The end of the proxy dictator

Any social scientist worth their salt will tell you that the French and Russian revolutions were epic moments in human history, and changed the world forever.

What made them epic was perhaps not so much the number of people who had the courage to take on the despotic and oppressive regimes under which they toiled and laboured, but rather the fact that these people knew they were right and that their rulers were wrong.

It was this conviction of knowing what they were entitled to and deserved that served as the driving force behind the sustained movements and actions that overthrew those rulers.

In the past few decades there have been uprisings that have come close to reflecting the momentous nature of these two very significant revolutions, but perhaps none more so than the events that have been unfolding in North Africa since earlier this year.

What is happening in Egypt right now, and what happened in Tunisia a few weeks ago, is certainly no less epic. They are epic in perhaps both a historical and political sense, given that what they will give way to will certainly create a world that is very different to the one we have known so far.

At least this is my very fervent wish.Much has been said about the reality of the Hosni Mubarak regime having been the proxy American and Israeli power that facilitates the oppression of the Palestinian people, and it certainly oppresses its own citizens with absolute impunity and disregard for human rights.

The fact that Mubarak was blind and deaf to the presence of hundreds of thousands of his citizens taking to the streets for days, demanding that he step down as president, is indicative of the absolute arrogance of those regimes that have aided and abetted his crimes against his people and made him believe that he is invincible – to the point of being able to unleash state terrorism on Egyptian citizens in the name of “executive authority”.

Sadly this is a phenomenon of our times that has come to define this political era, and has been the cause of much anguish for entire generations of indigenous people, particularly in the developing world and the Middle East.

From the dictatorships of the last Shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein to Mubarak, the tradition of Western powers supporting undemocratic regimes, to whom they provide foreign aid in return for advancing their own unique agendas, has shaped much of the 20th century.

The puppet dictator whose own crimes against his people are basically ignored and overlooked by the so-called democracies of the world as long as he “services” the interests of his masters, typifies this tendency.

Of course, this political “tendency” by the “West” does not absolve the dictators themselves of guilt. The ugliness of?the?relationship?manifests in the violation of basic human rights, suppression of core freedoms and lack of opportunities for growth and development of the local communities.

It is when the burden and weight of this exploitative relationship becomes unbearable that people’s revolutions, such as the one unfolding in Egypt, literally “erupt” in epic fashion.

The question then is: Why do these Western powers continue to repeat this behaviour when in fact the strategy has proved to be a failure over and over again?

Is it the assumption that the people of these countries are stupid and that they will not dare rise up against a militarised state, which again is courtesy of the very generous “aid” packages doled out to these dictators?

Or is it an inability by the traditional hegemonic power bloc to realise that the real hegemon in global politics is not the state or its militarised trappings, but the people who they claim to have authority over.

If the powers that be are unable to grasp this basic fact of politics, then be it at their own peril.

While we as global citizens may revel in the power of the masses, the real significance of this epic moment must lie in the lessons that it brings to those who believe that it is okay to continue to cultivate the proxy dictator, the “good boy who we can work with”.

Tunisia and Egypt have proved that those days are over for good, and if the lessons are not learnt, then I suspect that there are plenty more revolutions in the making.

» Nadvi teaches political science and international relations at the School of Politics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She writes in her personal capacity.


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