The Lesser Reported Uprisings of the Arab Spring


Andrew Kanyemba, 21 June 2011

Categories: Arab Spring | Democracy | Protest | Human Rights | Middle East |


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Sparked first by Tunisia’s December uprisings, there has been a multiplicity of bold revolts springing up from inside the Arab regions. Spanning, in varying degrees, from Morocco through to Iran, these unexpected swathes of civil revolt have warranted this moment in living history its own title amongst newscasters; its own unique acknowledgment as the epoch of the Arab Spring.

Indeed any given person who has been watching the Arab revolts unfold would no doubt be forgiven for daring to believe that these may truly be the ‘Beginning-Of-The-End’ moments for the dictators and despots of the region.

However, whilst the media has fuelled a general awareness amongst us that these events are indeed monumental, equally, the British media is guilty of distorting and curtailing our understanding of how virulent and extensive the region’s political problems actually are.

By gearing their reports selectively, major British newscasters have cultivated an ultimately false sense of headway, and even success, in a region-wide struggle that is actually still wholly turbulent, still highly complex and quite clearly still far from over.

The toppling of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, for example, though rightly considered as victories, must not be championed as a signal that the struggle is over, or that either country is now liberated. Rather, these events signify the beginning of another important and increasingly unstable endeavour for the civilians; Tunisians and Egyptians alike now face the precarious task of assuring that a democratic state can stably emerge from the rubble of the uprisings. But on this, British newscasts have been quite apathetic, seeming more engrossed in the act of simply flitting from one protest to another and not looking back when the most barbarous of events have died down.

Perhaps more unsettling is the fact that neither Yemen nor Bahrain’s ongoing civil uprisings, though major components of the Arab Spring, have gleaned anything more than ceremonial coverage from British media. For instance, despite soaring death tolls amidst growing concerns that Yemeni President Saleh is making his return to office, and despite Bahraini protestors being systematically and unlawfully removed from civil service jobs, such developments have been largely eschewed, and have failed to make the headlines of most mainstream British newscasts.

On the occasion that British newscasters do touch on these other struggles, it is nonetheless fleeting, and often circumvented by ongoing shallow reports of NATO’s calamitous feats in Libya.

Recent analyis by Think Progress has exposed the selective nature of media coverage for the Arab Spring. Their findings alarmingly showed that Libya has had approximately 76% more coverage from the major western cable news networks than Bahrain and Yemen put together.

William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Affairs Minister, last week made comments that echoed this media trend. He has backed Europe and NATO’s selective support and involvement in the revolutions, stating on Channel 4 this week that the lack of strong support for international assistance in Syria, Bahrain orand Yemen largely “reflects public interests” and opinions.

There is also growing suspicion that decisions to not substantively report the totalities of the civil uprisings by mainstream broadcasters and editors is crudely because “they do not make interesting public news”.

These justifications however are meagre and misleading. Not only have these revolutions been internationally followed and supported, but furthermore, the civilians at the fore of these struggles, whether supported or not, are simply fighting for their universal human rights. Western political actors, whether encouraged or not, have a moral obligation to substantively assist these nations in achieving these aims.

Behind Hague’s excuses, lies the reality that western geopolitical and corporate interests are fundamentally what influence and ultimately dictate which struggles are followed, and to what extent, by western newscasts.

The Arab Spring has found itself immersed in a western geopolitical hot bed. The US have military air bases in near every single despotic country in the region and these bases, amongst other objectives, are also safeguarding the plethora of prodigious western oil conglomerates, the likes of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total and BP who have billions upon billions of dollars in assets in the Middle East and North Africa. It would be naïve not to accept that the support offered by Western governments for transitions to democracy, or the advocacy of human rights, come a resounding second to the paramount goal of securing the already robust western military and financial interests in this region.

If this was not the case, then we would have long ago seen strident challenges, not only in relation to the Arab regions, but so too in the lingering African autocracies of Algeria, Gabon, Angola, and of course Equatorial Guinea; the oil rich dictatorship that, despite having the largest amount of human rights violations on the continent, was described by former USA Secretary Rice as “a good friend of the US”.

Clearly the media is failing to facilitate listeners with an accurate or balanced overview of this struggle, and, in doing so, they are stifling what has essentially been the lifeblood of the revolution, namely the rapid spread of international awareness. Indeed, as senior Middle East analyst 'al Haribi notes: "the activists depended a lot on the media, they thought the media would stand up for them and help them, now they’re paying for that mistake”.

Therefore, in order to keep the fire alight for the Arab Spring, it is important to continue to spread awareness and to continue to challenge the outlook we are given by mainstream media. Only in this fashion can we hope to haul the Middle East’s current uprisings accurately to the fore of British newscasts. This is the part we all must play in aiding the modest dream for democratic, people-led regions in the Arab world to become a reality.


Categories in which this article appears: Arab Spring | Democracy | Protest | Human Rights | Middle East |

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