RAMALLAH, Feb 22 (JMCC) - The January 25 and Jasmine revolutions are sparking resistance to old autocrats across the Arab world, and Issander El Amrani see a type of soft bigotry suddenly ablaze too.
As Libya's leader Mommar Gaddafi refuses to step down and deploys tanks, mercenaries and aircraft against protesters in one of the world's largest oil-producers, El Amrani describes in The Guardian a neocolonial paternalism Arab leaders and Western nations have held. Believing the Arab masses unready or unable to effect true democracy, both supported flawed strong-men like Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Mubarak and Libya's Gaddafi - most now crumbled or threatened from Morocco to Bahrain.
For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies' immaturity while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.
Over the last few days, Muammar Gaddafi has waged a vicious battle over his compatriots, hiring foreign mercenaries to take out protesters... Libya is the Arab world's North Korea, a near-totalitarian nightmare and an insult to common decency. And as Pyongyang is protected by China, so Tripoli is being given cover by Tony Blair, BP and academics-turned-consultants like Anthony Giddens and Benjamin Barber. The idea is that it was best to try to help countries like Libya reform, even if the reforms in question tended to be mostly about making the place more business-friendly.
The same rationale of lowered expectations can also hold for much more liberal and open Arab societies, For 15 years, Morocco has been considered the best student in an Arab class of deadenders. Next to Algeria's traumatised society, Tunisia's police state or Libya's sheer hell, who could disagree? Morocco has made great strides since the 90s in terms of human rights, notably holding the Arab world's first (if somewhat flawed) national reconciliation process and passing progressive laws on women's rights...
More and more Moroccans want something akin to what they see in Britain or Spain: a constitutional monarchy where the king is head of state but does not interfere in government. Like the protests elsewhere in the region, the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in eight cities are about dignity. Moroccans, like other Arabs, are tired of being subjects: they want to be citizens.