Arab Spring in Russia’s backyard?

ukraineEuromaidanFor Russians watching state television news over the past several weeks, the message about the political turmoil in Ukraine is clear: The anti-government protests are a U.S. plot, Michael Bohm writes for the Moscow Times:

Take, for example, this Jan. 22 evening news broadcast on Channel One. In a section called ­”experts’ opinion,” the following explanations for the protests were presented:

• State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak from United Russia: “Western civil and ­political groups are openly and secretly financing fascists in Ukraine.”

• Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov: “The U.S. secretary of state is dictating how to control the [Ukrainian] power ministries.”

• Duma Deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov from A Just Russia: “Western powers are supporting violence among the protesters.”

In addition, Rossia 1 state television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on the Jan. 23 “Poyedinok” program  that the U.S. is sending huge amounts of money to the opposition via diplomatic mail. (Kiselyov did not explain, however, how he discovered the money if it was sealed in diplomatic pouches.)

Journalist Maxim Shevchenko, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, even named the amount the U.S. has purportedly doled out to the opposition so far — $5 billion. He did not name his source of information, however.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskysaid on Rossia 1, “The Americans have come to Ukraine just like the ­Nazis came to Poland with one goal: to try to conquer Russia.” Political analyst ­Veronika Krasheninnokova, infamous for her strong anti-Americanism, said on ­Rossia 1 that “The U.S. has opened its Western front in Ukraine, which is the latest stage in the U.S. offensive against Russia.”

“The Kremlin’s propaganda campaign has largely succeeded in distorting Russians’ view of the Ukrainian protests,” Bohm adds:

According to a Levada Center survey taken in late January, 44 percent of Russians — the largest percentage — believe that Western influences are the main reason behind the Ukrainian protests. (Only a small percentage of Russians believe the protests are inked to Yanukovych’s corruption or lawlessness.)


Second Arab Awakening – a battle for pluralism

Despite the early promise of the Arab Spring, one transition after another has struggled or failed to produce governments that can respond to citizens’ longing for freedom and opportunity, says a leading analyst.

The fragility of the once-promising Arab transitions clearly shows the urgency of beginning the painstaking process of constructing an Arab world defined by pluralism and tolerance. Only then can what I call The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism be realized, the Carnegie Endowment’s Marwan Muasher writes:

If it is to succeed where the first Arab awakening failed, this Second Arab Awakening needs to be an assertion of universal values: democracy, pluralism, human rights. These are not ideals that can be imposed upon a region from outside, but they can be encouraged to grow. This requires patience and an accurate understanding of both the actual conditions and the kinds of actions that are likely to be effective. Only when societies and their elected leaders truly embrace tolerance, diversity, the peaceful rotation of power, and inclusive economic growth will the promise of a new Arab world be realized.

Given the grim news coming out of the region today, some will regard such arguments as naïve. But do not mistake the grim early skirmishes for the outcome, Muasher contends:

The battle of ideas has finally started to unfold in the contemporary Arab world and is far from ended. The region will go through a period of turmoil in which exclusionist forces will attempt to dominate the landscape with absolute truths and new dictatorships. In the end, however, these forces will also fade, because exclusionist, authoritarian discourses cannot answer the people’s need for a better quality of life –economically, politically, culturally, and otherwise.


Tunisia keeping Arab Spring alive?

An agreement mediated by the powerful UGTT, Tunisia’s largest labor union, between the government and the largest opposition parties finalized late last year suggests a new start for the country’s democratic transition, writes Noah Rayman:

Under the plan, the Islamist-led government will relinquish power to a cabinet of technocrats ahead of a new round of elections. In exchange, the ruling party has demanded that the current legislature select the members of the board that will oversee the 2014 elections for the parliament and president — completed this week — and finalize the country’s new constitution, which it is slated to finish voting on by Jan. 13. …. Political parties agreed last month — albeit well after the initial Nov. 1 deadline for the negotiations — that Mehdi Jomaa, the current minister of industry who has no stated political affiliation, will assume Larayedh’s post in the new interim government.

“But a government of technocrats is no panacea for a country at a crossroads,” he adds. “In one of his last moves before announcing his resignation, Larayedh suspended a new tax hike on vehicles after two days of protests in several cities that stirred clashes with police, the latest in a series of demonstrations fueled by the poor economy.”