When the ‘Arab Springs’ sprouted up in one country after another in the Middle East, many commentators hailed them as the start of a new era of hope and better governance to come. Several years now after the Tunisian revolt of 2011 against dictatorship, has the semblance of a better world order emerged? Quite the opposite.
Egypt has been taken over once again by a man emerging from the ranks of the military, vowing to shelve away for good any resistance to his regime by members of the previous government, notably the Islamic Brotherhood of Mohamed Morsi. Nearly a dozen of its adherents were killed by the police only last week as they went on to commemorate the anniversary of the Brotherhood’s assumption of power.
Libya is torn apart between opposing factions which had previously collectively opposed the harsh dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi and brought his downfall. This situation in neighbouring Libya has been favouring the free flow of sophisticated weaponry into the hands of the rebel group ‘Boko Haram’ confronting an ill-equipped and ineffectual Nigerian army. The Nigerian rebels have started being seen recently as a threat not only to the four or five states in the immediate neighbourhood of Nigeria but to the African continent on the whole, a Trojan horse, as it were, into states ill-prepared to defend themselves effectively.
Syria has almost disintegrated from what it used to be. Millions of refugees have poured out into neighbouring countries and continue to do so in view of the unceasing regular assaults launched against citizens by the country’s rulers. Unable to absorb so many, Lebanon declared last week that it would not accept more refugees and has set up a visa system for any prospective Syrian refugees wanting to cross over.
The plight of neighbouring Iraq is no better. Not only did its previous government allow the country to be torn asunder on grounds of religious intolerance and becoming instrumental, by the same token, to the emergence and consolidation of what became known as the ‘Islamic State’, a coming together originally of rebels opposed to the ruling regimes in Iraq and Syria. Iraq was almost a gone case as a country last year when the ‘Islamic State’, having conquered large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria – and proclaiming itself a new state – came heavily armed at the gates of Baghdad, on the point of taking over the Iraqi capital.
The tension is still here. But the situation was saved in extremis by ongoing armed military intervention from the air by Western Allies once Nuriel Al Maliki finally agreed to step down, thus opening up the doors to a wider sharing of political power among the different constituents of the country. The borders of the country are seething with daily violence while the forces of the ‘Islamic State’ advance further, having become self-sustaining and stronger by exploiting commercially Iraq and Syria’s mineral and other resources under their control and imposing all sorts of levies on the conquered peoples. The resulting collapse of nation states does not augur well for the world’s future economic uptake.
Western intervention – already the subject of heavy contention from inside countries that had been invaded in 2003, i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan, had the effect not only of adding to the violence gripping this part of the world between the religious factions opposed to each other. It also intensified an almost atavistic dislike of rich countries presiding for long over the destiny of a fast changing technological world driven by those countries seen as espousing an altogether different sense of values as compared with those of the internally warring factions. It is this war of being left behind that is going out across frontiers in the shape of international “terrorism” and embracing a wider geography than the countries directly involved in the local religious conflicts.
The world is thus witness to a worsening of the confrontations that began, not with the ‘Arab Springs’ of recent years, but with perhaps the Iranian students’ assault of the US embassy in Tehran back in 1979. The Iranian uprising underscored its identification of the West, America in particular, as the prime target of its revolt against alien values such as democracy.
But there are also geopolitical reasons behind the escalations of the strife from purely domestic conflicts to the assaults against New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001. Iran’s opposition to America – but also that of those not sharing the religious ideology of Iran – is grounded in the support America has been giving to its ally, the Jewish state, Israel, which Iran considers as its arch enemy. The previous Iranian president went as far as to declare that Israel should be obliterated and that there had been no German Holocaust against Jews during World War II, as it was claimed by Israel and the rest. On its part, Israel has always suspected Iran’s attempts to go nuclear as an existential threat for the state of Israel. It is ever ready to drop a bomb on the nuclear manufacturing sites of Iran. Such an initiative could have more far-reaching consequences than one might contemplate at first, especially if other global players decided to join the fray.
Another reason for Iran’s targeting of America is the latter’s proximity with Saudi Arabia with which Iran has been at loggerheads for several decades on grounds of fundamental differences in religious ideology. This could mean that Iran’s nuclear imbroglio – being negotiated with the P5 +1 with America in the lead — might take longer to sort out than one might have wished. (The P5+1 is a group of six world powers – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – which in 2006 joined the diplomatic efforts with Iran with regard to its nuclear program.) Too many suspicions abound, with Russia lying in wait to take advantage of any emerging dysfunctions even while being part of the P5. This element complicates the equation as too many dissonant variables get in, being at counter-purposes with each other and with global pursuits. It is therefore becoming ever more difficult to forecast a smooth exit from a global situation becoming ever more complex.
An economist would argue that tensions of the sort in which trouble makers step in depending on the advantage they can draw for themselves, will not help a global economy in the grips of recession since 2008 trying to find its way back to prosperity. As if tensions were not enough, another conflagration is burning in Ukraine in which Russia and the West are increasingly opposed to each other by the day. Oil price war appears to have set in firmly with risks of global demand for goods and services standing exposed to a further downside, implying slothful global economic growth and no letting up of unemployment at the global level. The International Labour Organisation is forecasting that the 201 million jobless across the world today will increase to 212 million by 2019 (i.e., +11 million).
As a country dependent on the sound and tension-free working of international markets, Mauritius would do better if the aggravating international situation came to terms with a lasting solution. For the time being, the invisible international war which is already on and assuming more menacing tones by the day, does not point to the type of global stability which would be favourable to us. This means that the more we niche ourselves in places not stricken by the ongoing and extending war zone threatening to come next door on the African continent, the more we could protect our trade and industry against the damages it may inflict on the development of the country.
This factor should determine how we should align our foreign policy in the time to come if we don’t want to be entrapped into a war that is not ours as a nation.
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2015