Published: November 08, 2019
by Dr. Basil Wilson
The year 2011 is known as the Arab Spring and in 2019, historians may designate this tumultuous year the Autumn of Our Discontent. There are eruptions taking place in different corners of the world, especially in the Middle East. There are large scale demonstrations in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Haiti, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and the United Kingdom.
When the generation of the millennials poured into the streets and demanded a change in the military regime, there was great optimism that democracy would flourish in the Middle East. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia where some form of democracy continues to prevail. But the promising democratic movement in Egypt led to a brief interlude of democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the majority party and that prompted a new intervention by the Egyptian military.
The millennials were able to pull together a mass movement with the help of social media. When elections were rolled out, the lack of organization on the part of the pioneers of the Arab Spring meant they were not the beneficiaries of the movement that they had initiated. Egypt is now ruled by an iron-fisted military that has no qualms about incarcerating any force that seeks to challenge the military monopoly of power.
The mass protest in Iraq is not necessarily about religious hegemony but the uncontrollable levels of corruption that have plagued Iraqi governments since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The democratic experiment began after the American invasion of 2003. The invasion cost precious American lives and even more Iraqi lives. The Bush administration hoped to establish a stable democracy in the confines of the Middle East. Even though democracy has tottered, it is still alive yet the populace is becoming restless and disillusioned with the ruling political class and their inability to deliver reliable services and to improve the standard of living of the average Iraqi citizen.
The experiment of democracy in Iraq vividly reveals the complexity of a participatory system of governance. Political fragmentation, rampant corruption, and failing economic policies make the building of democracy prone to destabilization. That is what we see manifesting in Iraq. The government has shown no compunction of using deadly force and the demonstrators have no reluctance to resist violence.
The Prime Minister of Iraq has stepped down but finding a replacement that will satisfy all the competing political factions will be a trying task.
Iran, since the American invasion, has been able to exercise its influence over Shia militia in Iraq but there is also resentment in Iraq to Iran’s encroachment. Iran has its hands full. It is fighting a proxy war in Yemen that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis. It is involved with the Assad restoration in Syria and has had a collaborative relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
There was some distant hope that with the nuclear non-proliferation agreement that Iran signed with the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, the expectation was that Iran could be reintegrated into the world community and in world commerce.
Trump’s unilateral jettisoning of the JCPOA has pushed Iran outside of international commerce and with the sanctions. Iran is like a cornered tiger willing to unleash its wrath and adding to the wild brush fires rampant in the Middle East.
The civil war in Libya, the collapse of the government in Lebanon and the failure of Jared Kushner to make any impact bringing Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table add to the matchbox that is the Middle East. American withdrawal from Syria, its abandonment of the Kurds and its bolstering of its military presence in Saudi Arabia, reflects a contradictory and amateurish approach to the Middle East.
The fires are not limited to the Middle East. Latin America, after decades of stability and institutionalizing of democracy, is now experiencing mass demonstrations in Chile, in Ecuador and Bolivia.
Chile was seen as an economic model for all of Latin America. The World Bank in a review of the Chilean economy in 2019 wrote glowingly of its four percent GDP growth in 2018. Chile had made progress in reducing poverty but recognized more had to be done in education and for the middle class. The World Bank report failed to mention the income and wealth disparity in Chile. The attempt to raise government revenue led to the cup runneth over vis-à-vis the working class of Chile. They have poured into the streets demanding the resignation of their billionaire President.
These issues of corruption and economic inequality are not easy to resolve. What is of interest in examining the dynamics of democracy in Europe is not just the rise of populism but the decline of democratic socialist parties. In the United Kingdom, the impasse of Brexit in an age-old democracy demonstrates the fragile nature of democracy even in advanced countries. After the referendum that took place three years ago when Britain voted 52 to 48 to leave the European Union, the British parliament struggled to find a way forward. On December 12, 2019, the British people will hold general elections to determine which party or conglomeration of parties will be able to stitch together a working majority to determine whether to stay in the European Union or to leave.
What is fascinating as this historic debate and elections unfold is the role that a Caribbean immigrant is playing in the dialectics of British parliamentary politics.
Gina Miller is a Caribbean immigrant from Guyana who has become a prominent businesswoman in Britain and has used her accumulated wealth to augment the message that it is in Britain’s interest to remain in the European Union. Gina Miler is not a member of a political party yet she was instrumental in putting together a team of lawyers to force Prime Minister Theresa May to bring her plan to leave the European Union and that parliament had the prerogative of approving the plan.
When Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May, he prorogued parliament and the private citizen, Gina Miller, took him to the Supreme Court and the Court ruled that what Boris Johnson did was illegal and Parliament was forced back into session.
The strategy of Gina Miller in the December 12 general election is to concentrate on 50-60 constituencies that are tossups and leave the parties that suffered remaining in the Union to pool their votes and not run against each other in those constituencies.
The role of this Caribbean/British woman is simply amazing. Whether Britain chooses to remain or opt-out, there is no question that Gina Miller has had a profound impact on Britain’s democracy.
Young or old democracies maintaining order and vitality is forever a challenging undertaking. Despite the whirlwind encompassing so many democracies, the Caribbean region has remained stable and elections and democratic changes have occurred quite non-controversial. source