The dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have collapsed in the face of large scale protests by the people of these countries. These events are now having a ripple effect on the entire neighbourhood. Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and many more autocratically ruled Arab states are now restive. As the entire world watches, a new wave of revolution is unfolding in the region, each demanding the end of autocracy and the introduction of democratic and transparent rule. It is amazing that most of these despotic regimes all the while had the blessing of the so called champions of democracy in the West, including the United States which had even gone to war to dismantle another dictatorship in Iraq, the chaotic repercussions of which are still unfolding in the unfortunate country. Everybody with a stake in the Middle East is worried, and this includes in particular USA and Israel. This is understandable, for negotiating terms (or bribing) with a few corrupt despots is a far easier proposition than dealing with the will of the entire populations of these countries, which is what democracy is about. Israel did not hide its worries for instance at the fall of the Hosni Sayyid Mubarak regime, which was both America and Israel friendly. Now that radical and democratic reforms if not regime changes in the entire Arab world seems quite imminent, the world is preparing for a very drastic overhauling of their Middle East policies.
Amidst the deluge of praises for the current democratic revolutions in the Middle East, eulogising the invincibility of people’s power, what is often forgotten is that there have been many other instances of the complete defeat of this same people’s power. Two momentous events, which happened about quarter of a century ago, close on the heels of each other, come to mind. The first is what is today popularly known as the 8-8-88 (August 8, 1988) pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar after the Military Junta there refused to give up power after the country’s charismatic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, NLD won a landslide victory in the election that the government allowed in the country, probably confident they would be voted back. The world remembers how an estimated 2000 student street protestors were machine gunned down on the streets of Yangon in a crackdown which also resulted in the exodus of hundreds of thousands young Burmese dissidents to neighbouring countries to take refuge. Aung San Suu Kyi was also imprisoned and only recently released. The regime did not fall at the time, and despite pressures including economic sanctions by the West, the military junta continues to hold sway. This should knock down some of the optimism placed by so many crystal gazers on the so called people’s power.
The world again witnessed another pro-democracy movement brutally put down in China’s Tiananmen Square the very next year. After two months of protest demonstrations by students at the historic square, beginning April 14, the Communist government decided to roll in tanks and in June of the year committed another massacre of anti-government demonstrators. Even as a horrified world watched the street blood-letting, pro-democracy voices was nonetheless allowed to die a cruel death. Public memory is said to be notoriously short, but business memory proved shorter, and even as photographs and prophetic commentaries on the uprising predicting the fall of the rule of the Communist Party of China in the country began dwindling, cash-rich multi-national corporations began making a beeline to enter China to do business. Today, China is soaring high and has become the second largest economy of the world, having overtaken Japan only very recently. If the expansion of its economy continues in the same trajectory, as it is most likely to, economic pundits are already predicting this Communist country, which has no tolerance for democracy whatsoever, is set to overtake the US to become the largest economy of the world by the middle of this century. There are a few token show of disapproval by the West of China’s silencing of pro-democracy voices, such as the award of the Peace Nobel 2010 to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. This notwithstanding, the beeline to do business with China continues to get longer. Today, when anybody anywhere in the world buys a consumer good, from high end DSLR cameras from the top camera maker brands, to cheap toy guns, the overwhelming chances are, they would have the “Made in China” tag on them. So is this a case for celebrating or mourning the people’s power?
- Aung San Suu Kyi calls for sanctions on Burma to remain (telegraph.co.uk)