Contemporary revolutions


                 The scenes from Libya and Bahrain tell us that the successes of protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt are spreading. People are losing their fear of repressive regimes. The more that police forces and troops fire bullets and tear gas into crowds, the bigger the anger grows and determination sets in. It looks as if it is no longer possible for some of these regimes to control the crowds using the very considerable forces they have at their disposal.

                  The fast changing situation makes western governments look flat footed. For many years western governments have flattered and humoured dictators for fear of worse. Sometimes they have allied with them for good reasons, because they have offered peace in the Middle East. Sometimes they have linked with them to fight other forces in the Middle East they dislike even more.  The west has wanted to trade with these countries, both to buy their oil and to sell them a wide array of western goods. Western countries have been prepared to sell defence equipment as part of the package.

                Western governments can argue that it is not their job to seek to topple governments of the world, however unpleasant they may seem. Or they might argue they should only seek to topple the worst, and then to do so in as orderly a fashion as possible without preferably resorting to force. Western governments should believe in democratic systems and more freedom, but also have to accept that it is beyond them to impose democracy from outside on many countries where the government does not want it.

                 The challenge for Obama and for European governments is to decide at what point they should drop their support for dictators under pressure from their citizens. At what point can the West decide that a dictator no longer can govern his country? Or should western governments, seeing the growing instability, seek to add to it by offering early moral  support to protest movements? Are all challengers to these regimes equally worthy of support? Does support mean ending supplies to the dictators, or does it imply also offering more practical help to the protesters? When should aid and certain types of  trade be cut off, if at all?

                    If you licence weapons sales to governments, you have to allow for the fact that they might decide to use them. You can hardly make it a condition of sale that they do not use them. There will now be regrets about some of the supplies allowed to some  of  these regimes. Soon there will be new agonies. Should new regimes that emerge warrant our support and should they in turn be allowed supplies of military and police equipement?


  1. lifelogic
    February 20, 2011

    We have to deal with the World as it is not as we might like it. We often do not know if the next leader or new government structures will be better of worse than those they replace. Look at Mugabe’s rule as an example of our great works. These are difficult judgements and there is only so much we can actually do.

    We should mainly concentrate on setting a good example with our, so called “oldest democracy” structure. A structure which in practice gives virtually no real power to voters and MPs can adjust the voting system for short term political gain as we are perhaps seeing with the coalition and AV and extensive powers already handed permanently to the EU against the clear voters will.

    Do UK voters really have any more power than the Egyptians did when push comes to shove?

    1. lifelogic
      February 20, 2011

      Good to see prince Charles and the royal family are doing their bit for world carbon emissions by inviting 2000 guests to the wedding from all around the world (all to arrive by bike I assume). Do not worry though I am not convinced by the “BBC/science” either Charles.

      I am Glad to see the (rather too small) changes to the local authority pension contributions to address the outrageous disparity between the state and private sector pension provision after Gordon Brown’s mugging tax. Can we assume an extension to EU, quango’s, the civil service and perhaps even the absurdly generous provision for MPs?

  2. Nick
    February 20, 2011

    You’re in the firing line too.

    Just wait til people cotton on that you’ve run up 300,000 GBP per house hold in debt. 15K a year just to stand still.

    Ah it’s other party isn’t it?

    Well, you as a party kept quite and did the same, so you can’t say now can you?

    It’s going to happen here. A small number of people commanding 50% of the countries income, and huge amounts going to themselves.

    It takes about 200 people on the borderline of poverty to run one MP, assuming they don’t consume anything from the state. In reality it takes thousands.

  3. Euan
    February 20, 2011

    Another agony will be if Saudi Arabia becomes a hard line Islamic state allied with Iran. what then? The US and UK have interfered and invaded, sanctioned and blockaded for so long in the Middle East there are few supporters anywhere, least of all Saudi- home of Bin Laden. What will we do if massive protests in Saudi halt oil supplies? More than a week of that and goodbye economic recovery, in fact, goodbye economy.
    I suspect the first large protest in Riyadh will see oil prices soar past $150 a barrel which will throw a very large spanner in the works. At what point will the US start pouring troops in? Given their history of invasion on spurious “peacekeeping” excuses it surely wouldn’t be long in coming.

    1. acorn
      February 20, 2011

      We messed up on the British Palestine Mandate in ’48. Then we abandoned the job to the UN. The US took over the UN and the Zionists took over US Middle East policy. If we Brits had kept hold of our empire, it would have been so different today. Perhaps we should put Palestine and Trans-Jordan back together again and have another go at the mandate.

    2. Mike Stallard
      February 20, 2011

      Our entire civilization depends on oil. Think about it.
      Saudi won’t go up: (they have the means and the intent to deal with dissent-ed).

    3. Mark
      February 20, 2011

      The Saudi taps wouldn’t be off for long. They have to import almost all their food. Even the Iranian revolution only managed to shut down for a month before they got desperate for imports.

    4. Stuart Fairney
      February 21, 2011

      Saudi won’t be allied to Iran as only about 15% of Saudis are Shia. The Sunni and Shia regard each other as apostate. They are also regional rivals and Saudi Arabia’s recent call for the US to bomb Iran as reported by Wikileaks hasn’t engendered warmer relations.

      1. Mark
        February 21, 2011

        Saudi Shias predominate in the oil rich Eastern Province. However, the precedent of the Iran Iraq war – and even the (word left out) behaviour of Palestinians in Kuwait when Saddam invaded – showed that nationality still trumps religion. In Bahrain the muttaween have lost control. In Saudi, not so.

        1. Mark
          February 23, 2011

          For those wondering: many Palestinians sided with the invading Iraqis, against their Kuwaiti hosts. After Iraq was kicked back out of Kuwait, so too were most Palestinians and Egyptians – by the Kuwaitis, who considered them to be traitors. Palestinians had accounted for about 400,000 of the 1.5 million population pre invasion.

    5. Andrew Johnson
      February 21, 2011

      Saudi Arabia is a hard line Islamic state which follows Sunni Islam, and Iran is a hardline Islamic state which follows Shia. Go and google these two expressions of Islam and you will discover you don’t have to worry about these two countries being in alliance. Iran could of course take over Saudi, but it’s unlikely the West would allow that, even in it’s current leaderless, weak and unconfident phase.

  4. Bill
    February 20, 2011

    We can be very moralistic about all these uprisings, but if it spreads to possibly the most repressive of them all Saudi?

    1. Mike Stallard
      February 20, 2011

      No chance.
      The Saudi royal family will simply not permit that.

  5. JimF
    February 20, 2011

    The judgement as to when to support any popular uprising, and when to sell and when not to sell arms should be made with information supplied by the good offices of our Ambassadors, in conjunction with any covert operations being undertaken by us or our allies in these countries.

    We don’t see our Ambassadorial talent featuring on TV, explaining the underlying features of these uprisings and how and whether we should support them. As I write the US Ambassador to London is featuring on the Andrew Marr doing just that. Perhaps we should be asking whether we are getting good value from them, and whether we should be sub-contracting our Ambassodorial role to the US?

    1. Catherine in Athens
      February 20, 2011

      You may hear former UK ambassadors commenting on trouble-spots, but current ones report back to the FO and save their TV interviews for their host countries.

    2. Tom
      February 20, 2011

      A small technical point, but our ambassadors are not encouraged to comment publicly on the internal affairs of other countries. Ex-ambassadors are another thing, and some have been doing so. It is up to politicians to decide whether to support such movements or not. Timing is everything when you have no power to influence events as you do not want to be seen to be supporting the losing side. That is the reality.

  6. Lindsay McDougall
    February 20, 2011

    We do not know that the govrnments that will emerge from the revolutionary process will be any more democratic than the ones that they replace. Oliver Cromwell’s Coalition of puritan landlords, levellers and feminists was not democratic – and it didn’t last long.

    So maybe the answer is to be nice to everybody and sell arms to both sides.

    1. Mike Stallard
      February 20, 2011

      Oliver Cromwell was a Christian in a Puritan/Catholic/Laudian country.
      The rebels are Muslims in a Muslim environment.
      It is in no way the same.

    2. rose
      February 20, 2011

      And what makes Westerners think they are immune from internet revolution themselves?

    3. Iain Gill
      February 20, 2011

      the UK has become a joke of a democracy, what with Visa caps promised at the election and letting ever more Indian nationals in

      we have nothing to teach the rest of the world

      we are a joke

    4. Andrew Johnson
      February 21, 2011

      I think it was one of the Mausers, who manufactured extremely efficient rifles, who when criticised about his global arms dealings said, “Our guns don’t kill anyone, people firing them do.” We would do well to remember the IRA conflict and the many moral dilemmas it created, including British soldiers killing British citizens on British soil. We do forget these things so quickly.

  7. Mr J Leslie Smith
    February 20, 2011

    The Big Question surely is “Can it happen here?” If so when? It ias only the generous provisions of the Welfare State to the unemployed particularly, which is stooping an Egyptian Style Revolt here in the UK. Once more people lose their jobs and cannot pay the bills and mortgage, then hope begins to wither. Once hope goes, we could have a very angry Electorate, knowing that votes at the ballot box or our views articulated make no difference to any major decions affecting the Country as a whole. You treat us with disdain and disrespect and expect us never to react? MP’s are far too complacent and concerned as to their own salaries, perks and safe seats. That could change in a few weeks if oil goes to $200 a barrel and Saudi Arabia moves to turmoil

  8. Javelin
    February 20, 2011

    Just got a job at a large hedge fund doing program trading, and moved from credit derivatives at a large global bank who I didn’t let take any mortgage backed CDOs on. At the interview I was asked about the “Arab Spring”, my view was that after a small spike in oil prices the OPEC cartel would be weaker and oil prices would fall as the democracies found it harder to negotiate. I also said that in that Arabs would pull money out of sovereign funds destabilising the bond markets, plus they would pull alot of money out of the London property market. I got the job.

  9. gyges
    February 20, 2011

    “The scenes from Libya and Bahrain tell us that the successes of protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt are spreading.”

    The more I see of these protests the more I think of Kermit Roosevelt Jr and his coordination of Operation Ajax “which orchestrated the coup d‚Äô√©tat against Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq, and returned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to Iran’s Peacock Throne in August 1953.”

    Then there were the ‘colour’ (or perhaps more aptly, ‘color’ revolutions; the Orange one being funded by … well, you get the idea.

  10. BobE
    February 20, 2011

    The last western world depression was ended by a war. It gave full employment during, and the rebuild afterwards created high growth. Is that the next most likely outcome?.
    Region 6,

  11. StevenL
    February 20, 2011

    These countries have no food security. They can’t threaten the rest of the world because the ROTW can starve them.

  12. English Pensioner
    February 20, 2011

    It’s time that this country accepted that it is no longer a world power and started acting accordingly. Seemingly, we can’t any longer afford worthwhile armed forces, which are a “must”, even if there is no intention of using them; we no longer have the world wide interests of the Victorian era, so why continue with the pretence?
    So why can’t we just be ourselves, leave these countries to get on with their own affairs, trading with them (including arms) if we can, and make our number one priority the British people? Norway and Switzerland seem to manage quite nicely without getting involved in world affairs and so did Ireland until it got involved with the EU. New Zealand, Canada and Australia all put themselves first, and whilst they may be nominally involved in countries like Afghanistan, do as little as possible. Do any of these countries go around pontificating on what Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain are, or should be, doing? I very much doubt it. Even the EU doesn’t seem to have a policy, so why do we insist on keep interfering?
    And at the same time, we should stop worrying so much about what other countries think about us, their views in the main are totally unimportant, and we should always put ourselves first. France does this, in spite of the EU, and no one actually does anything about it. We need to adopt the same attitude.

  13. Lawson Macdonald
    February 20, 2011

    Some very pertinent questions, but no indication of any answers or ideas as to what your approach would be, John .

  14. Mark
    February 20, 2011

    There are some who argue that the biggest weapon has been Bernanke’s injection of QE that has flowed into commodity markets. It is perhaps the fact that $1bn of aid to Egypt buys one third as many loaves when wheat is $12 per bushel as when it is $4 per bushel that matters more than the number of Abrams tanks owned by the Egyptian army. Everyone needs to eat. Not every tank battalion is willing to fire on brother citizens.

    (para attacking a company left out)
    I do recall my economics tutor cynically pointing out as oil prices quintupled that the problem was getting the money to circulate back into the Western economies, and the solution was to sell them arms to fight each other so they’d have to replace them. He was of course shockingly right: just a few years later we saw shadowy superpower backing for both sides in the Iran-Iraq war. This time the problem is to secure the circulation of money back from the major surplus countries. Has anyone got any different ideas?

    1. Mark
      February 21, 2011

      Uncle Ben is Bernanke’s nickname…

    2. Mark
      February 23, 2011

      Still awaiting moderation?

  15. James Sutherland
    February 20, 2011

    Backing either side could well back-fire – often, part of the popular complaint against a dictator is his foreign support, while Mugabe seems to use our governments’ hostility towards his regime as part of his rallying call. There is indeed a risk that the replacement regime may be more hostile to the West in general and us in particular.

    It seems to have received little attention here, but the mob which attacked the CBS reporter was shouting “Jew, Jew” as they did so. The regimes being threatened may not be ideal, but we should be wary of what might take their place before we cheer the prospect of change!

  16. Jose
    February 20, 2011

    Perhaps we should follow suit. They are obviously prepared to ¬īfight¬īfor their freedom. Perhaps we need to do the same thing re. politicians, the EU, the ECHR…..the list is endless and currently the government is getting off lightly!

  17. BobE
    February 20, 2011

    My comment is lost by apathy.

  18. StrongholdBarricades
    February 21, 2011

    The greater example would be served by demonstrating, just as the left seem to be holding up Barclays profit, to actually point at the revenue to the exchequer from these industries

  19. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    February 21, 2011


    “Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia are all classed as authoritarian regimes according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy 2008.”


    * In 2010, equipment approved for export included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns. No requests for licences were refused.

    * UKTI DSO has listed Bahrain as a key market for UK arms exports.

    * Bahrain was invited to attend the UK arms fairs: the Farnborough Airshow in 2010 and Defence and Security Equipment International in 2009. UKTI DSO supported the Bahrain International Airshow 2010, where it organised an outdoor event.

    * UK armed forces have been used in support of sales efforts, demonstrating arms to the Royal Bahrain Artillery.”

    When visiting the UK Trade and Investment site ( ) there is an enthasis on Arms Selling. It seems that profits out way human rights and the fact that some of these Countries we sell “Crowd Control Equipment” to have a very poor rating on the Democaracy Index List.

  20. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    February 21, 2011

    “If you licence weapons sales to governments, you have to allow for the fact that they might decide to use them. ” – that’s a distinct possibility.

    Ironic how the UK has the strictest Gun Control Laws in the World and yet when it comes to selling machine guns and fighter Jets to Dictatorships with horrific Human Rights records around the World – hey, No problem. Some of these arms deals are allegedly backed by British Tax payers money to make the Arms Dealers feel more secure.

    “Soon there will be new agonies. Should new regimes that emerge warrant our support and should they in turn be allowed supplies of military and police equipement?”

    It really depends on the Political ramifications of seeing Civilians (including women and children) being Tear Gased and shot at with British made shotguns and tear gas canon?

    I guess if we are destined to invade them – like Iraq, then at least all we’ll have to do to make sure they have WMD is check the payment receipts and copies of the delivery notes.

  21. rose
    February 22, 2011

    Ominous that
    1) Syria isn’t having a spontaneous revolution
    2) Iran is sailing down the Suez Canal for manoevres with her.

  22. TimC
    February 22, 2011

    To date people seem to have taken the view that this is an Arab (or to include Iran- a Middle East) movement for freedom. Has anyone considered what the effect might be if ‘the people’ in China were to ask themselves why they could ot have some of this ‘freedom’ thing that seems to be so popular?
    (You heard it first on JR’s website!)

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