Arab Spring, Hazare, royal marriage, slavery compensation…

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Undoubtedly, 2011 focused on the Arab world as the self-immolation of a desperate Tunisian young man sparked off a series of uprisings in the Middle East. Yet Tunisia was not the worst authoritarian régime by Arab standards, and a prosperous middle class benefited from the capitalist economy that the erstwhile president embraced. The sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi epitomized the despair of the lower classes whose painstaking efforts to make a breakthrough in the job market encountered repeated failures. Indeed, the Arab Spring caught the world unawares as any change in the feudal and authoritarian régimes was almost unimaginable.

While Europe was hit by recession and the image of France was tarnished by its blunders in Tunisia, the U.S. gave the green light to launch an attack to ‘free’ Libya. The bombardment of Libyan troops and the pursuit of Colonel Gaddafi, his family and close aides in the remotest recesses recalled the ferocity and technological superiority of European warfare.

In a most shocking and uncivilized manner, rebels and revengeful fundamentalists were let free to unleash their rage on the captured Colonel. A live killing scene which was broadcast across the world thanks to mobile phone camera voyeurism recalled the brutality of Arab leaders, be they inspired by politics or religion.

Squatting in a corner against a wall and his shirt soaked with blood, his son was shown awaiting his fate like an animal. In Alger, after seeing the video, Gaddafi’s daughter had to be rushed to hospital for treatment. During Saddam Hussein’s execution, his foes silenced him with the same words: ‘Shut up, dog!’; it seemed to be a favourite insult in the Middle East.

* * *

Recession or not, notwithstanding emerging world players, western neo-imperialism is alive and kicking. In the aftermath of the fall of Tripoli, the French foreign minister and his British counterpart came smilingly to Libya to seal the Faustian bargain. The cynicism that characterized international political and economic relations is set to stay. Sure, they already had a lot to gain from Gaddafi who did everything to please western leaders — dismantling the nuclear power infrastructure, offering trade contracts, and compensation for victims of terrorism and all.

Some time back, an Indian diplomat related how after 9/11, the Colonel sent his eldest son to India with a letter for Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee in which he asked the PM to reunify India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. Sri Vajpayee’s answer was: Go and speak to Pakistan first. The Colonel probably sensed the urgency of forming strong political blocs in South East Asia.

One thing that has not changed is the fact that former colonial powers are afraid of strong nationalist leaders with a farsighted vision for Africa or Asia for that matter. Disillusionment after Tahrir Square was no surprise for the same reason: western imperialism pulling the strings behind the scene. Elsewhere in the Arab world, the Sunni/Shia divide is still a destabilizing factor which deepens internal hostility.

However, there are grounds to be optimisitc about a more modern political system in the Middle East within the next few decades. Despite scientific progress and intellectual advancement in the West, political backwardness did not disappear until three to five decades ago, especially in Catholic countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and France which were still putting up with repressive, authoritarian and outright fascist régimes. Arab countries did not spend centuries slaughtering one another, and there is hope that efforts to set up secular and modern institutions which are being seriously undermined by adverse forces today will materialize in the future and pave the way for a united Arab world.

* * *

In the midst of upheavals sweeping the Middle East and their foreseeable impact on the international political landscape, the fairy tale magic of a royal wedding caught worldwide attention and mesmerized young and old alike. How the British monarchy achieves the feat of winning hearts to their tradition across the world is still an enigma.

* * *

While talks of recession hogged the headlines and the European Union was devising ways to bail out debt-ridden governments and prop up ailing economic situations, unemployment rose and heavy taxes fleeced the middle class, Occupy Wall Street was expected to have a greater impact than Los Indignados and raised hopes for re-thinking a capitalist system gone wild.

In the meantime, Indian civil society set off an anti-corruption movement that encouraged other countries to fight against corrupt practices. A peace-loving Gandhian disciple, Anna Hazare, called for corrupt politicians’ to be hanged. Swami Ramdev advocated a more radical measure: hang them and let their bodies be mummified! It speaks volumes of the rot that has infiltrated institutions and civil society.

Instead of instilling patriotism and making firm statements to combat corruption, the feeble monotonous voice of the Indian PM admitted he had no miracle solution. Criticism levelled at his lack of statesmanship and ambition on the international stage finally urged the Indian PM to be more assertive, and ever since, the country has cut out a major rôle for itself in the region. Souring relations between Pakistan and the US after the bin Laden episode, on the one hand, and a more assertive India on the other hand is redefining influence and geopolitics.

* * *

Mauritius has a record of clean governance, and many of us wonder why ECO and thereafter ICAC were ever set up! We all reacted as if the MedPoint scam was the first one to have sullied the good name of Mauritius. IRS and RES lands and houses are being sold out to foreigners at incredibly high prices and, in the process, Mauritian nationality is being put on sale as a cheap commodity. Protests against such a policy fall on deaf ears. A French caricaturist said: La dictature, c’est ferme ta gueule. La démocratie, c’est cause toujours…

* * *

The 1838 financial compensation to former slave owners, the slaveship emblem of the MCB, and the power of banksters today is a topical subject of conversation.

Creole is being introduced as a medium of instruction at primary level following the advice of specialists in pedagogy and linguistics. The proposition to have CPE papers in French to make it easier for pupils to understand ‘racine carrée’ and such likes raised eyebrows, and raise doubts about the next step being to have it all in Creole. The whole stuff sounds like means to score points by playing ethnic politics.

Why a new university should have a French name, Université des Mascareignes is quite a puzzle for us to ponder upon at the end of the year.

* * *

Laurent, a regular swimmer in Mon Choisy lagoon is a robust healthy retiree in his early sixties.

His monthly pension being insufficient, he makes ends meet by driving people to airports, etc., in his own car. He continues to train youngsters in swimming, all for free. His greatest pleasure is to go in the deep sea and swim among fishes and corals of different colours on a daily basis. There, he said yesterday, you forget all the hypocrisy in human relationships, the noise of cars, inflation, recession, corruption and climate change. It is important to connect with society despite everything, and we have a duty towards others, he added.

Well, let us do like Laurent. And celebrate the coming year with what we like best: natural beauty, the song of birds, the beauty of the sunset, the laughter of children, songs and soul elevating music.

* Published in print edition on 31 December 2011

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