Saturday, 15 January 2011
Revolution or coup? What's the difference?
Events in Tunisia are certainly interesting. I've a good deal of admiration for the Tunisians, they've decided that enough is enough and they've had all they're going to take, thank-you very much.
But. . .
What's really going on here?
The BBC are talking this evening of shock as one of the most 'stable' (in the words of the BBC) regimes in North Africa and the Middle East has evaporated right in front of our eyes. Talk of stability unsettles me, it was almost as if stability is the most desirable quality in a country, even if that means that the regime in question is a hateful and oppressive authoritarian one.
The Beeb is also talking of concern about a domino effect running through similar regimes in the region, or perhaps concern from within those regimes, I shouldn't imagine the population are concerned about their current president heading for Saudi at short notice at all.
But what have we actually seen in Tunisia?
A number of commentators and media outlets are rejoicing in a glorious, and in the grand scheme of things, bloodless revolution. I'm not so sure. This is a president who has been in power for 23 years, he has gone back on his promises to limit his number of terms in office, he has put the police in his pocket and his family in top jobs. He has put in a successful tourism programme, and, from what I can work out, diverted most of the funds into his own bank account. This is not a man who will abandon ship without good cause.
An afternoon or two of protests do not bring down regimes, otherwise we would be looking at very different regimes in Thailand and Iran right now. It would appear we've seen the aftermath of a private Ceacescu moment here. Ben Ali has obviously turned round to check that the army were behind him. Unfortunately for him, they were, with weapons drawn, loaded, cocked and pointed at him.
This is no revolution, this a coup. Revolutions are far from being a panacea. Whilst there's initial joy at the toppling of an old regime, you can never be sure what you're going to get to replace it. Iran is a fine example, the Shah was a bloody disaster, but who really wanted the alternative? That is the problem, you replace one lot of catastrophic, power-hungry, ruthless maniacs and substitute them for another set. At the start, everyone is very happy, then the grumbling starts. The grumblers get clamped down on, denounced as counter-revolutionaries bent on the reinstatement of the old regime, whether it is true or not. The majority go along with it, no-one wants them back, it may taste a little nasty, but these are dangerous times. As the dust settles more people get locked up. Things don't improve, and the new regime start locking up or killing more people, after all there's nothing wrong with the system, it's the new one, the one they've brought in, so it must be the people who are the problem.
Before you know it, the new regime is just as bad as the old.
A coup is seldom any better, as in Tunisia, the military step in because someone has to fill the vacuum, and we don't want the nutters coming in. Elections are promised in a number of weeks, once the dust has settled, once things become stable. Weeks turn into months, months into years. The dust never settles sufficiently for the Generals to be certain things are safe, or the public seem to support someone that the Generals don't consider appropriate to run the country.
The military in Tunisia, stood behind a prime minister who seems to have spent most of his career being nothing more than an ornamental rubber stamp for Ben Ali's presidential regime, have declared that there will be elections in six weeks or so.
Hmmm, we'll see. History suggests that Generals get a taste for running countries, especially as they have such a large and well trained staff to ensure things are just so.
This is why I'm so concerned with how the EU is going. The bigger and more invasive the EU becomes, the larger the vacuum that will be left when it falls apart will be and if we don't get out before that point, then things could get very nasty for us. When it happens there will be a mad power rush (depending on how much national sovereignty is left) to fill the empty space, and it will be filled by swivel eyed revolutionaries declaring enemies of state and undesirables or by Generals who always seem to go a bit loopy when it becomes their job to sit in a palace, rather than guard it.
Either way, it is bad news. The EU will fall apart, history tells us this. We've seen empires of antiquity, we've seen Oriental dynastic empires, we've seen Catholic and Muslim empires, we've seen Francophone empires, we've seen empires where the sun never sets, we've seen empires which we were told will last a thouand years, we've seen empires of the proletariat, they've all fallen and it has always ended in disaster to a lesser or greater extent. The EU is just another empire. A little different to the rest, but an empire nonetheless. All empires fall.
What we have seen in Tunisia is what happens when an unthinking, unfeeling, unpopular regime crosses a line the population will not tolerate. How long before the empire we find ourselves in reaches that point? What happens in the weeks and months after the army take their cue from the population remanins to be seen, I just hope the Tunisians don't find themselves going from the frying pan into the fire.