The years have not been able to erase one of the first and most valuable lessons in politics and on the dynamics of international relations that I learned, only reinforce it.
As I took my first steps into the muddled world of political science in college, I remember a professor entering the room on the first day of class, setting his leather folder on a desk, presenting himself to his audience and writing his name on the blackboard for everyone to remember. Upright, he looked at his students and stated, “In politics, there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies. There are only permanent interests.”
I recall this phrase whenever I am at pains to explaining the whys of international affairs, and more often than not, find it to be a very simple yet all-encompassing reason for things. Sometimes it boils down to just that: pure, simple, crude interest. More recently, I have used it to understand the way in which the international community has and is currently dealing with an issue that should be above all issues and interests: human rights.
What is currently taking place in the Middle East,North Africa and the Gulf, at least in what relates to, or the lack of, human rights isn’t anything new. As unfortunate as it may be, the history of the world provides us with countless examples of brutality humans have exercised against one another, under a variety of pretexts, and have managed to get away with it. And to be fair, no country or race can claim a monopoly on violence, barbarism and cruelty.
Yet what is currently taking place in the neighborhood serves as a reminder that even when it comes to human rights, or violations of these rights to the point of crimes against humanity, political interests come to play just like in any other situation. Otherwise, what explains the NATO strikes in Libya and not Yemen? What explains no intervention inSyria? What explains Saudi intervention in Bahrain and the world behaving as if nothing is wrong there (in both countries, for that matter!)? Are the crimes of the Libyan regime against its people more heinous that those in Yemen? Are the crimes being committed on a daily basis in Syria considered typical just because they have happened there before? Why do we have to turn a blind eye when the Saudis march to protect the Bahraini regime from its people, instead of protecting the people from the regime?
Not to say that foreign intervention is the solution to stop human rights violations, but in the case of the Arab world, an important reason stopping the wider world from taking a tougher stance (which in some cases could lead to the regimes’ demise) against committed crimes are the potential repercussions that the fall of all these regimes would have. Repercussions on the countries themselves, their immediate neighbors, the region, and the rest of the world. However, are these repercussions worse than the crimes themselves, committed by the hour, as we speak? Do countries intervene only in places where they believe they can win the battle? In countries they can afford to antagonize because they can’t antagonize any further? In countries where they have nothing to loose if they do?
The debate is as muddled as can be, and some will argue why should other countries be responsible and defend other people when their own countrymen are killing them off? But whatever happened to the values that so many countries profess to implement and protect? Forget about political values, I’m talking about human rights…
Interests will always take precedence, and double standards may be the norm most of the times. But it is only with some of the romanticism we read in novels and watch in movies, with only some of the idealism we grew fond of in university and somehow believed could be achieved in reality can we strive at bringing a bit more justice, peace and a bit more humanity to this world…