The West and the Protests in the Arab World

Leaving the Freedom Movement in the Lurch

In this commentary, Bettina Marx describes as shameful the West's reaction to the drive for freedom of the peoples of the Arab world. Instead of encouragement and support, all the courageous demonstrators have got from the West are words of admonishment, doubt, and hesitation

Egyptian women in Alexandria demonstrating against Mubarak (photo: AP)
"Leave, let us live!" For two weeks now, Egyptians have been calling for the immediate resignation of President Mubarak, who stubbornly refuses to loosen his grip on power

​​For two weeks now, Egyptians have been demonstrating for democracy, freedom and civil rights. With admirable courage, they have put up with discomfort and danger and have put their lives and their health on the line. For two weeks now, an entire population of freedom fighters has taken to the streets and squares to demand democratic participation and justice.

The demonstrators have waited in vain for support from the West, from democracy's core countries, from Europe and the US. "Without us" is the message being sent out by Berlin, Rome, London and Paris.

One shouldn't aim for new elections too quickly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates at the Munich Security Conference, and she was backed up in this view by Washington. Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – not much of a supporter of democracy in his own country over the years – even spoke out in favour of keeping Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in office. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed his foreign minister, a woman with private ties to the group surrounding ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Europe's short memory

Silvio Berlusconi (photo: AP)
Pure, unadulterated cynicism: speaking at the EU summit in Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi praised the Egyptian leader as a wise man who should continue in office

​​Truly, none of these are signals that one would wish Europe to be sending out 20 years after the victory of pro-democracy movements on its own soil. The way the western nations are reacting to the drive for freedom of the peoples in the Arab world is shameful. Instead of encouragement and support for the courageous protesters, there is nothing but admonishment, doubt and hesitation.

And that despite the fact that western politicians and journalists for years praised democracy as the only viable form of government. Again and again, they held the absence of democracy responsible for the economic inequality and the lack of progress in the Arab world and even for the standstill of the Middle East peace process.

Alone against their dictators

Former US President George Bush named as his favourite book a work by former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky. What characterises democracy, according to the author, is that citizens can go to the market place and shout out their dissatisfaction with the government. Lasting peace in the Middle East is only possible, he wrote, if the Arab countries have that kind of democracy.

An Egyptian man carrying his son on his shoulders during a demonstration in Tahrir Square (photo: AP)
Unbroken resistance: two weeks after the start of the protests in Egypt, anti-Mubarak demonstrations and sit-ins continue

​​In Cairo and Alexandria, Mansoura and Suez, people have for two weeks been crowding the cities' market places, shouting out their anger and frustration about the dictatorial Mubarak regime.

But the West is leaving the freedom movement in the lurch. It fears for the stability of the region, for the graveyard peace that can only be guaranteed by rulers of the ilk of Mubarak, Ben Ali, Bouteflika or King Abdullah.

It is equivalent to an admission of failure that Western governments lack clear words of support for the democracy movement in Egypt.

It is doubly shameful that Europe's citizens have also held back, that western capitals have seen no mass demonstrations, no shows of solidarity with the people in the Arab world – the people who are, after all, our neighbours.

Bettina Marx

© Deutsche Welle 2011

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

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