Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Postcolonial ‘lip service’

When you read of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration “applauding” Tunisian protesters who on 14 January ended that nation’s 23-year dictatorship by ousting President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and lamenting the lack of reform and disrespect for human rights in the Middle East, it’s worth while to bear in mind the U.S.’ history in the region.

Hosni Mubarak

Ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak: Let us bid a not-so-fond farewell to the butcher of Cairo.
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Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (above), whose leaden grip has held his country in sociopolitical stasis for nearly three decades, is emblematic of U.S. geostrategic policy, as was Ben Ali. Along with the majority of other regional leaders, he is in essence a dictator-for-life put in power by American postcolonial maneuvers designed to ensure that the former colonies of North Africa and the Middle East proper remained pliable. Not unlike the royal family and its cronies in neighboring Saudi Arabia, these leaders create bifurcated countries: There is one law and ethos for the ordinary people, who are proselytized to practice devout Islam, and another for the sybaritic ruling classes, who merely profess piety. And, as in all former colonies, these ruling elites happily sell the treasure of their nations to foreign corporations for a relative pittance, because what they are paid, they pocket.

All of this works out nicely for the former colonizers, whose industry is strengthened by a constant influx of cheap materials (and, often, cheap labor as well). It is therefore unsurprising that these powers do all they can to bolster such kleptocratic regimes, selling them arms (albeit second-rate arms; the best are reserved for Israel) and supplying them with consultants and trainers and direct military support as needed — not to mention helping them build local death squads to keep dissidents under control.

What does Washington really feel about the recent developments in Tunisia? It’s hard to be certain absent telepathy, but a good guess would be trepidation. Until a compliant new government has been firmly installed, the U.S. will have to wonder what will become of its industry and its many tourists in the area. We may therefore predict interesting times for Tunisia in the coming months, as the ordinary people of that country struggle once again for real independence, for local control of resources, and for truly representative leadership that respects the rights of the citizenry rather than subverting them, while the U.S.-backed postcolonial elite angles to retain control — by any means necessary.

Originally published as a review of a BBC article on the U.S. government’s profession of sympathy with Middle Eastern uprisings. Written in January 2011, the above is a historical snapshot of the Arab Spring movement as it stood at that time, while Mubarak was still in power.

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