Apr 13, 2011

Western leaders must stop kissing the hands of Arab dictators

The topography of autocracy in the world today shows a marked concentration of brutal, despotic regimes in the Arab world. No Arab regime, whether monarchic or republican, can claim to be exempted from the pattern. While it wouldn’t be fair to blame the rise or longevity of those despotic regimes on the West, it would be blatantly unfair to deny the role played by various Western governments in aiding Arab tyrants, boosting their images and facilitating their robbery and abuse of their people.

A combination of internal factors such as poverty, poor educational infra-structure and prevalent paternalistic traditions have no doubt contributed to the emergence of tyranny as a recognizable structure in Arab societies, allowing those home-grown dictators to hold on to power for decades on end virtually unchallenged.

But Arab despots in fact survived and thrived under the guidance of western governments/leaders and with their blessings. Western leaders, on their part, seemed only too willing to oblige their autocratic counterparts and had surprisingly few qualms in displaying their partiality in public, often referring to them as staunch allies or forces of stability and of good. Most shocking of all, however, was the footage showing Berlusconi kissing the hand of Gaddafi. To dismiss this gesture as the momentary aberration of a man with questionable attitudes, to say the least, would be to misunderstand the symbiotic relationship between these despots and their Western allies, the bond between organisms that survive by feeding on each other.

Western leaders in fact have been kissing the hands of our brutal, blood-thirsty dictators, both literally and figuratively, for many decades now. As prime minister, Tony Blair accepted a Christmas holiday paid for by Mubarak in 2001, and more recently French Prime Minister Fillon also had a taste of lavish Egyptian hospitality. Did it occur to either of them that these holidays were actually sponsored by the citizens of a country where the minimum monthly wage was less than USD 50? This is hardly likely.

But paid holidays are perhaps only the icing on the cake of booties and we may yet to learn the full extent of this exchange of gifts, for how many spoonfuls of sugar were offered to make those unpalatable regimes go down? Equally disturbing is the complicity of various Western institutions with autocratic regimes, particularly academic establishments of the caliber of the London School of Economics which had no scruples in accepting a gift of 15 million pounds by the Libyan regime. Did the venerable establishment know that Gaddafi in one of his amazing speeches ranted against schools and universities as “a corrupt western invention” that he wanted to replace with some form of traditional home schooling? If such were his views of western academia, why on earth was he keen on securing a Ph.D. for his son from LSE? And why did LSE oblige?

Western governments have helped, and still continue to help, Arab despots to hold on to their power. Led by the US, they supplied Mubarak, as well as other Arab tyrants, with their arsenal of weapons, which included riot gear, tear gas and electric batons, although they must have been aware that these implements would be used against unarmed civilians. Particularly obnoxious is the supply of fancy, state-of-the-art torture gadgets that had been ingeniously invented to be used by security services against dissidents. Were all these part of the aid package that the US sent to Egypt? Had they been funded by American tax-payers? Are the American people informed about these deals? Why do Western governments which claim the high moral ground turn a blind eye to the brutal practices of their accomplices and strongmen? These are pressing questions that still need convincing answers.

In allowing their banks to become secret treasure boxes for Arab dictators, Western governments are also guilty of partnering with them in the theft of their people. By withholding information on the fortunes amassed by the Mubaraks and Gaddafis of the Arab world, they have made it possible for those rulers to operate with impunity, away from the gaze of their impoverished population.

The inevitable question is why western banks should accept to deposit huge funds which they know could not have come in a legitimate manner. According to Egyptian law, for example, a president should not engage in any form of business and should not make any financial gains out of his position. This in fact renders illegal all the wealth that he and his family have accumulated over his thirty years in power. This wealth is in fact the property of the Egyptian people. It should therefore be returned without fuss or mess, and without unnecessary legal wrangles that are only intended to confuse and divert attention.

I believe it is the moral responsibility of the countries where the personal fortunes of international heads of state have been deposited to disclose all their details. It is also their ethical duty to return all the money either stashed away in their banks or floating in their financial institutions. This should apply to unseated tyrants as well as to those whose seats are shaking at the moment. I realize of course that in the ruthless world of business where money and power are Siamese twins, such views will easily be dismissed as starry eyed, naïve and impossible to implement. But I am certain that the majority of the population of western nations would not approve of such shady collaborations if they were given the proper information.

Western governments must stop kissing the hands of dictators. If they did, there would not be any need to bomb those very dictators later. I hope that Western leaders realize that the transition from hand kissing to bombing is as absurd as it is morally outrageous. I sincerely hope that the free people of the world would stand and speak against the complicity between those magnificent despots and their western accomplices.

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