The recent, widespread uprisings in the Middle East have been met by stunningly indecisive fumbling and farting by Western diplomats. The American envoy to Egypt has put his support behind Mubarak, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have distanced themselves from his comments. However, they themselves have done their best to firmly walk a tight line to nowhere, alluding to the pressing need for transition to happen 'now', but avoiding directly requesting that Mubarak, whose time has clearly run its course, step down. Where is the international leadership that is so sorely needed right now to ensure that the Egyptian people get the changes they require?
"Change has come to America!" Barack Obama railed, having won the US elections. The truth however, is far more disturbing. As Barack Obama has sunk further under the quicksand of 'realpolitik', and his promises have become decidedly more toothless, the world itself is changing at a rapid pace. The balance of power is changing. China is now the main banker for the US, and recently bailed out the European Union, drastically changing the economic foundations upon which the global balance of power resides. The middle east has defied all western imagination by taking to the streets in vast numbers and demanding the democratic change that has eluded them in their out-of-date cold-war dictator-run states, where the leaders watch Al Jazeera and can send an email, but beyond that are largely out of touch with the social, technological and economic changes that are shaping daily life across the globe and in their countries and are hence unable to 'move with the times'.
Yet Western diplomats remain suspicious of the calls for freedom in the Middle East, and Egypt in particular, because their notion of what constitutes middle eastern identity is in large part framed by their fear of islamist take-overs. There is little appreciation of the complex and myriad framework of identities, cultural frameworks and ethnographies that constitute identity in the middle east. It reminds me of a very nice gentleman from Houston that I met in an Airport in Norway who told me that he'd, "never been to the country of Africa!". I felt tempted to reply that neither had I, and having lived in Africa all my life, was still trying to find that elusive country called 'Africa' to which we all belonged ... but he was such a nice old man that I resisted the temptation and had a wonderful chat with him about the various oil rich regions in which he'd worked; from Saudi Arabia to Siberia.
The phobia of Islam in the West needs to end, and the best way to end it is for Western leaders to take a clear stand on what their global vision for all humanity constitutes. They give more strength to extremists within Islam by treating all muslims as if they have inherent jihadist tendencies. We don't hear that much about right wing christian paramilitary groups who are preparing for apocalypse in the US, for example, whose best representative in the US diplomatic arena is Sarah Palin, Mrs 'string them up and hang them high!' herself. Although Timothy McVeigh got a lot of coverage for the Oklahoma bombing, we still have very little idea of the philosophical basis for his actions and where they originated. In fact, immediately after the Oklahoma bombings occurred, the preliminary judgements made by the American police, press and government were that an Islamist threat was behind the bombing. Moreover, very little dialogue is held about right wing christians who stalk and kill doctors who perform abortions ... and preachers who call for a day of burning Korans. Rightly so, these people are relegated to the lunatic fringe to which they belong. So why is it so hard to view Islamic extremists in the same light, a fringe development that rests upon a large mass of very ordinary people.
If the notion that all muslims are 'fight to the death fanatics' who will sacrifice their lives at the drop of the hat is right, then what we've seen in Egypt hardly matches the stereotype. Egyptians, like everyone else on the planet, are concerned with putting food on their tables, staying alive, and bringing about change at the same time. They do not want to die for it, even though they have been dying in the hundreds and have displayed a bravery never seen before in Egypt. Like everyone else, they can be intimidated, they can be murdered and they are well aware of these realities, especially in the current context. It is clear that the state has embarked upon a program of suppression, containing and eradicating dissent, harassing journalists with abandon, even murdering some of them. It does not take an iota of genius to understand that right now, the state security apparatus (including the army) are engaging in a widespread crackdown behind the scenes, while painting a pretty picture of compromise to the world's leaders and media.
That the international community has stood by and done nothing tangible about the situation will forever be remembered in the annals of Arab history. Not even the threat of sanctions has been mentioned ... which I believe would be enough to tip the balance against Mubarak and his vicious state apparatus. After three weeks of protests, state murder and intimidation, no international body has yet stepped up to take decisive action against the state in Egypt. Yet the time is now, it will soon have passed, and then all the right intentions and words won't matter ... it will be too little too late, and the people of the middle east and Egypt in particular will be right to regard the west with suspicion and distrust moving forward.
In my view, the decline of the power of the west across the globe is being re-inforced and re-emphasized by the silence on events in the middle east and Egypt. Simply put, if they do not have the wherewithall to move beyond 'realpolitik' and offer up viable alternatives for the trajectory of socio-political development across the globe, then the leadership position that the west is already losing in the global arena will occur even more rapidly. While military might still resides with the west in large part, their economic power and social role on the globe is rapidly declining. Yet I believe that it is within the role of envisioning new societies that the west has a lot to offer, given the very deliberate swing towards democratic government occurring in different regions across the globe. However, the sad fact is that western diplomats fail to recognise their role within the changes that are occurring, preferring to waddle around in more-of-the-same 'realpolitik', ironically, in a rapidly changing world where what is real can only be truly understood by embracing the changes that are occurring. What was real yesterday, is no longer true today, and yet western 'diplomacy' reels out like a record that got stuck in 1979.