Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/2/2011 (3670 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
REVOLUTIONS might seem like wonderful things when confined to somebody else's yard, but when they start running over on to your property, they begin to take on a different complexion. Take the revolution that started in Tunisia, then led to the fall of the government in Egypt and now is sweeping through the Arab world.
The Europeans and the Americans were at first a little scared of it, but then they thought it was just dandy -- who's not in favour of democracy, after all? -- because they knew that when the dust settled they could probably live with the results, whatever they may be. The revolution may devour its children, but they are, after all, not our children. One commentator in a worst-case scenario recently referred to what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt as those nations' "Robespierre moment," a reference to the Reign of Terror that saw thousands of members of the ancien regime go the guillotine during the French Revolution.
Self-interest and hypocrisy have always been the touchstone of Western diplomacy in the Middle East, particularly as far as the United States, Britain and France are concerned.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week warned Middle East tyrants from Algeria to Iran that America would not tolerate the "hypocrisy" of attempts to shut off the people's access to the social media to preserve their power -- Facebook, Twitter and such, or net neutrality, as they call it -- even as the government of President Barack Obama is considering developing a system that could do the same on an even larger scale at home.
As the American Civil Liberties Union said in welcoming net neutrality: "Congress must keep in mind that freedom of speech on the Internet is just as vital at home as it is abroad. As Congress this week considers principles that might hinder the free exchange of ideas and data, we hope that the principle of free expression as an essential component of democracy is upheld."
Shock waves from the Arab world have hit Europe as well. In recent days, thousands of refugees from Tunisia have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy, and the Europeans are not particularly happy. This is not a new problem; Tunisians have been trying to do this for years, but the dictator is gone and the problem of Arab refugees is supposed to be over.
Under pressure, Italy will accommodate most of the refugees, but it wants the flow stopped and the rest of Europe to pay the bills. The rest of Europe is not entirely enthusiastic and will be even unhappier as the flow grows. It's one of the problems with revolutions -- the real ones are never as neat and tidy as observers might like.