motivating these protests – the common theme running though out – is an objection to economic inequality and the political power it maintains. During my time in Tahrir Square in 2011, one of the most common reasons protesters cited for occupying the square was economic inequality -“look at these hotels, and fancy cars and watches” … “look at the price of bread” … “no jobs” … “fuel costs” …
This tells us something interesting about neoliberalism as an economic paradigm within emerging markets. Tunisia and Egypt were moving towards privatisation from 2008 at an incredible rate, with enviable economic growth to show for it. However, it was clear that rising tidies do not float all boats, and wealth does not trickle down. In places like Morocco increased privatisation led to poor health care for the poorer population as public practices shut up shop, moved across the road and setup unaffordable health care facilities. in Egypt, bread subsidies were cut … in Brazil, we are now seeing objections to money being spent on the World Cup prestige project rather than pubic goods and health. The global financial crisis has clearly exacerbated these problems around the globe. Faster growth in emerging markets isn’t solving mass youth unemployment, isn’t being shared and isn’t alleviating social problems. As these countries modernise, a new more stable middle class isn’t being established and therefore you don’t appear to be having the sort of modernisation processes occurring that you would expect to see under modernisation thesis. What’s troubling about this is that for at least a decade US and EU policy has been predicated on a neoliberal-security paradigm; the policy space where economics-security-development overlap in the hope of producing stable transformations to democracy and development throughout the globe. These protests are telling us that our policy-paradigm is faulty and that to develop a better security policy approach we need to develop better approaches to development and international political economy.
The United Nations has released figures showing that 7.6 million people became refugees in 2012 – the highest since 1994 (here). Events in Syria are being cited as a major new contributor to the number. Indeed, 55% of refugees now come from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.
The release of the report comes just a day after the US has pledged to give more than $300 million in additional humanitarian assistance to those caught up in the countries civil war. This takes the US total to around $815 million since the war began. This makes the US the single largest contributor of humanitarian aid. Indeed, this is more than double the European Commission’s €265 million ($354 million). This just highlights the massive international action that is taking place as Syrian’s are displaced internally, but also fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The aid is clearly needed for medical emergency relief, protection, food, water, sanitation, shelter, winterization and psychosocial support, but also for hygiene kits,legal assistance, and emergency medical rehabilitation for the disabled and injured. Absolutely tragic – and worth watching this to see what help the aid can do (here).
What’s troubling about this picture however, is that there is increasing sectarian violence spreading throughout the region. This is especially the case in what are becoming the refugees first point of call – Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. This could well have a knock on effect leading to an increased number of refugees into the EU. As such, this isn’t just a humanitarian crisis for those in Syria, there are significant interests at stake for the EU …
Locator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An article in the FT today, details how the EU spending watchdog has declared that EU aid to Egypt has done little to achieve its stated aims of improving democracy and human rights.
The assessment appears to be pretty damning, claiming that Brussels was unable to track about 60% of the aid money transferred to the Egyptian govt, raising concern about fraud and mismanagement.
However, what’s interesting about the report, and the fall out, is that it fails to take into account political context whilst also failing to recognise the ambiguous nature of democracy promotion. The EU can do a lot better, but maybe the report misses the point and is being overly stringent on how it wants demonstrable effects … Nevertheless it is safe to say that this money would have been better spent through direct and visible partnerships with civil society in the region rather than through the ENP partnership with the Egyptian government.
The US and UK have been discussing Syria today, calling it “the most urgent crisis in the world today“. What’s clear from the speech is that there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the crisis offered here. Hague argues that “The United Kingdom believes that the situation demands a strong, coordinated and determined approach by the UK, The US and our allies in Europe and the region”, but then goes on to argue that “We agreed today that our priority remains to see a diplomatic process in Geneva that succeeds in reaching a negotiated end to the conflict”.
This doesn’t strike me as a “strong” position, but rather defaulting to the Geneva 2 process and waiting to see what happens. This is especially the case is as Carnegie Endowment scholar Yezid Sayigh is right that the conference may well not take place (Here). It would appear that it is a rather weak position because all of our eggs are in one basket with out a clear solution to the crisis emerging.
The daily beast is reporting that behind the closed doors of a McCain Institute event, President Clinton is contrasting his intervention in Kosovo with the lack of intervention in Syria. He claims that Obama risks looking like a “Wuss” , a “Fool” and “Lame”. These are strong words, and break from the usual convention of former President’s not commenting directly on the current President’s foreign policy.
This will no doubt add pressure on the White House, and strengthen those already within the US foreign policy bureaucracy advocating a shift in policy. What’s more, it appears that Clinton has set out a national security rationale for intervention.
The positive side of this for the Obama administration is that if he pulls of the aims of Geneva 2, then he will be able to lay claim to a distinctive Obama Doctrine – negotiation before intervention, accepting America’s perceived decline, and redefining America’s role in the world far more cautiously. This is a Doctrine that mixes selective-engagement (which argues that he U.S. should seek a balance of power that allows for peace amongst major global powers, restricts its