Sunday, 27 February 2011

Is A Protest In Djibouti A Protest In The Arab World?


This is a map of most of the countries that belong to The Arab World, and while I don't think The Arab World can be defined by physical borders and states, the concept of The Arab World as a geopolitical space is still a useful one because of the links between the histories, economies and politics of these countries and it is also a definitive way of marking Arab presence in the world. Furthermore in an age where the single state empires are on the decline, a free and united Arab World could give a few crucial kicks to a dying juggernaut: U.S imperialism. 
Of the Arab countries in Africa that are revolting or have revolted against oppressive regimes, are: Algeria, Djibouti*, Libya,  Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia excluding Somalia, Western Sahara and Chad. The protests in most of the revolting countries have received media coverage, but the protests in Djibouti and Sudan, to some extent, have not been represented as protests in the Arab World and yet the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have been heralded as the revival of a pan-Arab consciousness. While I don't dispute the claims of a pan-Arab revivalism and a new Arab century to be true and I sincerely hope that the solidarity of oppressed peoples of this region becomes permanently ingrained in the Arab psyche, there are certain exclusions and hierarchies that have to be addressed for the concept of pan-Arabism to be really meaningful and truly revived. For starters, showing some solidarity with protesters in Djibouti who like Bahrain is home to a U.S military base. (The only U.S military base in Africa.) The President of Djibouti like the royals of Bahrain are U.S stooges whose oppression of their people is overlooked because these leaders do the bidding of the U.S by hosting its military operations in their countries. Just as the Bahrainis are demanding political reform and that the presiding monarch steps down, Djiboutians are demanding that Ismail Omar Gulleh be removed from his seat in power and tear up his proposed constitution that would allow him to stand for elections for two more six year terms. 
However unlike Bahrain, but like Sudan, Somalia and Chad, Djibouti does not register on the radars of popular political discourses of the Arab World. When was the last time that a mainstream political analyst or well-known Arab activist commenting on The Arab World and the revolution effect mentioned Djibouti in the same breath as Morocco or Algeria or Egypt?
...
That's right, never. 
Why?
Controversial as it is to ask this, it has to be asked: is 'The Arab World Revolution' a racialized term, if 'the Arab revolutionary' is mainly represented by one type of people from specific countries -yet a. Arabs are a racial and culturally diverse people and b. The Arab World is composed of nations of diverse ethnicities (e.g Somalis, Berbers, Nubians)? Is the discourse of the Arab World Revolutions being framed by the media, in terms of geo-political relevance to Palestine and European interests - as this is largely where the definition of the Middle East originates? 
Although it is true, that despite the tragic deaths, the uprisings across the Arab World are a shiny, happy, power to the people moment; it is only a shiny happy revolution moment that refers to some, not all revolting Arabs. Like some exclusive world for the resource-rich (Libya), politically powerful (Egypt) and strategically located (Yemen), the idea of 'Arab World Revolutions' has the danger of re-affirming old hierarchies and exclusions if the term continues to be applied to some regions and not others. This unintentional selectivism / blindspot has to be challenged and reconstructed, within the media and the global public, so that when people talk of Arab World Revolution it includes all member states of the Arab World.

Djibouti may be an East African country with much stronger ties to the African countries on The Horn than Egypt or Palestine, but it is no less a part of The Arab World Revolutions. The brown and black-skinned peoples of Djibouti, as elsewhere are both African and (Yemeni) Arab, so why do serious political commentators either; ignore Djibouti or those that do, speak of the protests in Djibouti in singular terms - the same way Libya is reported as an Arab Uprising, Djibouti is an African Uprising. And yet both are Arab and African states. 
By speaking of them in their singular identities the two seem unconnected and yet through a pan-Arab (and pan-African) lens, there are far more political and cultural commonalities between the situations of these countries than there are differences.

*I recognize that Djiboutians by ethnicity are predominantly Somali, Afar and Asdoimara and most average people probably recognize themselves as part of The Horn than the Arab World, but my point is that the country has formal recognition as a part of the Arab World and a member of the Arab League. In times of distress, Djibouti has often turned to the Arab League for assistance (and the African Union). Why then is it a blindspot when people speak of Arab World Revolutions and why are people not moved to comment in the same way they do about the US naval base in Bahrain and the $1.5 billion in military aid that goes to Egypt every year from the U.S.? Djibouti is America's only base in Africa, how can thousands of protesters demanding regime change not raise the eyebrows of those who talk about 'changing' Arab World - U.S relations???
IMO, this is what happens when looking at this from a purely MENA countries perspective, some widening of gaze is needed to understand how deeply connected all these things are.

FYI: Wikileaks Cable on Blackwater in Djibouti (this story's been missed by mainstream media since Nov 2010 when the cable was released.)

5 comments:

Dee said...

It seems that some people also think that the protests in Morocco aren't being reported accurately, e.g. AFROL news: http://www.afrol.com/articles/37461

Things in the news certainly didn't seem to entirely reflect the situation that I saw on Mohammed V in the main protests on 20/02/11.

I think it's very difficult for people across the world, and indeed within the countries themselves to get a true picture of the current situation - both on the ground and as a whole.

Let's hope things improve and democracy wins out without violence!

Dee

The Muddy Vegan: http://themuddyvegan.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I think there's a hierarchy to Arabness and belonging to the Arab World that Arabs have to address. You only have to look at how Sudan is treated.

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