Sunday, 14 August 2011

This is no Arab Spring.

I suppose, given the unprecedented levels of civil unrest and disorder that we have seen in many countries where previously such actions had been unthinkable, it was almost inevitable that when we, in the UK, experienced our very own unrest & disorder that comparisons with the uprisings collectively termed the Arab Spring would be made.

There can be little doubt that many of those rioting here in the UK shared at least some common complaints with  their counterparts across the Arab world - that of mistrust of those tasked with law enforcement (whether it be the police, secret police or armed forces) and a complete lack of faith in their political leaders. However, there was and still remains an absolutely crucial difference between the Arab Spring and what has happened here in the last week or so: free and fair elections.

The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and the smaller protests in other Arab states were successful and will hopefully continue to be successful because whilst there may have been a multitude of complaints amongst the people and whilst there were certainly many underlying causes, all of them combined to produce one clear and unshakable objective; that of overthrowing authoritarian governments where previously they were never given the option.

This is the real reason why comparisons between the UK Riots and the Arab Spring fall apart. It is possible to delve into the detail and argue whether the UK has any moral right to condemn our rioters when we recognise Gadaffi's rioters as a legitimate political entity and then set about bombing the formal government of Libya. It is possible to compare instances of looting taking place in Egypt and Tunisia (there most certainly were) amongst wider protests of anger at the authorities. Critically, though, for those taking in part in uprisings in the Arab Spring there genuinely were no other options open to them. Their governments had utterly failed them, they had oppressed them, brutalised them and often, had murdered them.

Whether people may wish to argue that for certain sections of our society, this is also the case (and, ignoring the numbers involved, it could be) at least in our society we have the option to peacefully overthrow the government via elections. We have genuinely accountable political representation. Yes, they have lied, cheated and stolen and each time they have been found out and, where appropriate, punishments have been handed out and actions taken to prevent it happening again. This is how the system is meant to work. It is not a perfect system; no one has ever claimed it, but it works because when we realise part of it is broken: we fix it.

What really angers me about such comparisons though is that those making them are almost always entirely aware of the crucial differences. Anyone who gives it more than a moments thought can hardly fail to notice why it would be absolutely outrageous for the government of the UK to cede power to a riotous mob so why would they even begin to make such comparisons? My guess is that it is little more than political point scoring on the most part - a chance to make a seemingly clever criticism of inconsistency and hypocrisy against the government.

If that is indeed the case, then it is shameful behaviour. There is plenty of ammunition to fire at this coalition government without having to resort to such nonsensical arguments. Worst of all, it is easy to see through and lets the government highlight the unfairness of the attacks against it. Let's focus on attacking them for their genuine inconsistencies and hypocrisies, not the fabricated ones.

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